Everyone makes mistakes when it comes to money. Adults make them too!

Money is one of those subjects where, for whatever reason, people don’t want or don’t feel comfortable talking about it.

That can be a problem when things go wrong.

Owing money

Owing money, or 'debt' can be an uncomfortable feeling. Some debt is okay, and we actually need certain types of debt to live our lives. When you buy a house you generally need to borrow money from a bank in the form of a mortgage. That money you owe is a debt.

That’s usually a manageable kind of debt because before the bank lends you the money, they check you have a stable job and that you can make the repayments. You also get a house!

Examples of bad debt are:

  • You didn’t know there were hidden costs and now you have to pay more than you expected. This can happen with spending on in-app purchases.
  • You can only make the minimum repayments on your credit card and the amount you owe is getting bigger and bigger.
  • You don’t have enough money when a bill arrives, and you have to borrow from a friend or family.

If you don’t make careful decisions with money you can end up in trouble.

Read about:

Paying for subscriptions and in-app purchases

Other ways to pay

Dealing with debt and bad decisions

Getting scammed

Scammers specialise in tricking people out of their money – they are virtual thieves. People fall for scams all the time. The people who run them are very clever so you shouldn’t feel embarrassed if it happens to you.

Often these scammers will lie to you and convince you to send them money. Or they’ll sign you up to something that ends up costing way more than they told you.

The Australian Government website ScamWatch has a list of all the ways that scammers try to steal from you, and what to do if it happens:

Paying money back

The first thing to do when you owe more money than you can afford to pay back is to make sure it doesn’t get worse. If it happened because of something you’ve subscribed to, cancel it as soon as you can.

If you don’t think you’re going to be able to make the repayments on something, most companies have a ‘hardship’ contact on their website. You can speak to someone and explain your problem.

They will work with you to come to a solution like lowering the repayments or giving you more time to pay it back.

Tell someone

If you owe someone money, that doesn’t mean they have a right to scare or hurt you.

  • Even if you owe them money for something you don’t want to tell people about, they still have no right to do anything bad to you. If someone is threatening you or making you feel unsafe, tell the police. 131 444 is their non-urgent number.
  • If you are in danger right now, call 000.

Don’t let the problem get bigger; ask for help. These situations are more common than you might think.

You might feel embarrassed and overwhelmed. Those feelings are worse when you keep them to yourself. Seek help from an adult you trust. That might be a parent, an older sibling, or a teacher.

They can help you get out of trouble, and to avoid it happening in the future.

If you don’t know someone you feel comfortable speaking to, there are other ways you can get help.

  • Your school will have counselling services available.
  • If it's happening at work, you can speak to your boss or if your company has one, their human resources section.

There are free and confidential financial and legal services you can use:

  • The National Debt Helpline: ndh.org.au
  • Youth Law Australia: yla.org.au
  • National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services: natsils.org.au
  • Look through the Australian Government Department of Social Services’ Grants Service Directory for financial counselling services in your state or territory.

If you are feeling alone and just want someone to talk to you can phone, email, text or chat online with:

You can also access mental health information on the Headspace website:

Tips for teens/adults

The moment you feel like you’re in money trouble is the time to tell an adult. Don’t wait, don’t let it get worse. Speak to an adult you trust straight away.

It’s okay to say no to someone trying to sell you something. You don’t owe them your time or your money, so if you feel uncomfortable and don’t want what they’re selling, say no. Let an adult know if you feel threatened or pressured.

Your bank can help you block payments. Contact your bank and they will help you.

You can help your teen stay out of money trouble by explaining to them how you avoid debt getting on top of you. That might mean showing how you read the fine print on a purchase or how you put off buying something until you had enough money to pay for it.

Tell them about a time you were scammed or got yourself in money trouble, and what you did to get out of it. Let your teen know that adults get in trouble too and not to be embarrassed.

If your teen comes to you for help because they’re in money trouble, try not to be too judgemental. It will have taken them a lot of courage to talk to you and they’re trusting you to help. Listen without judgement to what the problem is, and work with them to find a solution. Remember, we all make mistakes and you want them to come to you when things go wrong.

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