Back to the Black on free promotion



Breaking news!

The Kindle version of Back to the Black …. how to become debt-free and stay that way (second edition) will be available as a free download from 1st – 5th March inclusive.

The promotion applies to all territories.

Here are the links to access your free copy during the promotion:


US / worldwide:



A recent report by the debt advice charity StepChange points up two main issues:

  • Regional variations in debt burden
  • The special risks for self-employed people.

There are bound to be regional variations in almost anything. What was notable, though, is that the region where people are spending the highest proportion (30%) of their disposable income on debt interest payments, is the South East.

However, the section in the summary that hit me in the face was this:

“Self-employed struggling: partly because of high levels of secured borrowing – possibly taken out to keep businesses afloat – self-employed people advised by the charity owed on average £300,000.

“Clients in part-time or full-time employment had an average debt load of 4.1 times their income. For self-employed people this rises to 18.6 times their income.”

[Note: The figures apply to debtors who are or were clients of the charity. They are not necessarily typical of the population as a whole.]

The difference between 4.1 and 18.6 is remarkable; and I can empathise, because I was in the same situation fifteen years ago. I had a business that had done well for five or more years but then “fell on hard times”, to put it euphemistically. Like the clients of StepChange, I increased my borrowings (secured or unsecured, they were still debts) in an attempt to keep the business afloat. By the time I decided that would not work, closed the business and concentrated 100% on solving the debt problem, my total borrowings were several times my income. Not eighteen times, but a lot.

How I solved the problem is told in my book “Back the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way.” (Amazon: paperback and Kindle eBook)


For a copy of the report by StepChange:



In my book “Back to the Black”, I talk about the psychological effects of being in debt. In fact Chapter 2 is entitled “Mind Over Matter.”

I was pleased to see that this important issue was covered in a recent article by Simon Read in “The Independent” (17 March 2012). I’ll take the liberty of paraphrasing:


Being in debt is a depressing experience.

“A trouble shared is a trouble halved”; but the annual report of Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS) shows 25% of those in debt don’t share their troubles with friends or family.

It’s understandable that people don’t want to discuss their debt problems. They’re embarrassed that they might be judged.

Admit the problem; don’t delay

However, admitting you’re in financial trouble is the first step towards solving the problem.

CCCS also revealed that 45 per cent of people delayed seeking advice for more than a year after they started to worry they had a debt problem. Many of them had probably carried the worry alone.


Many tragic suicides are caused by the worry of debt (and for every suicide there are ten attempted suicides). If those people had been able to talk about their problems, who knows what kind of future they may have had?

Talk to someone

Don’t just worry about debt. Instead look for a way to deal with it. There are many people and organisations that can help.

Help is at hand

CCCS (and the other debt advice charities: see below) are on hand to help.

All of them can help those in debt find ways to put their finances back on track.

Friends and family

Just talking to friends and family could be a good first step on the way to coping with the deep anxiety that money worries cause.


I had intended to add some thoughts of my own to this; but I think that the article says what needs to be said. I’ve just added information about organisations that can help; see below.






Citizens Advice (“The CAB”)

 Free advice provider; registered charity. Funders include central and local government, charitable trusts, companies and individuals.

Face-to-face interviews and telephone advice available at local Citizens Advice Bureaux (CABs). Find your nearest bureau in the phone directory, or search at

E-mail advice available at some CABs

Advice line: 0844 499 4718

Online help also available:

CCCS (Consumer Credit Counselling Service)

Free advice provider; registered charity. Supported almost entirely by the credit industry.

Telephone counselling 0800 138 1111

Online help

National Debtline

 Free advice provider; registered charity. Part of the Money Advice Trust, (see below) funded by a mix of private sector donations and Government grants.

Phone advice and free factsheet orders: 0808 808 4000

Credit Action

Money education charity, in partnership with CCCS (see above). Free online advice provider, plus the Spendometer (see Chapter 8), Money Manuals and other resources:

Their “Money Advice Map” signposts to local debt advice centres:






AdviceUK (to find a local money advice centre)

020 7407 4070


Debtors Anonymous (worldwide community with telephone & online meetings)

… and to find contact details for local meetings inUK:


Mind (charity & helpline that helps with mental health problems)

0845 7660 163


Samaritans (confidential emotional support)

0845 790 9090


Saneline (support for mental illness)

0845 767 8000


Shelter (free housing advice helpline)

0808 800 4444


For the “Independent” article in full: LINK


For info about my book “Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way” (paperback and eBook): LINK



The paperback version of my book “Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way” is now available on

It encapsulates what I learned from my own debt problem a few years ago, when I very nearly had to file for bankruptcy but found another way.

Hopefully the lessons I learned are set out in such a way as to help others who might now be in the same situation as I was.

The marketing material reads as follows:

  • Worried about debt? This book shows how to handle stress, to optimise your repayment schedule; to budget and track spending. 
  • You’ll feel confident of your ability to handle the debt and will have a plan for doing so. You’ll learn to evaluate today’s situation and decide realistic goals; to develop options and calculate discretionary income. 
  • Armed with that information, decisions will seem easier.

 You can also find a kindle version on Amazon; a .pdf version on my own site: and other e-formats in the Smashwords store.


For the paperback version of “Back to the Black”: LINK

For the ebook versions:

Smashwords, for a multi-format ebook: LINK

Kindle store: LINK

For .pdf only: LINK


Most financial experts say that it’s important to maintain a good credit rating, even if you are not planning to increase your borrowings in the near future. At some point in the future you may well want to do so; at that point, if your credit rating is poor, or simply inaccurate or out-of-date, it could cause you problems. At the very least it could cause you delays.

As I have mentioned before, I subscribe to “Moneywise” magazine and I find it a useful resource. It’s also a quick read, which is very important to many people. I wish I had known about it back in the late ‘90s when I faced my own debt problems. Being in debt is stressful and that’s why very often advice needs to be clear and succinct.

This month’s issue of the magazine contains a helpful article on the very question of boosting your credit rating. The article is not available yet on the Moneywise website, so you’ll have to buy the magazine to read the full piece. (March 2012, page 44; good value, I’d say, at £3.95)

To summarise:

  1. Get hold of your credit report from one of the three main credit reporting agencies in the UK: Experian, Call Credit and Equifax. They are required by law to provide a basic one for £2.
  2. Look for mistakes; lenders often misreport and still show debts as being unsatisfied, even though they have been paid in full.
  3. Check for old addresses: are your old addresses in there? Are they spelled correctly? You need evidence of your past payment performance.
  4. Check for hidden debts: balances that had built up of which you were unaware. (e.g. forgotten direct debits on unused accounts)
  5. Show your stability. Long relationship with one bank? Landline phone? On electoral roll?
  6. Cancel unused credit cards, debts, accounts. (I myself need to look at this; I have several cards I never use)
  7. Get a credit card, if you haven’t got one. This seems illogical but it’s a good strategy. Manage it sensibly; that provides evidence of your “probity”.
  8. Be careful who you link your finances to. Applying for joint credit will link your credit reports, of course.
  9. Don’t make lots of applications for credit at the same time.
  10. The Golden Rule: don’t miss payments. If you can’t avoid missing one, contact the lender / credit card company in advance; don’t just default.



Way back in 2004 I found a great online resource on this subject from Equifax. That’s really “from the horse’s mouth”, because they are one of the three UK companies mentioned above, who do the credit reporting. The information is still valid and it’s still on Equifax’s website.

The title was “Rebuilding Damaged Credit”. Some of the advice overlaps with that of “Moneywise”, some not.  Here’s a summary of it:

Open new accounts … and pay them off

Being able to repay a variety of new accounts helps rebuild your credit. Opening and paying off as many different kinds of accounts as you can is better than adding more debt to an existing credit card.

 Start small

Rebuilding your credit can be similar to starting over from scratch; starting small may be the easiest option. Credit cards from department stores can be useful. (Warning: if you don’t pay the full balance every month, their interest rates tend to be among the highest)

 Consider asking for help

If you can’t qualify on your own, ask a friend or family member to co-sign for a small loan or credit card.

 Consider a secured credit card

They are guaranteed by a deposit that you make with the credit grantor; they offer the purchasing power of a major credit card. Make sure the grantor reports payment histories to a credit reference agency, so you’re building your positive payment history.

 Use new accounts in moderation

And make payments that are more than the minimum.

 Keep balances low

Avoid carrying a balance that is more than 30% of your credit limit, because creditors may view that as excessive debt.

 The bottom line

 It’ll take time for your new credit history to gain momentum, so be patient. You’re demonstrating your financial reliability; that’s why opening and paying down accounts may make it a little easier to get more credit in the future if you need it.



For the resources mentioned above:

For the Equifax resource in full:

For a short “Moneywise” video on improving credit rating:

For the article: “Ten ways to boost your credit rating”. Available in “Moneywise”, March 2012, page 46.


For info and links re my e-book “Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way”, click HERE.

It’ll also be available in paperback from Amazon in a couple of weeks; I have the proof copy in my hand right now.








A couple of recent stories by Simon Read in the UK’s “Independent” newspaper  (see below) reveal that UK consumers are once again extending their credit card debt, after a period when the trend seemed to be reversing.

What’s more, they are using cards not for luxuries (i.e. “discretionary spending”) but on essentials.

Christmas is coming: the debts are getting fat

The situation for many of those “hard-working families”, as our politicians like to call them (surely that’s discrimination against single people and lazy people?) will probably get worse in a month or two. Why? Not just because of the underlying economic situation and rising inflation, but because of the “retail eternity” (to quote my hero Loudon Wainwright III) that we call Christmas.

Peer pressure

 We have been conditioned to believe that one can’t celebrate Christmas properly without spending a load of money. So those in debt are going to get deeper in debt. If you have young children, peer pressure and the blandishments of advertisers will try hard to ensure it.

US blogger promotes debt-free Christmas

That’s why I gave three hearty cheers when I found that an American blogger called Brad Chaffee had started a discussion thread called “Debt-Free Christmas”. I communicated with Brad and told him how much I liked the idea; he got back to me promptly, saying that the concept was very much alive and well in his family, even if the blog thread is less active right now.

Practical solutions?

What I take as the meaning of his “Debt-Free Christmas” was not so much to get right out of debt at this time of year – that would be a very tough aspiration – but how to find practical ways of having a great Christmas without getting further into debt; despite inflation and peer pressures.

Gift spend limit

In future posts I’ll be talking about how we’ve done it in my family. The most successful method was putting a limit on the gift spend per person. That forced a rethink, compared with the previous procedure of: “Oh God, only a week to go and I haven’t finished my gift shopping; must throw some more money at the problem”.

The new rule didn’t just save money, it unleashed lots of creativity.And we had just as much fun, maybe more.

Over to you

I’d like to throw this open. All contributions welcome!




For Simon Read’s article in the Independent, 6 Nov 2011:


For info on my e-book “Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way”:  


Kindle version:

Other versions:


When I first started to plan and write my own book on debt (“Back to the Black” – see below) I naturally trawled the bookshops to skim, then buy and read, other books on the topic. I wanted to find out to what extent the subject had already been covered.  Was it worth writing another book, or had the subject been done to death already?


I found, to my surprise, that there were very few books on how to deal with personal debt problems. I bought and read most of them, because I didn’t want my book simply to rehash what had already been said. When I say there were very few books, I mean print books by British authors on the shelves of British bookshops. Of course there are far fewer British bookshops nowadays, but that’s another story.


I then found there were a few more that were only available as e-books, which is the way I decided to publish first. What I also found was that there were many, many more e-books by US authors. Of course that’s a bigger market (population five times higher) but there must be other reasons for the difference because it’s out of all proportion to that ratio. When I’ve figured it out I shall get back to the question in another post.


All that was a couple of years ago. Sitting on my desk today is a more recent addition to the market and I think it’s a valuable one. Its remit is wider than mine, which was simply about debt and how to handle it.

Sanni Kruger is a financial coach. She runs the local (Bristol, UK) branch of Debtors Anonymous and she’s published “Making Friends With Money: how to start feeling wealthy without waiting till you’re rich.” As the title suggests, her message is that it’s not just a matter of how much money you have; it’s also about attitude, about mind-set. Her chapter headings give a flavour of the content: feeling better about money; getting a grip on your finances; using cashflow planning to build your wealth; getting on top of debt; cashflow management from day to day; surviving the money jungle; the light at the end of the tunnel; and finally: achieving what really matters to YOU.


Ms Kruger’s background is in book-keeping and accounting, so it’s no surprise that there is plenty of detail here about budgeting and cashflow planning. That’s a subject that is a challenge for many people, including me. Perhaps it should be taught in schools but that’s another question. The coverage of this subject is sound, as you’d expect. However, the advice I liked best in this section of the book was to have two bank accounts; one main one which was simply and in-and-out vehicle for one’s regular / predictable income (be it wages or salary, benefits, pensions etc) and one’s committed / predictable expenditures, which should exit via direct debits; then you work out what’s left after the regular / committed expenditures and transfer that amount to the second account, which Ms Kruger calls the “D2D” (Day-to-Day) account. That way you get a better handle on how much you have available for discretionary purchases and for any expenditure which is regular but variable if you get my drift, e.g. food shopping. Keeping an eye on the balance in the D2D account tells me when I ought to go to Lidl / Aldi and when I could afford an occasional splurge at Waitrose.


That was very useful but in the last few chapters the book gets more into the bigger picture, or longer-term goals; right-brain thinking or whatever you want to call it. I liked the final chapter on “achieving what really matters to YOU” (Ms Kruger’s capitalisation) because that includes a kind of “hierarchy of needs” approach as it applies to money. To take as an example the specific area my book covers, she suggests these levels of debt repayment:

Level 1: nothing can be repaid

Level 2: more than zero, i.e. £1+ per month: (Ms Kruger, like me, knows that paying £1 / month to every creditor still has value)

Level 3: More than £25 / month to each creditor

Level 4: More than £200 / month to each creditor

Level 5: no debt to repay – ever again.

OK, the numbers will vary according to each person’s circumstance but the principle of working one’s way up the different levels seems good to me. Similarly on transport, she suggests that one might visualise progress (“a journey”, as they say)  from Level 1: “enough money for public transport; lifts from friends”; to Level 5: “new car of my dreams and the money for running costs etc etc, plus enough money in car replacement fund to change it at least every 2 years; public transport (first class) or taxis when desired.”

As you might guess from this section, the book closes with a further section entitled “living your dream.” Lots of other self-help books talk about that topic but Ms Kruger’s book gives people the practical tools to achieve it and the mindset to start feeling wealthy even before you become rich. Just as it says on the tin; or in the subtitle anyway. A worthwhile read.



On Sanni Kruger’s book “Making friends with money: how to start feeling wealthy without waiting till you’re rich”

Go to to order. Hard copy (comb-bound A4) £12; downloadable .pdf £7.20, or in four sections each £1.99

On my own book about managing debt, “Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way”.

eBook only. To sample for free, or purchase (all versions around £0.70 / $0.99):

  • Available in the Kindle store; click HERE:
  • Available in all e-formats, including .pdf, at Smashwords. Click HERE:


There’s been some Twitter traffic lately about student debt, including some tweets just yesterday.

Firstly, this from @CashQuestions (Annie Shaw):

“There’s some sort of bullsh*t doing rounds that student debt shdn’t count if u apply for a mortgage. It counts when u come to pay tho – doh”

That was, I think, a response to this tweet from @little_mavis (Mary Wombat) (and retweeted by @CashQuestions):

“I hate the ‘student loan debt isn’t really debt’ or ‘a different sort of debt’. A DEBT IS A BLOODY DEBT. YOU OWE SOMEONE MONEY.”

“Yeah but no but”

So … are student loans are a different sort of debt?

No, absolutely not, in that you owe someone money.

However, yes, in that the debt does not fall due unless and until your income goes above a certain level. In that way it becomes more like a tax.

If you had a bank loan, the bank would not say “OK, that debt is not due; you don’t have to pay me because you don’t have a job – or you have a low-paying job – right now.”

In that way a student loan is better than other kinds of debt, as far as the debtor is concerned.

Effect of bankruptcy

However, if the worst comes to the worst and someone goes bankrupt who still has student loan debt: in that case, the student loan is different too. In my book “Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way”, I say this:

When you are bankrupt you do not, in general, make payments to your creditors; they make a claim to your trustee instead. There are, however, a few exceptions, payment for which you remain responsible. For example:

  • secured creditors (e.g. any mortgage you may have)

  • “non-provable” debts (e.g. court fines and maintenance arrears under divorce settlements)

  • student loans.

Repay or delay?

Here is another interesting issue around student loans. As Martin Lewis says (30.08.2011) on his excellent “Moneysaving Expert” site, student loan is (relatively) cheap debt; therefore should you repay it faster than you’re required to (if you’ve got spare cash) or is it better to save?

The answer depends, of course, on your situation, so the site has a calculator to help answer the question.



The MoneySavingExpert site and calculator: click HERE:

“Back to the Black”: eBook on managing debt

To sample for free, or purchase (£0.70 / $0.99), my debt advice book:

  • “Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way” is available in the Kindle store. Click HERE:
  • It’s also available in all e-formats, including .pdf, at Smashwords. Click HERE: