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Financial hardship

How to manage debt and financial hardship

Page reading time: 3 minutes

If your bills or loan repayments are getting out of control, talk to your lender or provider about your options. Taking action straight away can stop a small problem from becoming a big one.

Here are some practical steps you can take to get your finances back on track.

If you're in crisis and struggling to pay for essentials, there are services to help you with food, bills and housing. See urgent help with money.

Ask for financial hardship assistance

The first step is to contact your lender or service provider.

If you ask for help, your bank, insurer, utility or phone provider must consider you for hardship assistance. Most have hardship officers who can assess your situation and work out what help is available.

Financial hardship options

Options can include setting up a payment plan or altering your loan repayments. This is called a ‘financial hardship arrangement’. Your arrangement may be temporary, like deferring a payment. Or permanent, like varying a loan.

Ask for financial hardship assistance if you're struggling to pay:

The Financial Rights Legal Centre sample letter generator can help you create a letter to apply for financial hardship assistance. Keep a copy of the letter for your records.

If you talk to someone by phone, keep notes of what you discussed. 

You may be concerned about how a financial hardship arrangement will affect your credit report. Lenders like to see that you’ve made a plan to get back on track. It’s better for you and your credit rating. To find out more, see credit scores and credit reports.

Proving financial hardship

You might be asked to provide information when you apply for financial hardship assistance. Be prepared to show:

How to set up a payment plan

When negotiating a payment plan, don't agree to an amount that is too high for you to pay. If you're not sure how much you can afford, use the budget planner.

Pay what you can

It is in your best interest to keep paying what you can. You will keep chipping away at your debt, making it easier to resume normal payments when you can.

If you find you can't stick to the new arrangement, tell your lender or service provider straight away. Keep paying as much as you can afford, even if it is not as much as you agreed to.

Get help if you need it

Talk to a financial counsellor

If you have multiple debts to sort out, or need help applying for financial hardship, contact a financial counsellor. This is a free and confidential service.

Call the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 to talk to a financial counsellor. Monday to Friday, 9:30am to 4:30pm. Or live chat, Monday to Friday, 9:00am to 8:00pm.

Get debt management support

Call Way Forward on 1300 045 502. Monday to Friday, 9:00am to 7:00pm. If you're in financial hardship, they can arrange a debt repayment plan on your behalf. This is a free service.

Contact your bank

Your bank will have a range of options to help you. Use the Australian Banking Association's financial assistance hub to find your bank's contact details and understand what options are available.

Contact your insurer

Your insurer will have a range of options to help you. Contact your insurer directly to find out what options are available.

Get emotional support

Call Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36, 24 hours a day. Or live chat, 24 hours a day.

Get free legal advice

Act quickly if you've received notice that you are being taken to court because of a debt (such as a summons, statement of claim or liquidated claim).

Free legal advice is available from community legal centres and Legal Aid offices in each state and territory.