When I was in my twenties, I received a lot of checking account overdraft notices from my bank. Each time, shame flooded over me, and even more shame the next day, when I received additional overdraft notifications because of the first overdraft fee.
I didn’t intentionally write bad checks. It’s just that my account was always low, since I had no savings, and I couldn’t get approved for a credit card due to poor credit. I worried constantly about how I’d buy a new car if mine died for good. I even resigned myself to never owning a home.
That’s no way to live. But that’s how a lot of people live.
Financial anxiety causes 28 percent of Americans to feel depressed at least monthly, and 17 percent suffer depression as often as weekly, daily, and even hourly, according to one recent study. Around 42 percent of those surveyed reported “debt” as a source of high or moderate anxiety.
Before I fixed my credit, boosting my credit score to the “excellent” level, the stress I endured from lack of control over finances was ever-present. My inability to procure credit affected where I lived, what companies hired me, how much I traveled (or didn’t) and even who wanted to date me. Does that sound like your life?
Are you screening calls because you don’t have money to pay bill collectors? Do you feel like a failure because if your car dies, you’ll have to purchase a vehicle from a sketchy used car lot that charges high interest rates? The good news is that this state of anxiety doesn’t have to last for the rest of your life.
Here are 5 steps for gaining more control over your finances so you can kick debt anxiety to the curb of the nearest “Buy Here, Pay Here” car lot.
1. Know what you owe
This task is painful but not as excruciating as living with bad credit. List all your bills and balances, including how much you’re paying in penalties and late fees. Write down contact information for each creditor.
2. Obtain a copy of your credit report
You can sign up with Credit Karma or a similar service for a free copy of your credit report and access to 24/7 monitoring. You’re also allowed to order one free credit report annually from each of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. If you’ve been turned down for credit in the past 60 days, you can also request a copy of your credit report from those credit bureaus at no charge.
Review your credit report closely for inaccuracies that you might need to dispute. Removing mistakes from your credit reports (each bureau’s report is unique) can improve your credit score.
3. Contact creditors
Call each creditor and tell the representative that you’re committed to paying the debt. Ask the agent to arrange a payment plan that you can afford. If this negotiation doesn’t work, at least you’re trying to work something out. Take written notes of dates, the person you spoke with and what the agent told you. If someone offers you a payment arrangement, get written confirmation.
4. Formulate a plan
You can contact a free credit counseling agency such as the National Federation for Credit Counseling, which can refer you to a local free or low-cost credit counseling agency. Or, contact a certified credit counselor at Debt.com for advice on the best way to proceed. Coming up with a plan shows that you’re serious about getting rid of debt and improving your credit rating.
5. Scrounge up extra cash to pay debt
You can pay off debt faster if you have a part-time job or a side hustle. Try selling stuff on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace for extra cash.
There are enough anxiety-producing factors in life over which you have no control. But finances don’t have to be another one.
Is improving poor credit and paying off debt easy? No. But doing so is the difference between being at the mercy of predatory lenders for the rest of your life or holding your head high after turning your life and credit around.