Fortunately, I’ve always had a strong disdain for debt, and so I’ve never been in such a situation. That being said, I know exactly how I’d handle it if I ever did find myself drowning in an ocean of red ink.
The truth is, taking a methodical pragmatic approach is the smartest way to free yourself from a life of indentured financial servitude. Such an approach, however, is often frowned upon because it takes a lot of folks out of their emotional comfort zone.
If you’re serious about getting out of debt as quickly — and inexpensively — as possible, here’s how to do it:
1. Verify everyone’s committed to paying down the debt. It’s true; the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Whether you’re single or married, you’re destined for failure unless everyone is ready to accept the personal responsibility and tough decisions required from those who are committed to spending less than they earn.
2. Take stock of the current situation. It’s tough to develop a plan unless you know where you stand. To do that, you need to run your household like a business. That means getting a handle how much money comes in each month and tracking where every last penny is going.
3. Identify and eliminate all discretionary spending. Once you know where all your money is going, you can identify and do away with the unnecessary expenses. Putting your needs before your wants will allow you to muster the extra funds you’ll need to help pay down that credit card debt.
4. Create a budget. As I have said here many times before, those who fail to plan are essentially planning to fail. A budget is not just a spending plan for your money — it’s a valuable tool that helps you control spending, and set money aside for retirement and rainy days. Most importantly, though, budgets instill financial discipline in those who really need it.
5. Ignore the urge to stop making retirement contributions. When you’re creating your budget, don’t try to boost cash flow by stopping automatic paycheck deductions to your retirement savings plan. Over time, the tax breaks and future investment gains you’ll receive by building your retirement savings should more than make up for the extra credit card interest you’ll be temporarily paying.
6. Consolidate multiple credit balances to a single low-interest card. If you’re carrying balances on multiple credit cards, the first step to reducing the cost of your debt is to see if you can transfer them to a single low-interest rate credit card. At the very least, call up your credit card companies and ask them to lower your interest rate; if they strongly suspect you’ll transfer your balance to another card, they just might honor your request.
7. Pay down the highest interest rate credit card first. Although psychologically appealing for some people, it makes little financial sense to pay down credit cards charging 0% interest on, say, a $1000 balance, while simultaneously making minimum payments on others charging as much as 29% interest with even higher balances. Instead, pay off the highest-rate credit card first — regardless of how much you owe on it — before focusing on your remaining cards in descending order. In the mean time, make only the minimum payments on all the other credit cards.
8. Make multiple payments to reduce your interest charges. Just as making biweekly payments can greatly reduce the interest paid on a 15 or 30-year mortgage, dividing your monthly credit card payment in two and then paying that amount every two weeks will reduce your credit card finance charges.
9. Raid your emergency fund. I know. Yes, I realize this advice will make some people extremely uncomfortable. However, when you take emotions out of the equation, using low-interest savings to pay down your high-interest credit card debt makes good financial sense. And keep in mind that you’ll still have access to those funds in an emergency because — as long as you keep faithfully paying down your credit card debt each month — you should always be able to tap your credit card should a crisis arise.
10. Apply all your financial windfalls to your credit card balances. Until you’ve paid off your last credit card, the money you receive from things like overtime, tax refunds, and even garage sales should be used to pay down your highest-interest rate credit card balance. Hey, it all adds up!
11. Find a way to make a few extra bucks. If you’ve got the time, look into alternative ways to make extra money that can be applied to paying down your credit card debt.
Staying away from credit card debt requires discipline, but getting out of debt requires discipline too. The good news is, once you commit yourself to getting your financial house back in order, you’ll soon discover that the task at hand is nowhere near as daunting as you might have expected — regardless of how much money you owe.
Photo Credit: James Collins