The combination of rising household debt and the disruption of COVID-19 has made life tough for plenty of Australians.
Close to 2 million people paid a debt management firm last year, and there are reasons why consumer advocates call these companies "debt vultures".
Mounting debt can be a huge source of stress.
At its worst, it can see the break-up of families and even lead to homelessness.
So when you're facing a rising tide of debt, it can be tempting to grasp at what appears to be a quick solution.
That's exactly what debt management or debt repair firms appear to offer.
They claim to help consumers get out of debt fast, escape financial hardship or clear a history of loan defaults from a personal credit record. But what seems like a simple way out can become a financial disaster.
Complaints have been received by consumer protection groups from people who say they were charged fees, in some cases thousands of dollars, for debt services that weren't delivered.
Consumers have also been asked to sign contracts where they agree to a caveat being placed on their home, so the property can't be sold until fees owing to the debt repair company are paid in priority to any other debts.
Debt repair firms also have a reputation for high-pressure sales tactics.
Fortunately, a step is being made in the right direction. From July 1, debt repair firms will need to hold a credit licence and be a member of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority.
It's not a radical industry overhaul, but it's a start.
The thing is, there's a lot you can do yourself - at no cost at all, to help solve problem debt.
If you think your credit record contains information that is wrong or out of date, contact credit reference agencies like Illion and Experian.
You have a right to challenge any incorrect details.
If you're struggling with loan repayments or utility bills, contact the lender or service provider to negotiate a payment plan.
Do this before you miss a payment to prevent a default appearing on your credit record.
A range of free financial counselling services is also available to help get your finances back on track.
Call the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 to be put in touch with a trained counsellor.
The fact is there's no silver bullet for serious debt problems.
It often takes time to clear the slate, but it can be done.
Expecting an instant fix from a debt management firm isn't just unrealistic, it could leave you worse off.
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