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How to deal with an unexpected expense

Everyone has experienced that sinking feeling when something happens you know is going to be costly and haven’t prepared for.

It could be a medical emergency, large bill or damage to something valuable that’s not covered by insurance. Whatever it is, there are some steps that can help you start to tackle the issue financially.

1. Start straight away

When something bad happens it can be tempting to switch off and ignore it for as long as possible. But the sooner you get started the sooner you’ll be able to get back in the clear. Acting quickly can help prevent the possibility of things getting worse before they get any better.

One of the first steps you may want to take is checking whether any insurances you have can cover you for the expense.

2. Evaluate your options

Do you have savings, an emergency fund or an arranged overdraft you can fall back on? If so, now could be the time to use them.

If not, can you get assistance? If it’s a large bill there may be an arrangement you can come to with your supplier. Or, if it’s a large medical expense, for example, it could be worth talking to your family to see if there’s someone who could help out.

Another option is an arranged overdraft, credit card or personal loan which could temporarily help you cover the expense. These, however, will come with an interest rate and possible fees. If you do look at borrowing, take some time to set a repayment plan so you know exactly how much you'll have to repay and when you should finish making repayments. Before making any decisions about borrowing make sure you’re aware of all the potential costs and risks.

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3. Create a plan

Once you’ve decided on how you’ll tackle the expense, create an action plan with the various stages written down.

If you’re using your savings, this could be planning how you’ll get your savings back to the level they’re currently at. If you’re borrowing money or repaying the expense over time this will be your repayment plan.

Explore more: How to create a budget

4. Talk to someone

Everyone is different, but you may find it helpful to talk to someone about the expense. It could be a partner, family or a friend, as long as it’s someone you trust. Talking about things can help put your mind at ease and also make you more accountable for what you set out to do. If you feel comfortable, share your plan and ask the person you trust to check in from time to time to make sure you’re on track.

If you want to get professional advice there are a number of organisations that can help. You can find out about free independent money advisers in your area from:

The following helpline services can offer help and advice:


If you’re an HSBC customer and you’ve missed a payment or are worried about missing one in the future, call our team of specialists on 0345 850 0622 to get a helping hand. If you’re worried about missing a mortgage payment, please call 0345 850 0633.

Lines are open:

  • 08:00-18:00, Monday to Friday
  • 08:00-16:00, Saturday1

Please note, lines will not be open on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day.

Explore more: Where can you get assistance?

5. Build a buffer

Once you have things back on track it’s worthwhile starting to build out a buffer in case something happens in the future. This is often referred to as an emergency fund and can mean you’re covered when things don’t go to plan.

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