One in ten face a black mark on their credit

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Almost one in ten people in the UK have had a County Court Judgement (or a Court Decree which is the Scottish version of the same thing) in the last five years. This can have a significant impact on your ability to get a mortgage or credit card in the years to come.

So what can you do if you have one?

CCJ

A CCJ sounds complicated, but it's just a formal decision by a court in England or Wales that you owe money and have defaulted on your repayments. The court action will have been taken by someone you owe money to, because it gives them additional powers in getting the money from you.

This is serious, because a CCJ will stay on your credit record for six years, and can have a profound impact on whether other lenders are willing to lend to you. Ian Williams, a spokesman for the Debt Advisory Centre, says: "CCJs are kept in place for six years, which makes it harder to borrow from a mainstream lender during that time."

The Debt Advisory Centre has found that four million people in the UK have had one of these court judgements recorded against them during the last five years. Of these, one in 10 have debts of just £250 or less. At the other end of the scale, around one in seven have debts of £5,000 or more recorded, and nearly one in 10 have debts of over £10,000.

Typically those who receive them are likely to be aged between 18 and 24, and men are more likely to have them than women. More Londoners have received a CCJ in the past five years than anywhere else - nearly one in five people - compared to East Anglia where just 3.9% of people have had a CCJ.

So what can you do?

By far the best approach is to do something about your debts before they reach this stage. Williams says: "If someone is struggling to keep up with their repayments for any type of credit, it's important they seek help right away so that a solution can be found before their creditor takes legal action against them."

However, even after a CCJ has been recorded, it's not too late. If you act quickly you can erase the judgement - by paying it off within 28 days.

Unfortunately, Experian warns that this doesn't erase the defaults on the debts which made the lender decide to take you to court in the first place - which will stay on your file for six years. Lenders may not view these defaults quite as negatively as a CCJ on your record, but they will definitely still take a dim view of them.

The experts all say that if you find yourself in this position, where defaults have got out of hand, it's essential to take control of your finances. It's worth getting free, impartial advice from a debt charity, which will help you understand what options are available to you - and will help you look at your incomings and outgoings in order to assess whether you can get back on top of your finances without having to resort to the courts.

As Williams says, whether you have debts of £250 or £10,000 - it's never to late to get good advice and deal with your problem debts.