AS the Christmas decorations come down and the New Year begins in earnest, many will still be feeling the effects of the festive period.
Now is the traditional time to try and get back into shape, but what about your wallet as well as your waistline?
Sadly, many who are feeling the pinch are turning to payday loan companies to help them out, which can have worrying consequences.
Mandy Buxton needed a quick fix to help pay with her rent.
The single mother from Lancing sat down and went through her bills wondering what to do when an advert came on the television for payday loans.
Desperate, the 42-year-old former learning support assistant went online to see what the deal was. Within minutes the company was offering her £400.
She took it, believing the interest of £50 was manageable if she paid the balance straight away.
But time off work to look after a sick child meant her salary was less than she forecast and suddenly she was caught in a spiral of debt.
She said: “I felt I had to take out the loan but found I couldn’t pay it back the next month.
“It’s just made everything 10 times worse.”
Each time she paid off the bal- ance she had to take another loan out as there was nothing left in her account. Soon she owed thousands of pounds and her rent was overdue.
She said: “I am at my wits’ end and it can just feel completely hopeless.”
One of the pitfalls of the system was the ease with which she could get money, she said.
“It was ridiculously easy. I was honest with how much I earned but there were no checks.
“They always offered more than what I asked for. “Then they send you text mes- sages saying you are now an upgraded member and can get a better rate.
“I get text messages every day now from payday loan companies offering money.”
Her tale is a cautionary one and charities are urging people to take advice before taking out one of these loans.
Miss Buxton went to Shelter to help with her housing issues.
Campbell Robb, Shelter’s chief executive, said: “It’s shocking to think that so many families will be starting the new year with a huge weight hanging over them, trapped in a daily struggle to keep their home.
“Payday loans may seem like a quick fix, but the huge interest charges mean things can quickly spiral out of control.
“It’s vital that anyone who’s hav- ing difficulty paying their rent or mortgage gets advice now.
“Don’t wait until things reach breaking point later in the year – it could leave your family’s home at risk.”
Brighton Housing Trust’s debt advice workers have reported a steady increase in the number of people accessing their debt advice services with concerns about payday loans.
John Holmström, BHT assistant chief executive, said: “The number of people turning to us for advice on these types of loans has increased over recent years.
“Borrowing from traditional lenders, banks and credit card companies has become more difficult and as a result people are forced to borrow money from other means.
“Pay day loans with extraordinarily high rates of interest can see customers spiral into debt when they do not meet their repayments.
"It is very easy to lose control and the effects can be dis- astrous.”
Danny Murphy, BHT Debt Advisor, said: “I would strongly advise people to avoid these types of loans.
“If you are worried about your finances then please come and see one of our debt advisers as soon as possible.
“All our advice is free and con- fidential.”
The University of Brighton warned its students, many worried about finances following fee rises and increases in the cost of living, against turning to payday loans.
Earlier this year a poll of students by its student services found 6% are currently accessing the controversial loans.
Helen Abrahams, from the university, said: “We know they are accessing payday loans for different reasons.”
She said the usual amount a student will ask for is £100.
“Once you get into the cycle of a positive experience of paying it back in a couple of week’s time – so you’re not experiencing that high interest rate – you are then more inclined to take another loan out.
"I think that’s when the problem really starts.”
She said students facing hardship need to be assessed sooner for additional funding.
Lynne Condell, National Association of Student Money Advisers chairman, said: “For some stu- dents both legal and sometimes illegal money lending can seem like an attractive route to addi- tional funds.
“However, students taking this approach often realise too late that they are in serious financial trouble with no easy escape.”
The West Sussex Credit Union in Worthing began Life Raft loans last year to help people worried about paying their bills and tempted to turn to payday loans.
Jenny King, the chairwoman of West Sussex Credit Union, said: “People caught up in a spiral of debt often feel anxious, stressed and powerless to deal competently with their situation.
“Finance plays a role in everybody’s life and we are working hard to help consumers get their finances back on track in a fair and ethical manner.
“We think our Life Raft loans make a major contribution to keeping people afloat.”
A Worthing man said he and his partner had turned to the credit union for help while struggling to pay for his mother’s funeral.
The 58-year-old said: “We spoke to our bank but they would only lend us a minimum of £2,000 and it would have taken us five years to repay it.
“We didn’t need that much but we needed a bit to get by.
“We looked elsewhere and the rates were extortionate.”