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Vivien let her husband worry about their money. Admittedly, he didn't have much time, sometimes working seven days a week as a manager in a well-established printing firm in the north-east of England, but it was something he took the responsibility for.
It never occurred to her, she says, to question whether they could afford the long weekends at fancy hotels he was so fond of. He was on a decent salary. Surely his good job should bring them some perks, especially as they didn't have the expense of children?
"Right, we're off," he used to say. "I've worked like a mad thing all week, but I'm not doing any more this weekend. We're going away."
She also liked to buy nice things for their home. She wanted something to show for all the effort he was putting in, all the time she had to do without him. She felt she was entitled to that.
Now she regrets never looking into the family finances. For the amount of money going out was hugely more than what was coming in from her husband's employer.
Thanks mainly to the willingness of credit card companies to keep issuing her husband with new plastic, the couple had racked up £90,000 in credit card debt. All of those extravagant weekends away had to be paid for - and often the solution was a new card (by the end, her husband had more than 10). And eventually, inevitably, their house of cards fell in.
One of the worst things was the effect these money worries had on the couple's relationship. Each blamed the other for running up the credit cards and they were finding it increasingly difficult to discuss their problems. "When we did talk it seemed to always end in a row - I started to worry that the debts would split us up," says Vivien.
But there was one thing the two did agree on: they didn't want to go bankrupt. "Friends told me it would be no disgrace to go bankrupt (link to avoid bankruptcy with an iva), but I felt that we're upstanding people and that if we owe the debt we have to pay it," she explains. "It was a question of self-esteem."
Instead, the couple turned to Phillip Allen and his team to see what the options were. After a preliminary fact-finding meeting, they decided that an IVA was the right choice for them and asked Phillip to act on their behalf. Not only were staff extremely helpful but they made them feel that they were not on their own. They eventually entered into an agreement to pay off their debt at around 60p in the pound over five years.
The realisation that they could sort out their debt problems also took the strain off their relationship. "When we left the office we realized that we could overcome our debts â€“ and we could do it together," says Vivien. "I would certainly recommend that anyone who gets into serious debt goes and sees Phillip Allen."
One other thing changed on the day they met Phillip â€“ they took his advice about credit card debt (FAQ) and cut up all of their credit cards. Indeed, they have none today and Vivien now counsels her colleagues to avoid them. "I've got people who work with me now and I tell them, 'don't even touch a credit card' â€“ they make it too easy for people who are vulnerable to 'spend, spend, spend' to lose it."
The five years they spent completing the IVA were hard. "It was a struggle, a hard lesson" she recalls. "I remember having to be so careful with what we ordered in a curry house." The final six months were more bearable because the end was in sight. "You start to count down 'Six months, five months, four months'," she explains.
Being debt free feels "marvellous", she says. "It's a lovely feeling when you've been in debt to get a letter now from the electricity company saying you are £50 in credit and do you want a refund? I say no, you owe us."