Financial planners often say it takes pain to prick people into action. So what do you do when you max out on your credit and suddenly realize you’re in trouble?
You can dig out of debt faster than you think, if you attack it in an organized way. Here’s a seven-step rehabilitation program:
List Each of Your Loans
Including how much you owe (most people don’t know), the minimum monthly payment, the gross interest rate, and the rate after-tax (the interest on home equity loans, mortgages, and certain loans against securities is tax deductible if you itemize on your returns, but not the interest on other loans). Then total it all up.
Restructure Your Debt
With the goal of reducing interest. You can transfer credit card balances to lower-rate cards. Or consolidate consumer loans on a credit union loan or home-equity line of credit (provided you won’t run up your credit cards all over again). If you ask, the card issuer may lower the rate and the annual fee, especially if you say that you’re planning to switch to another card.
Make One-Shot Reductions in Your Loan Balances.
For example, run a yard sale and use all the proceeds to pay off debt. Sell off a few shares of stock you inherited. Use your savings, if you have any. It’s smarter to chop debt than to hoard money in a savings account. (But keep adding to your individual retirement account at work, because those contributions lower your taxes.)
Pay the Monthly Minimums on Your Low-Rate Loans
While putting the rest of your available money toward the highest rate loan. The faster you knock off high-rate debt, the faster your burden will decline.
Increase Your Monthly Debt-Reduction Budget
Even if it’s by only a small amount. Say you owe £3,000 at 18 percent interest, on which you’re paying the minimum – £60 a month. It will take you 30 years and ten months to get out of debt. If you add just £15 to your payments, you’ll be out of debt in five years and three months – and save an enormous £5,759 in interest.
Keep on Paying The Same Amount Each Month
Even though your loan balance goes down. The faster you pay off principal, the more interest you save, and the faster your total debt declines. Once you’ve erased the highest-rate loan, start on the next highest – still paying the same fixed amount.
Work Your Way Down the List, Debt by Debt.
To be successful, you have to take pleasure in the process, says planner Denise Leish of Money Plans in Silver Spring, MD. Post your payment schedule on the refrigerator and check off each one. Or give yourself a quarterly reward for staying on the wagon.
If your debt is too big to handle by yourself, or things have already reached a such a stressful point that it’s difficult to take on by yourself you can set up a Debt Management Plan and contract a team of professionals to negotiate with your creditors to lower payments.
You don’t have to wait until it hurts to reduce your debt. Instead, train yourself not to borrow anymore. Say to yourself, “Today, I am not going to put down a charge card for anything.” When you buy something, pay cash, use a debit card, or write a check. Tomorrow, say the same thing: “l am not going to put down a charge card for anything.” Take it slowly, one day at a time. It’s like giving up smoking. You’ll be nervous at first; you won’t see how it’s possible to live; you’ll suffer relapses and sneak a debt or two. But when you get up every morning, renew your pledge. Check off each successful day on your calendar.
To make it easier, quit carrying credit cards. If you have to use cards for business purposes, deduct each expenditure from your check register – just as if you had written a check – and pay the full debt at the end of each month.
Of course, no debt reduction program will work unless your overall spending is under control. When discussing budget matters with your spouse, neither of you should propose a spending cut for the other, advises planner Faye Kathryn Doria in Rochester, NH. Instead, match each other’s offers. If you agree to save, say, £25 a week on clothes, your husband should find a specific £25 he can cut from his personal budget. Get your children to stop asking for stuff, not by scaring them into thinking you’re broke but by talking about the value of improving your financial position.
For hard-core spendaholics, Doria has an idea I love. Freeze your credit cards in a block of ice. Then, when you get desperate and you’re standing at the sink running hot water over the block, you’ll have plenty of time to reflect on your financial priorities.