This week: The most popular question, with an unpopular answer.
Question: I’m broke but have $11,000 I can’t possibly pay on my credit cards. What do I do?
Question: Every month, I get my credit card statements, and I get so stressed out. I have something like $8,000 on maybe five or six cards. There’s no way I can avoid bankruptcy, is there?
Question: Think I’m doomed. I got so much credit card debt, it equals three months’ pay. I don’t own a house, so i can’t even mortgage that to pay the bills. Is there anything else possible?
Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…
The emails above are just a few I’ve received recently. By far, this theme is the most common among the questions I’m asked.
That’s shocking but not surprising: Credit card debt in this nation has topped $1 trillion. So I expect these questions will arrive in my inbox ever more frequently, and even though I hear these horror stories all the time, they continue to scare me.
Credit card debt is especially insidious because even when you’re in too deep, you can keep right on going. Making those minimum payments can deceive you into thinking, “I can catch up.” It’s like losing all your money gambling at the blackjack table, and with your last $20 thinking, “If I can just hit 21, I can get on a hot streak and come back.”
Let me begin to address these common questions like this: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting a different result. You won’t get out of credit card debt by using money as you always have.
With that said, here’s some quick advice for salvaging even the most stressful credit card debt…
1. Credit counseling
This is the first step, and it’s crucial. It’s also free.
Credit counseling agencies are nonprofits. Some are better than others, but the best offer you a free debt analysis from a certified — that means trained and tested —credit counselor. You can’t get out of debt until you know how you got into debt. A debt analysis will show you exactly what your options are.
2. Debt management program
This is the most powerful tool to getting rid of credit card debt. A DMP, as it’s called, can reduce your monthly payments by 30 to 50 percent and freeze all late fees. Basically, your credit card issuers agree to forgo much of their profits to get paid back the principle you owe.
Sounds easy, but there are some hard rules. For instance, you can’t run up any new credit card charges — because that’s what got you into trouble in the first place. Depending on how much you owe, it can take a few years to pay it off. Then again, those who emerge from DMPs report a sense of happiness and lack of stress they haven’t felt in years.
Read more: Debt Management Program Pros and Cons
This is your most severe option, but it’s neither dangerous nor embarrassing. As my fellow financial expert Steve Rhode has said, “bankruptcy is better for consumers than financially limping along.”
Of course, there are drawbacks. If it were easy, everyone would do it, and frankly, not everyone should do it. Certainly, no one should do it without consulting an expert.
Read more: The Pros and Cons of Bankruptcy
Don’t waste another day stressing out about credit card debt — or ignoring it or whining about it. You have choices. Some are easier than others, but all are proven ways to get out from under this burden. You have no excuse. Do it now. You can even call Debt.com to find experts in any of these fields to help you.
Have a debt question?
Email your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.
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Article last modified on February 21, 2018. Published by Debt.com, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: How To Pay Off Credit Card Debt When You Have No Money - AMP.