Debt Stress & Mental Health. Free Advice. StepChange
Taking control of your emotions and your debt.
Over the years, we have witnessed some truly heart-breaking situations because of the emotional impact of debt. We’ve had people break down into floods of tears whilst speaking to us. Many telling us they are too petrified to answer the phone or door. We've also had the misfortune of seeing relationships and families driven apart by the pressure of debt and people left feeling like suicide is their only option. The impact debt can have on your mental and emotional state can be devastating.
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Where's the support?
When it comes to debt, there simply isn’t enough support or clear information. This can result in weeks, months, even years of worries, causing strain on a person’s mental health. To really take control of your debt, feeling in control of your emotions is crucial. We're going to share some powerful information with you. By the time you’ve finished this article, we want you to feel strong, emotionally empowered, and ready to take on your debt.
We're now going to take you through some of the key ways creditors use emotions to get you to pay your debt and breakdown how this works so you understand why you shouldn't let your debt affect you so much.
Understanding use of emotions
Creditors and Debt Collectors know exactly how to target your emotions. They know what to say, what to do and how to get you to pay. The first step towards feeling in control of your debt and getting rid of fear, is understanding what Creditors and Debt Collectors do to you emotionally and why. We will start with the fundamentals of human nature.
As human beings we all have emotions. If you can tap into someone’s emotions you can manipulate a person to do pretty much whatever you want. For example, take a toy manufacturer selling a toy. Seems harmless right?
Well let's see...
To sell the toy, manufacturers go straight for the young child’s emotions, TV adverts help with that. The child has no money to purchase the toy but they really want it. The child emotionally influences their parents’ to buy the toy. As a parent, seeing your child happy makes you happy and seeing your child sad makes you feel sad. The parent buys the toy to make their child happy.
The toy manufacturer used the child's emotions to tap into the parent's emotions to get them to spend.
Let's transfer that understanding to the world of debt...
How creditors use fear in different communications
Creditors use their understanding of your emotions - particularly fear - to influence you via all of the different communication channels they can get their hands on. When you take any form of borrowing, be it a loan, credit card or similar, the creditor will get as many contact details from you as possible, including any different phone numbers you may have, and any email addresses. Why? They want as many routes as possible to get to you in case you stop paying. They understand what tactics trigger a response but it will change from person to person. If they combine tactics they have a better chance of getting payment from you.
With that knowledge, let’s look at the two main communication channels that creditors use, and how they can use your emotions to get the action they want, which is payment.
1. Fear using Debt Recovery letters
Fear is an emotion that can be used to influence the actions of a person. It seems creditors include wording in their debt recovery letters to try and target this emotion. Is this what they are designed to do? Create fear? Take a look and see what you think. Here’s some phrases you may have come across before:
“Your home may be at risk if you do not keep up with your mortgage payments.”
“Failure to contact us may lead to legal action.”
“Your debt is being considered for legal action, which may put your home at risk.”
What a lot of people do not know is that creditors, debt collectors and other similar parties, must use the word "may" if they cannot guarantee an outcome or action. They are not allowed to use “will” if they are not committed to the action as it's considered misleading. Therefore, if a debt collector replaces the word "will" with "may" it allows them to send the message and have the same effect as reading the word "will".
Next, it’s all about the words surrounding "may".
For example, “Failure to contact us may lead to legal action”. For someone who is struggling financially, the key words will be "legal action". These words result in panic and a belief you are about to be taken to court. This might not be the case at all. Legal action is often the very last resort due to it’s cost and time implication. There’s always a process to go through before legal action kicks in and it can be long-winded and complicated.
In fact, a big thing to look out for is phrases like these:
"Please call us to prevent this happening."
"Call now to prevent this happening."
"Call one of our team today so we can discuss options."
These can be indicators that the letter is purely designed to prompt action from you.
Always, always read any letters slowly, carefully and several times. Put it down and come back to it later if you need to. Understand what you are reading and don't just assume. You’ll generally find that it isn’t as bad as you first thought.
The Real Debt Guy
2. Fear using phone calls
You might think letters are sufficient to create enough worry, resulting in payment, but phone calls are much more likely to get a reaction. Again, it is because of fear. We're going to explain how creditors and debt collectors use your emotions in phone calls and then we want you to never let these phone calls affect you emotionally again.
Anxiety and fear are two very closely related emotions. They go hand in hand. When someone is anxious about something it’s often stems from a fear of something happening. If you are anxious about a test result, this is usually due to the fear of the result. Guess what? Creditors and debt collectors know how to tap into this emotion on the phone.
This is the reason you receive calls at the earliest possible time on your landline or at the weekend. It’s why you receive calls on your work phone when it is awkward for you to talk. It’s why you receive calls at all permitted times of the day and night on your mobile. You might not want your partner to know what's going on, so you have to make excuses as to why you are ignoring calls (read our article Speaking about financial difficulties). This causes yet another level of stress and discomfort.
The intention is to make you feel uncomfortable, anxious, and even fearful. Fearful that someone else may accidentally pick up your phone at work and not you. They want to make you feel anxious every time your phone rings or anytime you receive a text.
The intention is to get you to make a payment. What a lot of creditors and debt collectors don’t realise (or maybe they do) is that not everyone has the same emotional threshold. These tactics can literally destroy someone’s life and those around them.
So how can you use this information to take back control of your emotions?
How to change your mindset & take control
It’s all good and well understanding how the creditors and debt collectors tap into your emotions, but what if it’s already worked? If you’re losing sleep, frantic with worry, unable to eat, due to the anxiety or fear, It’s time to change your mindset.
Contact is a good thing
If a creditor is sending you letter after letter, and relentlessly calling you all the time, we want you to see this as a good thing. Why? Well, if their intention is to take much more serious action they would tell you so. It’s unlikely they will continue to send generic and system-generated letters which is often what people receive.
Be careful with your contact details
To protect yourself, be more cautious about the details you give out willingly. If you find phone calls really difficult to handle we have a tip that could help.
When you get a call, rather than go through their security questions, ask the caller to communicate with you in writing. Also ask them to remove your phone number from their records. If you don’t go through their security questions, they cannot discuss your debt with you.
The key is try to reduce their communication options and limit it to written communication, so you feel more in control. Allowing you time to read the letter, digest it and act rationally, not emotionally.
Don't forget to read The Real Debt Guy's final thoughts below!