We all have an open payment that puts us in the red for a moment. Then we book a small part of the savings or we temporarily spend a little less. Debts are payment arrears when there is no money or a view to hand over the outstanding amount. When you end up in this situation, it is necessary to ask for help. How do you find this help? Is it so easy to ask for help? How can debts arise and how can you get rid of them independently? We answer these questions in this article.

What are the causes of debt?

People can get into debt through different means. In a number of situations it is the person’s fault due to certain behavior, but in many cases financial debts arise out of the power of the person in question. In other words, it is not the fault of debt. People who come to a crossroads, such as the loss of the life partner, losing a job or becoming unfit for work due to an accident. These causes lie outside of their own power and cause a major change in income and expenditure. It requires adjustment to the situation and you can work in debt.

Low self esteem

A second cause is having a low self-esteem, having excessive stress and suffering from negative feelings. To reduce the pain, you spend a lot of money on clothes or other products. You want to compensate for that bad feeling.


Over-spending is a third reason for someone to get into debt. For example, if people have taken out too many loans or loans, the expenditure will eventually pass over the income. In response to the second cause, over-spending can also occur. An even more poignant cause of debt is survival. When the monthly expenses, such as gas, water , electricity and housing, are structurally higher than the money that comes in, you can no longer buy food and drinks. You have to borrow money to survive. The last cause has to do with your own behavior. Think of overestimating your own budget, a buying, alcohol or gambling addiction and ignorance of your financial situation. Below the causes at a glance:

  1. A big change in your life
  2. Reducing low self-esteem or stress with excessive expenses
  3. Too many loans and credits are open
  4. Monthly charges structurally higher than income
  5. Destructive behavior

How can you recognize signals from someone with debts?

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It is often difficult to recognize when a person is in financial trouble. In the Netherlands it is a sort of decency standard not to talk about money. This makes it even more difficult for someone who is in debt to get out of such a situation. It can evoke a sense of shame. People with debts often have structural stress and, in terms of appearance, also look worse than normal. They have bags under the eyes or a paler face. Now, of course, it is not the case that everyone with these external characteristics is in debt. Be subtle when you still want to have a conversation with someone you suspect he or she is in debt.

In addition, flight and fighting behavior also show that someone is not very broad. Think of sick reports, no response to app messages or phone calls. Being absent and neglecting yourself and the household. Or, conversely, behavioral impressions: people end up on the wrong path and start lying, stealing or cheating. Often it is good to be alert to people in the area, when major changes take place in someone’s life. People are therefore more inclined to focus more on short-term than on making future plans.

What kinds of debts are there?

A number of debt types have already been mentioned above, such as debts in the case of overdue loans and loans, as a result of which the interest amounts will slowly accumulate. Below are the other types of debt.

  • Study debts
  • Mortgage debts
  • Debts to acquaintances
  • Fraud debts and fines
  • Municipal taxes and government taxes
  • Payment arrears health insurance
  • Too many received allowances
  • Behind when paying the fixed costs
  • Red is at the bank
  • Pay in installments with mail order companies
  • Loans from financiers, such as a bank

Where can you go for debt counseling?

In itself, debts do not have to be a direct problem. Above, causes, signals and types of debt are described. Debts only become problematic if agreements are structurally not fulfilled or a loan can no longer be repaid. At that moment it is important that you take immediate action and seek help. You need debt counseling.

Extra: Currently, several bailiffs, debt counselors and other agencies are working on a national emergency number (115) for debt assistance. The threshold in seeking help is still too high to notice different parties. In July 2017 they submitted a proposal to the State Secretary for Social Affairs.

How does debt counseling work?

The amicable process

Debt assistance is often done via the municipality itself. It is advisable to find out which authority or department of the municipality you must register, because this differs per municipality. For example via a social worker, the credit bank or via the district team. Then you will initially receive help via the amicable process. It consists of two phases: the stability phase is the first phase and is still before the debt settlement process. Here you bring an overview of your financial situation together with your care provider. During the intake, the care provider checks your self-reliance, what the cause of the debts is and you make a plan of action. There is usually no contact with the creditor (s).

After the stability phase you enter the debt settlement phase. Here contact is made with all claimants with a payment proposal. If you can meet all conditions for three years, your debts will be waived. These are the 3 conditions:

  1. You will not receive any new debts
  2. You sign a debt settlement agreement
  3. You determine a maximum repayment capacity for the repayment of the debts.

This maximum repayment capacity is calculated by the debt counselor. This looks at what you can pay monthly to the claimants, after looking at the ‘Free to Amount’ (VTLB). This is the amount that is needed to live on a monthly basis. Is this all agreed? Then the amicable debt settlement has been arranged. There are two forms in this scheme: debt mediation and debt restructuring. During the mediation, creditors receive an annual amount, depending on the situation of the debtor. In the case of remediation, the municipal credit bank pays the debt to the creditors and as a debtor you must pay the amount within 36 months.

No agreement from the creditors?

Then there will be a compulsory agreement or you will be referred to the legal process (Natural Persons Debt Reorganization Act) and the judge will come to an agreement between both parties. The debt counselor from the amicable process can advise you on this. When you have to appear in court, it ultimately assesses whether you as debtor will be able to comply with the rules of debt repayment. The judge can also oblige the plaintiffs to cooperate. After a period of three to five years, your debts can be waived. During this period, it is mandatory to pay off your debts under the supervision of an administrator. This administrator must inform you in time and all your mail goes to this person in the first thirteen months, so that he or she is aware of your situation. The administrator calculates the VTLB. All income above this goes to the estate account. The administrator is paid for this account and, of course, those with whom the debtor still has a debt.

Who will help you further?

There are a number of organizations that can help you on your way in debt counseling. Parties such as Schuldhulpmaatje, Humanitas or volunteers from the municipality can help you with the support in the process. Helpline 115 should in future be a low-threshold way that people with debt can offer help.

Extra questions

How much debt should you have for debt repayment?

When you come into debt repayment , it is not important how much debt you have to have to be eligible for the debt repayment. What matters is what you can pay to the creditors in a period of three years (36 months).

When will your debts be waived?

The cancellation of your debts happens after you have completed the legal process (WSNP), as described in the previous chapter. After this you can then start with a ‘clean slate’ in the financial field. You can also go for a settlement. This method is applied much less frequently in practice, but with some luck and proper negotiations you can arrange with a claimant. Banks are willing to listen to a proposal and with some lenders it is a solution to pay 50% of the amount at once to reach a final discharge.

How do you solve debts without debt restructuring?

You can also solve your debts without debt restructuring. By doing it yourself, the chance of repetition is often also smaller. Perhaps someone wants to help and support you in your immediate environment. First: overview in your finances. By creating an overview, you reduce part of the stress and it is clear what you can and can not afford. Write this down in a notebook or in Excel. Depending on whom you still have debts, also include interest rates in the amounts.

When you have an overview of your income and expenses you can put them in a budget. For example, create an annual budget and view your bank accounts thoroughly. Then make a note of the type of expenditure that you frequently do. Work with colors or numbers. A blue color is for the necessary costs and income. A green color for the expenses that you can lower and a red color for the expenses that are not necessary. Use the budget to see what you can pay per month and also free money for this. It is important that you keep discipline in keeping track of your own planning!

Now that you have gained insight into your own affairs, you can contact the debtor. This can be difficult, but remember that these are people too. If you show that you are serious about working on a plan to pay off your debts, this usually works positively. Always first divide the amounts with the highest interest rates, so that you then have more money for the lower interest rates. The most important thing is to lower your expenses, such as a smartphone where you spend a lot of money every month, cancel magazines and possibly save on other fixed costs.

Where can you find free help with debts?

In the Netherlands there are a lot of authorities and organizations that can help you with debts, or the period that you are in debt repayment. Like the aforementioned organizations, Humanitas and Schuldhulpmaatje. You can find other help at the Salvation Army. Here you can go for help with administration or a food package. You can also go to the Food Bank for a food package for up to three years, if you have to live below the minimum. At Stichting Leergeld you can call for activities that take place inside and outside the school. They help children under the age of 18 if the parents have an income that is lower than 110% of the assistance.

Getting into debt does not necessarily mean that you have a problem that you structurally have to deal with. Everyone has debts, but they often differ when looking at the underlying reasons. That’s where the difference is. It is advisable to seek help as soon as possible when you are in a hopeless situation. The government is working on a special helpline 115, but for the time being it is still the best solution to get in touch with the municipality or other agencies, such as Humanitas or Schuldhulpmaatje, as soon as possible. Perhaps you are not in such a situation yourself, but you recognize the signals from someone in your area. Then try to have a conversation and talk about a solution. That is often the first step towards aid.

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