Son's debt and how to help him

Hi - I really need some advice having sat up since 3am worrying silly about my son.

He was 18 last year and on Monday me and his Dad discovered he has over £20k worth of credit card debt. I have known for a few months that something was wrong but he completely denied it to my face, and sadly I have had to invade his privacy and open letters to find out the extent of the problem. I just feel totally helpless and worried sick. 

In the space of 3 months from turning 18 he was offered £16k credit by the same Credit Card company over 3 cards, at one point having two cards issued within 2 days of each other with a significant credit limit on each. This despite having maxed out the card they have provided him with 8 weeks earlier. I cannot get my head around how on earth this is responsible lending? I am not making any excuses for his spending as it is at the very least reckless but I don't understand how he was allowed to obtain this much credit within weeks of his 18th? He has had depression and a significant mental health episode at the end of last year and I can see where the spending has occurred and why. It has clearly escalated to the point that he has stopped paying anyone back and every creditor has now defaulted him. 

I think we are all in massive shock and very upset, I haven't slept or eaten properly for 3 days with worry and he has left the house and refuses to communicate with me. I think he is embarrassed that we have found out that he has been lying and his pride has taken a  huge bashing. I am really hoping that he comes round in the next few days so that we can talk to him properly as at the moment we are just trying to piece together all the pieces as best we can. All we want to do is help him. 

We have tried to tackle things in priority order and have paid a few of the urgent debts ourselves to stop any further action, and we have told him that he needs to start a DMP with Stepchange. He says that he has now started that but we don't believe that he has included all his debts. Can these be added later as there is no point in him doing it unless he deals with them all? I am so worried he is not thinking straight and want to help him but I don't think he has even faced up to this himself. I found about 15 unopened letter in his room, I don't even think he knew that one of the debts had been passed to a recovery agent. 

I feel more upset that I got into a lot of debt in my 30's and spent a long time paying it back after hiding it and I have been very open about this and always offered financial support but now this has happened. I worried so much about debt for so many years and now I am worrying about my son.

He just seems to refuse to accept our help at the moment. I am just hoping that he will calm down in a day or two and speak to us properly. Has anyone got any advice as to what I can do given that I cannot speak to anyone without his permission and he won't speak to me. Do I just hope?
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Comments

  • GrumpyDil
    GrumpyDil Posts: 1,621 Forumite
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    I suspect he is embarrassed that after all your warnings he has still got himself into debt. 

    Hopefully he will appreciate the support you are offering and work with you to resolve this. 

    I won't comment on options as there are others who are far more knowledgeable than me to do that but did want to say it sounds like you have done your best with guidance and I hope it all works out. 
  • fatbelly
    fatbelly Posts: 20,489 Forumite
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    What you don't want to be doing is paying his debts.

    As long as you know that he knows where to go for help, and that includes this board, citizens advice and stepchange, then you have to allow him time.

    It sounds like these are non- priority debts and The defaults should stop him getting further credit
  • HampshireH
    HampshireH Posts: 4,477 Forumite
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    Does he have an extended family member he would be more open to talking to instead?

    What has he spent this amount of money on in such a short space of times. Is it physical things he can sell to recoup some money to pay it off, (though presumably you'd have known sooner if this was the case and he was constantly having deliveries and new stuff being hoarded).

    Does he work? 
  • HI thanks for your replies. 

    He does work and earns ok money as an Apprentice, he spends a lot of time at his girlfriends and is only really at home midweek so I don't see all his spending. I have questioned how he has afforded some of the things but he does get bonuses from work and he also had a Babybond and ISA which matured for his 18th. This should have set him up but it appears that he has just spent that and got new credit.

    I have worried that he is gambling or taking drugs but I can find no evidence of it and I don't think he would take drugs as he would lose his job if he did as they do random tests. I genuinely think he has lived a ridiculously expensive lifestyle doing what he wants, when he wants. We did have a period of things being delivered and I questioned it but he felt so convincing in his answers. Sadly a lot of the spending was in a 6 month period when he was struggling with mental illness and I suspect he spent to feel better. We are now dealing with the fallout from that. 

    I do agree that I think that he is ashamed and he doesn't want to face me as he knows I now know everything. I have had to eek out every single debt from him one by one after months of trying to help him and ask him if there is a problem.

    I want to think he has done the DMP online with Stepchange, he says he has, but he has also lied to me so so much in the last 6 months I don't know what to believe anymore. I suppose I do need to leave him to it but it feels easier said than done. I just want to step in and sort it for him but I realise I can't unless he's willing to face up to it himself. Having been there the sense of relief when it is under control is massive and I wish he knew that  :'(
  • RAS
    RAS Posts: 32,655 Forumite
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    Hi, this is very difficult but you need to let go. You cannot take responsibility for sorting this out, and paying off even part of his debt has the potential to cause further problems.

    And you cannot dictate how your son handles these debts. You may think of him as your child still but he's legally an adult.

    He's probably going to find getting credit very difficult but there's no guarantee.

    If you want to help him, the best thing is to make it possible for him to return home and stop mentioning the debt. It may be that once he's unable to splash the cash, GF and other friends will be less interested in him and he needs support, not lectures.

    Do however make sure he continues to make a contribution to the household expenditure and running the home. If he's ever going to transfer to independent living he needs to start learning how to run a home.

    If he does anything like a DMP he will be allowed living costs, so it is fair that the money does contribute to his lodgings.

    As the debts are defaulted, they will drop off in 6 years time whatever he does. If he doesn't pay, they will become statute barred 6 years after the default or last payment. So if you pay them, you delay the process.

    The only thing I would suggest is that if you can try to get someone he trusts to explain that IVAs are a very bad thing. And for his amount of debt, they are not generally appropriate. Get them to encourage him to talk to a debt charity, not a debt company and even to come on here and read the threads on IVA. 
    The person who has not made a mistake, has made nothing
  • kimwp
    kimwp Posts: 1,782 Forumite
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    The best way you can help him is to not pay his bills. This will cause him to default and not have access to more credit. As he's only 18, there will be plenty of time for his credit history to recover before he needs it to buy a house.

    Then read through the threads on here so you understand what his options are and can be there for him when he realises he needs to sort it out. 
    Statement of Affairs (SOA) link: https://www.lemonfool.co.uk/financecalculators/soa.php

    For free, non-judgemental debt advice, try: Stepchange or National Debtline. Beware fee charging companies with similar names.
  • RAS said:
    Hi, this is very difficult but you need to let go. You cannot take responsibility for sorting this out, and paying off even part of his debt has the potential to cause further problems.

    And you cannot dictate how your son handles these debts. You may think of him as your child still but he's legally an adult.

    He's probably going to find getting credit very difficult but there's no guarantee.

    If you want to help him, the best thing is to make it possible for him to return home and stop mentioning the debt. It may be that once he's unable to splash the cash, GF and other friends will be less interested in him and he needs support, not lectures.

    Do however make sure he continues to make a contribution to the household expenditure and running the home. If he's ever going to transfer to independent living he needs to start learning how to run a home.

    If he does anything like a DMP he will be allowed living costs, so it is fair that the money does contribute to his lodgings.

    As the debts are defaulted, they will drop off in 6 years time whatever he does. If he doesn't pay, they will become statute barred 6 years after the default or last payment. So if you pay them, you delay the process.

    The only thing I would suggest is that if you can try to get someone he trusts to explain that IVAs are a very bad thing. And for his amount of debt, they are not generally appropriate. Get them to encourage him to talk to a debt charity, not a debt company and even to come on here and read the threads on IVA. 
    Thank you so much.
  • sourcrates
    sourcrates Posts: 28,876 Ambassador
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    When I turned 18, the credit card companies, to drum up business, would send mailshots out with an offer guaranteeing you a credit card, I was working, but only earning around £50-£100 a week, back in the early 80`s, I was given an £8000 credit limit !!

    Being young and stupid, I spent it, and other offers that came my way as well, it was the start of a life of debt that lasted into my early 40`s, you give a kid on a poor wage access to money like that, there going to spend it, I guess its still much the same these days.

    However, there is a lot of help available now, and he certainly does not want this to become a life choice, a lot of myth and confusion surrounds debt, but it can be dealt with.
    I’m a Forum Ambassador and I support the Forum Team on the Debt free wannabe, Credit file and ratings, and Bankruptcy and living with it boards. If you need any help on these boards, do let me know. Please note that Ambassadors are not moderators. Any posts you spot in breach of the Forum Rules should be reported via the report button, or by emailing forumteam@moneysavingexpert.com. All views are my own and not the official line of MoneySavingExpert.For free non-judgemental debt advice, contact either Stepchange, National Debtline, or CitizensAdviceBureaux.Link to SOA Calculator- https://www.stoozing.com/soa.php The "provit letter" is here-https://forums.moneysavingexpert.com/discussion/2607247/letter-when-you-know-nothing-about-about-the-debt-aka-prove-it-letter
  • EssexHebridean
    EssexHebridean Posts: 21,372 Forumite
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    edited 26 July 2023 at 11:29AM
    As sourcrates has already alluded to above, there are a number of us on these boards who can identify with "hit 18, and got ALLLL the credit cards" type situations. I - and a number of my friends - found ourselves in precisely that situation many years ago. A good number of the friends were bailed out by parents paying off the debts for them. Mine took a different approach - telling me that they would cheerfully give me all the support and budgeting help and advice they could, but paying it off was entirely down to me - and it was, and it took a while, and I felt that it was "UnFAIIIIIR!"  while I was doing it - other pals had been able to pretty much carry on life as before while I was having to say no to nights out and new clothes...Fast forward a few years though and the lessons stuck with me - I've occasionally had loans (but for planned reasons), dipped into overdraft (mostly through laziness, but always well and truly under control) and used credit cards (still do, and either paid off in full every month, or for planned purchases for which the money had already been saved, on 0% deals) but I have never again been in any sort of significant or even approaching unmanageable debt. The same I suspect can not be said of the pals - indeed I know a number of them had already started amassing debt again within months of the first lot being cleared by the bank of Mum & Dad. 

    It's absolutely  natural that you want to help your son - of course you do, but as already said, giving him money won't help, lot in the long term. He needs to learn financial responsibility and better he learns it now than in 10 years time when perhaps he has a mortgage that he ends up short of funds to repay... 

    We've a saying on here - you can't have a lightbulb moment for someone else. In other words, HE needs to be ready to see this as the significant issue it is and to tackle it. Reassure him that you still love him, but you fear for his security in the future, and that you are there to offer him support in clearing the debt, but that support will be in the form of love and knowledge, not hard cash. He will end up regretting blowing the cash he had in the bank, and also getting himself into debt - but he will also almost certainly end up being grateful for the stance you take now - I speak from experience on that one. 

    Oh - and apologise to him for opening his post too - he would be absolutely within his rights to be furious with you about that one. 
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