Guest blog: Money Advice Trust


In April, the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline, launched its new ‘How to deal with debt’ guide.

In this post, Timon Scheven, Insight and Innovation Grants Officer at the Money Advice Trust, who led the project to revamp the guide, discusses the work that went into its new design and how it can help people in financial difficulty.

Dealing with debt

Last year, more than 100,000 people used our ‘Dealing with debt’ guide, which we’ve been producing for over three decades. The guide helps people in debt through the steps they need to take to start dealing with their situation. We knew the guide was technically acurate and valued by advice professionals. However, we did not know how well it worked with people in debt and whether it inspired them to take action.

Together with the Money and Pensions Service (who funded the project), and Ogilvy Consulting’s Behavioural Science Practice, we set out to revamp the guide in order to maximise the chances of users taking the right steps to deal with their debt.

I want to share with you some of the thinking behind the new guide and how you can access the new edition of the guide

Using behavioural science

At the Trust, we have been producing materials for people in debt for over thirty years and have always been proud of writing accurate and technically correct advice. However, sometimes it can be easy to focus on the technicalities and forget to recognise people’s emotional journey in dealing with their debt.

With Ogilvy Consulting Behavioural Science Practice’s help, we explored drivers and barriers people in debt experienced while using the old guide. Based on this feedback we looked at ways in which in the new guide could encourage people to take action. This included:

  • Recognising the emotional side – being in debt is a hard situation. The guide doesn’t shy away from this and recognises the emotions people may be experiencing, balanced with positive encouragement to continue.

  • Positive priming – the tone and language used is carefully considered to make the advice effective as well as motivating people to make changes

  • Chunking – where information is grouped into smaller, individual tasks to make the guide less intimidating.

  • Goal dilution – the guide presents single dedicated goals. This maximises the perceived effectiveness of completing each goal.

  • The power of 3 – we reduced the number of steps people should take to a maximum of three to make the overall process of dealing with debt feel more achievable.

Test, test, test again!

To test specific bits of content and design that we were not one hundred percent sure about, we took the guide on the road to London, Birmingham, Bristol and Glasgow (and into the world of online testing). This was  important as the feedback highlighted parts of the guide that needed refining.

For example, some people still felt daunted by the size of the guide and worried that there was too much to take in. This process helped us make a number of changes including:

  • A front cover that encourages people to open the guide – a crucial first step

  • A design that makes the content feel light and easier to digest

  • Recognising the progress made as you progress through the guide

  • Using straightforward language that reassures you as you go along.

The power of 3

So, what is the new guide like? 

It is broken down into three main steps:

Step 1: ‘Know what you’ve really got’, shows how to complete a Standard Financial Statement (SFS) compliant budget, enabling somebody to understand how much money they need to pay essential bills and what they may have left over to pay towards their debt.

Step 2: ‘Maximise your money’, explains how to get extra income and helps someone to pay less for everyday living costs. With lots of people facing tight budgets, we knew this would be an important aspect of the guide.

Step 3: ‘Choose your debt solution’, looks at the different solutions available and how to choose the best solution. A key message we want users to understand is that whatever their situation, there are tried and tested solutions available to them.

We hope that this approach makes it easy to understand and empowers people to take positive action.

Read the 'How to deal with debt' guide

Now that you have read about the guide, why not take a look at it for yourself (PDF-file-size:-1.25mb)?

A limited number of printed guides are also available to order for free-to-client advice agencies. You can find out more on the Money Advice Trust website.

For information on National Debtline, see the following websites: