Cathy and husband Peter were a working couple in their 50s when things turned bad. Cathy was in two awful car accidents, 18 months apart, and because she had a pre-existing condition, there was no insurance payment. There were just medical bills for 18 months.

“I earned a lot of money but we suddenly found ourselves on one wage,” she said.

Then came additional costs associated with relocating from Victoria to the Gold Coast after Cathy’s doctor strongly advised a warmer climate would be better for her health.

The couple had an excellent credit rating and took up the offer of a couple of pre-approved credit cards to tide them over while Peter found work.

“You tell yourself you won’t use it until you really need to. It’s a very gradual thing – it creeps up on you,” Cathy said. Within a couple of years, they had a total of $30,000 on four credit cards and $18,000 in personal loans. When they had to raise another $7000 loan “that killed us”.

For a period, the couple lived on toast and cornflakes. But try as they might, they could not keep up with the growing debt. “I just knew it was beyond us to make it stop. It was a new situation for us in our 50s.” Cathy says they felt frightened, isolated – and very embarrassed. It was not something they wanted to talk to family and friends about.

“I was almost suicidal and very sick. I was completely unable to think. All I wanted was for the phone calls and bills to stop. “When it becomes obvious a debt is not going to be settled, they sell it on to someone else. These people are ruthless. These are quite big companies and they just won’t leave you alone.

“The phone doesn’t stop ringing. They say they might have to send someone around.”

Cathy and Peter entered a Part IX Debt Agreement and say it has restored their peace of mind.

Cathy says they know it could affect their ability to obtain finance for years into the future but “who the hell wants any more credit after going through this?”