A reader wants to pay off his credit card debt, but he also wants to eat.
Question: For the past year, I’ve been spending all of my extra monthly income on paying off my credit cards. But to be honest, it’s leading to a lower quality of life and I’m over it. I’m not allowing my self to spend money on those little things like the movies and going to dinner with friends. How can I be smart and pay off my debt, but not live in a bubble? I don’t want to eat ramen noodles for the rest of my life.
— David in Florida
Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…
This is one of the most common and troubling questions I hear. It pains me because Americans who really want to get out of debt are fast becoming a rarity. As I’ve written before, being in debt is becoming a terrible new normal.
An exasperated woman once asked me, “How can I pay off my debt when I have no money — which is why I got into debt in the first place? Is there any bigger catch-22?”
I don’t know if there’s a bigger catch-22, but I know of few more pervasive and painful. Fortunately, there are seven steps you can take that can make it faster and easier to pay off your balances. None involve ramen noodles and all of them make it easier for to you stay motivated as you pay off debt.
Is credit card debt keeping you from success? Learn how to get your debt under control.
1. Pay what you can, smarter
If you’re making monthly payments on several credit cards, don’t make the mistake of making larger payments equally to every card. This will keep you in debt longer because you’re not eliminating your balances efficiently. You either want to pay off the card with the highest APR, or the card with the lowest balance.
If you’re having trouble staying motivated, I recommend starting with your lowest balances first. Knocking out a few bills can give you the momentum and motivation you need to tackle those bigger balances.
2. Ask and you shall reprieve
This sounds too easy to be true, but you can simply call your credit card company and ask for a lower interest rate. Why would they do this? Because they might not want to lose a good customer. Like anything else, there’s a right and proper way to ask. Lowering your interest rates will help you cut down your balances faster because more of each payment goes to eliminate principal; that’s the actual balance you owe. I have some tips on
3. Move your debts
Some credit cards offer a zero-percent introductory interest rate, and they let you transfer your current high-interest debt. Why? Because, sadly, they know most folks won’t pay off their debts by the time the introductory period (up to 18 months) ends. If you do it right, however, you can save thousands. You can eliminate the balance in big chunks because you don’t pay any APR.
4. Consolidate your debts
In some cases, it makes sense to take out a loan to consolidate all your debts into one monthly payment that’s lower than all the little payments you’ve been making. It’s relatively easy if it makes sense for your financial situation, but of course, it’s a tad complicated to figure out if it’s indeed right for you. In general, if you have a good credit score, this is a good option.
5. Consult an expert
Of the options on this list, my favorite is surely this one: credit counseling. There might be no such thing as a free lunch, but there is such a thing as a free debt analysis from a certified credit counselor. Many people don’t pursue this because they don’t believe it. You can get a free evaluation from a certified expert to find the best, fastest way to get out of debt for your situation. This will help eliminate a lot of that guesswork that people go through trying to find the right solution.
Talk to a certified consumer credit counselor today for an expert opinion on your best option to get out of debt.
6. Use a DMP
That’s short for a debt management program. It’s a low-cost program that consolidates your debts into a single monthly repayment plan. You can enroll through a credit counseling agency if they determine it’s the best solution for your situation during your free credit counseling session. They help you find a monthly payment you can afford and negotiate with your creditors to reduce or eliminate interest charges. That makes it easier to pay off your debt faster, even though your total monthly payment may be lower. You pay off your debt in a more efficient way.
Most people complete the program in 36-60 payments and you’ll know exactly how long it will take before you enroll. Having a set date when you’ll be debt free can go a long way to helping you stay motivated.
7. Settle for less
If you’re really just tired of being in debt and want to get out faster for the least amount of money possible, you may want to consider debt settlement. This can be particularly beneficial if you’ve fallen behind with some of your payments and they’ve already damaged your credit score. This is often the fastest, cheapest way to become debt free without declaring bankruptcy. But there’s a tradeoff because each debt you settle will damage your credit. Still, if your credit score isn’t good now, this may be something you want to consider.
The bottom line
I don’t know which option to pay off your debt is best for you, David. In fact, more than one might be best. However, I don’t know how much you owe, at what interest rates, how much you earn, what your must-pay bills are, and if you have other debts like a car payment or mortgage.
These are the questions you’ll be asked if you pursue a free debt analysis with a credit counseling agency. I’d suggest you do that first. The sooner you do, the sooner you can replace ramen with steak!
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Published by Debt.com, LLC