Deal with debt

Steps to help you manage debt and help control your money.

Manage debt

If you have debts to repay, it can be difficult to know where to begin. You can start by making a plan. Following these 4 steps could help make a big difference.

Step 1 - Identify and sort your debts

When working out your debts, include any:

  • credit card and loan repayments
  • unpaid bills
  • fines
  • other money you owe.

Then sort your debts in order of importance by working out the following:

  • who you owe money to
  • how much you owe
  • due dates for repayment
  • the minimum monthly repayment, if any
  • the account keeping costs
  • the interest rates you’re paying.

Step 2 - Work out your costs

When working out your costs, include if they are weekly, monthly or yearly. Also include any recurring debits you may have set up. Creating a budget is the easiest way to do this, for more information visit our how to budget page.

Knowing what you spend your money on may help you work out where you can spend less. This can 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 costs, think about what you need and which extras you can do without.

Step 4 - Take action and ask for help

Make sure you work out a plan to repay your debts. Ask for help as soon as you think you’ll have problems meeting these repayments.

Free help and advice

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

Find a financial counsellor

The National Debt Helpline provides a free, confidential and independent service.

You can find a financial counsellor on the National Debt Helpline website.

They can suggest ways to:

  • improve your financial situation
  • negotiate repayment options
  • get help from other services including personal counselling or community legal aid.

They can also provide advice about:

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

Hardship teams

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

Paying your energy bill

The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) has made a commitment to protect customers worried about paying their energy bills. The AER encourages energy providers to continue to work with their customers who are in financial stress. It also helps them manage their debt and stay connected.

Contact your energy provider to find out what help is available. You can also ask your financial counsellor to talk to hardship teams for you. They often get better results if they negotiate for you.

Support for farmers and rural businesses

Rural Financial Counselling Services support farmers, small rural businesses, fishing enterprises and forest growers or harvesters who suffer financial hardship.

Find a Rural Financial Counselling Service on the National Emergency Management Agency website.

Legal help

You may get a court order, summons, statement of claim or liquidation claim about a debt. Legal notices are serious. Don’t ignore a notice or you may get a bad credit score. The Moneysmart website details what credit scores are and how they affect you.

Find out where you can get free legal advice on the Moneysmart website.

Other help

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

You can talk to one of our Financial Information Service (FIS) Officers for free. Our FIS Officers can share tools, resources and information that can help you make more informed financial decisions.

You can also find additional information on our Manage your money page.

Manage a Centrelink debt

If you owe us money, there are options to help you repay a Centrelink debt.

You can also avoid getting a Centrelink debt by keeping us up to date. You can find more information on when and how to notify Centrelink when you have a change of circumstances if you get a Centrelink payment.

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

The Moneysmart website gives practical advice about managing debt. Read about:

Get help with an overdrawn bank account

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.

Page last updated: 12 September 2023.
QC 60282