FHM’s 11-point plan for a leg-up out of financial hell…

Don’t panic
You’re not alone: fool.com recently polled its readers and found that the average amount they owe is around £11,000, which they plan to pay off in three years. The bad news? The site reckons the actual time to pay that off is closer to seven.

Survey the damage
Work out how much you take home and your exact monthly outgoings. If more than a quarter of your income is going on cards and loans (other than a mortgage), you’re headed for trouble.

Plan a budget
The only way out of debt is to pay it off, and you’ll never pay it off if it’s increasing every month. Your goals are to pay off your most important debts, live more cheaply and keep on top of less punitive debts – in that order.

Cut bills
Millions of pounds are wasted by people who don’t pay their utility bills by direct debit – the cheapest way to pay. Worse still, billions are lost by sticking with existing suppliers – visit www.uswitch.com to see who can give you cheaper gas and leccy.

Control your spending
Swallow your pride: can you do your weekly shop for £50 at Aldi instead of £100 at Sainsbury’s? Because that amounts to £2,600 a year. Fancy ironing your shirts instead of getting them dry-cleaned? This may help: the alternativeis called bankruptcy.

Swap your mortgage
More than four-million homeowners are currently paying their bank’s Standard Variable Rate – around 7.5% – when they could switch to less than 6% with a few phone calls.

Deal yourself a winning hand
Cut up any store cards you have now – only losers pay 30% interest rates. Next, do the credit-card shuffle where Credit Card B takes on Credit Card A’s debt for a lower interest rate. Right now, Ulster Bank (www.ulsterbank.com) is offering six months interest-free transfers to new cardholders.

Use your savings
As Martin Lewis of moneysavingexpert.com highlights, there’s no point having £10,000 earning 5% interest when you owe 10K on credit cards at 10%. “Once you’ve done it, don’t cut the credit cards up,” Lewis says. “Lock them away in case of a substantial emergency.”

Speak to your lenders
If you’re seriously struggling, phone your bank/card provider with your sob story. Keep them in the loop; they’ll often come up with a plan to help pay them back in a way you can afford.

Don’t consolidate
Cash-watchers are united in their loathing of companies which lend you all the money you need to pay off your debts at awful interest rates. But if your bank can undercut what you’re paying in percentage points with an unsecured loan, take it.

Get help
If truly screwed, help is at hand. The Citizens’ Advice Bureau (www.citizensadvice.org.uk) and the National Debtline (0808 808 4000) can call your lenders and work out ways for you to pay back at preferential rates and, in some cases, have debts written off via something called IVAs.