Debt doesn't have to be a life sentence. Here’s how to tunnel your way out.

If you’re looking at your poor credit score or a huge debt, it’s tempting to think, “What’s the use of trying to fix this?” Maybe you’re resigned to living the rest of your life at the mercy of predatory lenders and peddlers of questionable credit repair programs.

When I was in my early 30s, that’s exactly how I felt. I had poor credit, zero budgeting skills, and no emergency savings. It wasn’t always that way, though.

In my late 20s, I had good credit, a few retail credit cards, and a major credit card with a low limit. However, I soon maxed all the cards out on new clothes that I could suddenly “afford” and plastic-inspired holiday generosity.

As a result, a year later, I had a lot of debt. My relationship ended, and my partner moved out, so my rent doubled. I could barely make the payments on my new car. Even though I worked a second job, I had to make hard choices every month: Do I pay the car payment or the car insurance? Do I keep my electricity on or do I skip this credit card payment again?

I wasn’t intentionally a deadbeat. I just didn’t make enough money, had no idea how credit cards and interest worked, and didn’t know how to be frugal.

By the time I was 30, I had terrible credit. I couldn’t get a car loan or credit card and held no hope of ever owning a home. Yet I turned my credit situation around. So even if it seems like you’ll never crawl out from under your debt or improve you lousy credit score, don’t give up.

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You don’t have to accept your poor credit as a permanent way of life. At least, not if you plan to live beyond the next seven years. Late payments drop off your credit report after seven years, even if you didn’t pay off the debt. Even bankruptcy generally disappears from your credit report after 10 years.

That seven-year-limit on your credit report allows you to gradually rebuild your credit. That seems like a long time, but some of those debts are probably already several years old, so they’ll drop off earlier. Also, the years will pass whether you work to improve your credit or not. The key is deciding, “I don’t want my life to be like this anymore.”

You can get started by going to a free or low-cost nonprofit credit counseling agency for advice and help with budgeting or paying creditors. That’s how I got started.

The nonprofit agency I chose cost me nothing. I paid a set amount each month, which my credit counselor then paid toward each debt I owed. Once the smallest debt was paid, the agency applied that payment amount to the next lowest debt until all creditors were paid.

If you go this route, be sure to check each month with creditors to ensure the agency is actually making the monthly payments. Also, choose a reputable agency, not a predatory company making big promises to fix your credit for a price. Before you choose a credit counselor, check with the Better Business Bureau and search online reviews.

As my credit improved slightly, I obtained a subprime loan for an inexpensive car and paid on time every month. That helped my credit score more.

No matter how you decide to pay off your debt, you’ll need change your ways, at least temporarily. No more buying new clothes when you’re sad. No more going out to eat every day. No more paying late because you assume your credit is too far gone to recover.

I got through my period of debt-repayment deprivation by constantly keeping the goal in mind. I would pay my debts. This suffering would improve my credit score. That temporary second job income would allow me more freedom in the near future. I’d eventually get another major credit card and use it responsibly. It took me around three years to raise my credit score to a respectable number.

Today, I’m a homeowner with only eight years left until my mortgage is paid. I have one major credit card, on which I usually charge utilities for rewards points and then pay off each month. I steer clear of all retail credit cards.

I eventually freed myself from my self-imposed debt prison, and so can you. So, take those first steps to get some debt repayment momentum going. You’ll be surprised at how fast your credit score can improve.

Meet the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Writer

Hipp is a freelance writer based out of Missouri.

Credit & Debt, News

credit card debt, credit report, credit score, eliminate debt, interest rates, mortgages, Very Personal Finance

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Article last modified on November 9, 2017. Published by Debt.com, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: Don’t Give Up: You Can Bust Out of Self-Imposed Debt Prison - AMP.