How to deal with debt

Find out how to manage debt quickly to help you control your money.

Manage debt

If there’s not enough money in your budget to pay your debts, make a plan to keep things in control.

Step 1 - identify and sort your debts

Work out what you owe and sort your debts by:

  • who you owe money to
  • how much you owe, and
  • the interest rates you’re paying.

Step 2 - work out your expenses

When you know what you spend your money on, you can work out where you can spend less. This will help while you’re paying off your debts.

Step 3 – think about if it is a need or a want

Once you know your debts and expenses, think about what you need and what are extras you can do without.

Read more about how to budget.

Step 4 - take action and ask for help

Ask for help as soon as you think you’ll have problems meeting repayments. This way you can stop a small debt from getting bigger.

Find free advice

It’s worth getting free advice to help with your finances if you’re having problems.

Our social workers can help you if you’re going through a difficult time. You may want to get instant counselling, help and emotional support.

It’s always a good idea to talk to someone you’re close to. Especially if you’re worried about any debts you may have.

Find a financial counsellor

Financial Counselling Australia provides a free, confidential and independent service.

You can find a financial counsellor on the Financial Counselling Australia website.

They can suggest ways to:

  • improve your financial situation
  • negotiate repayment options, and
  • get help from other services such as a gambling helpline, personal counselling or community legal aid.

They can also provide advice about:

  • repaying debts
  • debt collectors or debt recovery through the courts
  • house eviction or disconnection of electricity or phone
  • uninsured car accidents
  • tax debts, and
  • unpaid fines.

Enter your suburb or postcode below to search for your nearest service.

Read more about financial counselling on the National Debt Helpline website.

Hardship teams

Many businesses like banks, credit unions, electricity and other service providers have hardship teams. They may be able to suspend, reduce or waive debt repayments depending on your situation.

Ask your free financial counsellor to talk to hardship teams for you. They can often get better results if they negotiate for you.

Rural Financial Counselling Service

Rural Financial Counselling Services support primary producers in the fishing industry and small rural businesses who suffer financial hardship.

Find a Rural Financial Counselling Service on the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources website.  

Legal help

If your debts become hard to manage you may get a court order, summons, statement of claim or liquidation claim. This may also mean that debt collectors can sell your things to settle your debts.

Legal notices are serious. Don’t ignore a notice or you may get a bad credit score against you. ASIC’s MoneySmart details what credit scores are and how they affect you.

Read about where you can get free legal advice on the Australian Securities & Investments Commission’s MoneySmart website.

Use our tips and tricks

We have more information and tools you can explore to manage your money.

If you owe us money, we have arrangements in place to help you repay a Centrelink debt. Read more about owing us money and the options you have.

You can avoid getting a Centrelink debt by keeping us up to date. Tell us when there are changes to your income and any changes in your circumstances.

If you run into problems with debt, the National Debt Helpline has a free, confidential and independent financial counselling service.

If you have overdrawn your bank account, the Code of Operation may protect you. It can stop you from having to pay too much back at one time from your Centrelink payments.

ASIC’s MoneySmart website gives practical advice about managing debt. Read about:

Page last updated: 22 October 2018