A Simple Guide to Paying Off Lingering Debt

www.usnewsIf you find yourself collecting more and more debt while struggling to figure out how you will ever pay it all off, it might be time to develop a step-by-step strategy. Paying off debt starts with making a budget and continues with changing your habits and rewarding yourself for progress. A few contributors to the U.S. News My Money blog offer a guide to get rid of the debt that’s been following you around for too long:

1. Create a budget.

“The first step to solving your debt problem is to establish a budget,” says Money Crashers contributor David Bakke.​ You can use personal finance tools like Mint.com, or make your own Excel spreadsheet that includes your monthly income and expenses. Then scrutinize those budget categories to see where you can cut costs. “If you don’t scale back your spending, you’ll dig yourself into a deeper hole,” Bakke warns.

2. Pay off the most expensive debt first.

Sort your credit card interest rates from highest to lowest, then tackle the card with the highest rate first. “By paying off the balance with the highest interest first, you increase your payment on the credit card with the highest annual percentage rate while continuing to make the minimum payment on the rest of your credit cards,” says retail analyst Hitha Prabhakar.

3. Pay more than the minimum balance.

To make a dent in your debt, you need to pay more than the minimum balance on your credit card statements each month. “Paying the minimum – usually 2 to 3 percent of the outstanding balance – only prolongs a debt payoff strategy,” Prabhakar says. “Strengthen your commitment to pay everything off by making weekly, instead of monthly, payments.” Or if your minimum payment is $100, try doubling it and paying off $200 or more.

4. Take advantage of balance transfers.

If you have a high-interest card with a balance that you’re confident you can pay off in a few months, Trent Hamm, ​founder of TheSimpleDollar.com, recommends moving the debt to a card that offers a zero-interest balance transfer. “You’ll need to pay off the debt before the balance transfer expires, or else you’re often hit with a much higher interest rate,” he warns. “If you do it carefully, you can save hundreds on interest this way.”

5. Halt your credit card spending.

Want to stop accumulating debt? Remove all credit cards from your wallet, and leave them at home when you go shopping, advises WiseBread contributor Sabah Karimi.​ “Even if you earn cash back or other rewards with credit card purchases, stop spending with your credit cards until you have your finances under control,” she says.

6. Put work bonuses toward debt.

If you receive a job bonus around the holidays or during the year, allocate that money toward your debt payoff plan. “Avoid the temptation to spend that bonus on a vacation or other luxury purchase,” Karimi says. It’s more important to fix your financial situation than own the latest designer bag.

7. Delete credit card information from online stores.

If you do a lot of online shopping at one retailer, you may have stored your credit card information on the site to make the checkout process easier. But that also makes it easier to charge items you don’t need. So clear that information. “If you’re paying for a recurring service, use a debit card issued from a major credit card service linked to your checking account,” Hamm suggests.

8. Sell unwanted gifts and household items.

Have any birthday gifts or old wedding presents collecting dust in your closet? Search through your home, and look for items you can sell on eBay or Craigslist. “Do some research to make sure you list these items at a fair and reasonable price,” Karimi says. “Take quality photos, and write an attention-grabbing headline and description to sell the item as quickly as possible.” Any profits from sales should go toward your debt.

9. Change your habits.

“Your daily habits and routines are the reason you got into this mess,” Hamm says. “Spend some time thinking about how you spend money each day, each week and each month.” Do you really need your daily latte? Can you bring your lunch to work instead of buying it four times a week? Or perhaps you can start cooking more at home. Ask yourself: What can I change without sacrificing my lifestyle too much?

10. Reward yourself when you reach milestones.

You won’t pay down your debt any faster if you view it as a form of punishment. So reward yourself when you reach debt payoff goals. “The only way to completely pay off your credit card debt is to keep at it, and to do that, you must keep yourself motivated,” Bakke says. Just make sure to reward yourself within reason. For example, instead of a weeklong vacation, plan a weekend camping trip. “If you aim to reduce your credit card debt from $10,000 to $5,000 in two months,” Bakke says, “give yourself more than a pat on the back when you do it.”

Don’t forget about First Financial’s free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

*Article source written by Stephanie Steinburg of US News.

Frequently In Debt? Discover Your Personal Pitfalls

DebtManagement1.jpgYou don’t have to be a reckless spender to find yourself in debt. CNN touts that “one in three American adults have debt in collections.”

An Urban Institute study reported that 77 million people are so severely in debt that their account has gone to collections, while a Detroit Free Press article warns, “Young adults have more credit card debt than savings.”

Regardless of the angle, debt, severe debt – it’s an American epidemic.

So, how do you climb out of debt once and for all? Especially if you notice a recurring theme of continual debt-to-safety-to-debt wheel of fate, it is important to stop and analyze the causes for initial debt and the reasons for apparent insurmountable financial disease.

As with your medical health, financial heath is propelled by lots of hard work, dedication and realistic awareness. Denial will only perpetuate decaying health, physically or financially.

Step One: Take an honest assessment of your financial situation.

Before you can make a plan for diminishing debt once and for all, you have to understand the severity and expanse of the situation. Take into account all loans: student debt, mortgages and car payments. Know exactly how many credit cards you and your family have – make sure to count retail cards and reward cards in addition to traditional credit cards. Any plastic that can hold a debt/requires payment needs to be acknowledged forthright. Finally, collect all bills: anything that requires a payment plan or regular payment must be added into the mix. When you’re in debt, every $100 medical bill, $25 late fee for utilities or billed car repair must be accounted for.

Step Two: Take responsibility.

Playing the blame game or lying to yourself will not change the circumstances. Nobody cares if you don’t think it’s your fault. You owe the money. You have to pay the money. You can’t talk your way out of substantial debt. Take credit for your own shortcomings and accept the situation.

Step Three: Educate yourself and your family.

Money management is not an innate human skill. We are not born knowing how to allot, predict, and plan with 100 percent accuracy. And, sometimes, it is due to sheer ignorance that adults find themselves in debt. Whether or not a lack of financial education or money illiteracy is the root cause, understanding how credit works and how to budget are both beneficial life skills.

Step Four: Set realistic goals, with the end result being permanently digging yourself out of debt.

Each step should be attainable and based on practicality. However, do not fall into the mindset that “it’s going to take too long, so it’s not worth it.” Keep your eyes on the goal, but use baby steps to get there if necessary.

A good thing to do is to create a visual aid for you to help you along, like a financial plan. The important thing to remember is that your plan is a guide, not a crutch. It is a tool to keep you on track. Like any good guide, though, it can be tweaked to meet your needs and adjusted based on what obstacles you encounter on your journey to financial security.

Step Five: Perseverance.

It’s not an easy path. It’s not fun. The journey is oftentimes downright painful. But, avoidance and half-hearted efforts will not grant you the ability to squeak by. Debt can affect marriage, stress levels, relationships, and your future, but people often aren’t motivated enough to make a change. Many times, just climbing out of debt is not the largest challenge, it’s maintaining the healthy financial security that is attained through a debt-free life.

Don’t forget about First Financial’s free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

*Original article source written by Joe Young of Nasdaq.

8 Signs You Have a Credit Card Problem

Credit troubles often begin inconspicuously, yet there are signs all along the way before they become unmanageable. Being alert to these warnings allows you to make the necessary changes to prevent a future of financial worries. Having a credit card isn’t bad when you use it for the right reasons. It serves as a bridge to better things and establishes a credit history, which helps you make big purchases such as a home or a car.

Unfortunately, the “spend first, pay later” option is a slippery slope that leads to serious credit problems. They can happen to people of every age, income level and social status. Many signs are obvious to conscientious consumers, but life can sometimes become so hectic that you push them aside for later. Only later never comes. The sooner you admit that you have credit problems, the sooner you are able to fix them. Neglect the issue and you may end up with accounts in collections, purchases repossessed, eviction and bankruptcy.

Watch out for these eight signs that indicate you are headed for trouble:

1. You never follow a budget. If you don’t budget, your spending can easily get out of control.

2. A bank denies your loan. It may mean that the creditor thinks you have too much existing debt already, even though your official credit score isn’t bad – yet.

3. You make late payments regularly. You face expensive penalties, increasing the size of your bills and your risk of falling into debt.

4. You use payday loans. If you resort to these short-term cash loans with high interest rates, you can soon land yourself into serious debt.

5. You buy essentials like food on credit. You’re living beyond your means if you charge essential expenses on credit cards and you can’t repay in full each month.

6. Your annual percentage rate (APR), the amount of interest you pay per year, rises. A higher APR means the lender considers you at greater risk of debt problems.

7. You can’t afford more than the minimum required payments. It’s a clear warning that you spend more on your credit card than your income can support.

8. You don’t have sufficient savings to cover emergency expenses. You risk racking up massive debt when you need to use your credit cards in emergency situations.

If you recognize these signs, you need to be serious about making changes, even to the point of altering your lifestyle. Examine every purchase and question its actual need. Limit your credit cards to emergencies and use cash for the majority of your expenses. Make a commitment to save a percentage of your income for an emergency fund.

Don’t forget about First Financial’s free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

Article source courtesy of Kimberly J. Howard, AdviceIQ of you USA Today.

5 Ways to Save Money When You’re Broke

save-moneyIt can be hard to save money at any time, but it is particularly difficult when you feel like you are broke. If you can barely afford your bills and you are living paycheck to paycheck, saving money is probably one of the last things on your mind. However, you can still save money when you’re broke. In fact saving money, even if it is a little, is a key step to stop being broke.

As long as you are making some money, you should be saving some. Especially if you routinely have insufficient funds, it’s important to make a habit of saving money. Despite the fact that you have little extra funds, there are ways to save. Cutting costs, sticking to a budget, and saving a little at a time are all ways that you can save money, but there are other ways as well. Here are five ideas to consider.

1. Cut out the extras. An easy way to save money when you’re broke is to cut costs. You may think there is nothing you can cut out at first, but think a little harder. If you are truly “broke” then you need to let some things go. Do you really need such an expensive cell phone plan? What about cable television? Can you use the internet at the library or use WiFi instead of paying a monthly fee?

There are many things that we consider necessities that are really just extras, and cutting some of those will quickly free up more money. Take a look at your monthly bills, and decide what is really necessary. If you want to stop being broke, you may have to cut out some of the extras for a while.

2. Eat at home. Grabbing lunch on the go is so much easier and more convenient than bringing a lunch to work, but doing this regularly will really eat away at your income. According to Living on A Dime, eating out is a common way people get into personal debt. It’s easy to rationalize eating out because you are too busy to cook, or you are a bad cook. However, making food at home will truly save you money, and if you want to save money, you need to make the time and the effort to cook at home. You can save time by making several meals over the weekend and freezing them to use during the work week. If you simply don’t know how to cook, buy a cookbook for beginners.

3. Make a budget. If you don’t have a budget, your first step should be to make one. Perhaps you already have a budget, but there are several reasons a budget can fail. If you recently lost your job, or your income somehow changed but you are using the same budget, you will need to make a new one. You also may need to look at your budget and see if it is really reasonable and if you need to adjust anything.

According to Lifehacker, if you are broke and budgeting, there are several steps that can help. Start by assessing your financial situation, cut back on expenses (as mentioned in point one), and be frugal. There are other steps you can also take, including paying down your debt.

4. Save a little at a time. If you’re completely broke, the idea of saving anything probably seems unreasonable. However, you have to get into the habit of saving if you are going to save more in the long run. It’s important to think about the future: write down your financial goals, even if they seem completely out of reach. Then, start saving. If you are saving nothing right now, then any savings is an improvement. Once you cut your extras and start following a budget, you can use some of the discretionary money to save for your future.

Another idea is to get a second job. Even if you only work a few extra hours each week, but you put all the money in a savings account, you will quickly see a change in your financial situation.

5. Avoid common mistakes. You can make plenty of good decisions about your finances, but if you make a few poor decisions, you will still have a hard time saving. Some of the worst things to do when you are broke include splurging when you get money, prioritizing convenience, taking on too much debt or making poor decisions about debt, living beyond your means, and having no savings at all.

It’s really easy to live above your means, but this is one of the easiest ways to get into debt. If you have a hard time controlling your spending, try setting a budget and then doing envelope budgeting (you can modernize this practice with a few steps). Also, be careful about the debt that you incur. You need to avoid the worst financial mistakes if you really want to save.

Saving money isn’t easy, but if you take the time to put these five steps into practice, you will be off to a good start!

Don’t forget about First Financial’s free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

*Article source written by Sienna Beard of CUInsight.

The Ultimate Guide to Getting Out of Debt

Debt Management Plan. Magnifying Glass on Old Paper with Red Vertical Line.

1. Commit to getting out of debt.

Getting out of debt is hard. It takes maintaining discipline over a long period of time. It demands lifestyle changes.

While you shouldn’t build a plan so strict that it would be impossible to stick to, you will have to make some tough choices. If you’re used to treating yourself to spa days or shopping sprees, you’re going to have to give up some of these tangible and expensive pleasures in order to obtain being debt-free. If you and your partner are collectively in debt, they’ll need to be on board as well. It’s not possible to do this on your own if your other half is still spending up a storm.

For motivation, create a visual reminder of what you’re working toward, such as a photo of the kind of house you’d like to buy, or the destination you plan on hitting when you can afford it. Put the image in your wallet, on your computer or wherever you spend money — to remind yourself of what you’d really like to do when you get out of debt.

2. On a spreadsheet, list all your debt, balances, interest rates and minimum payments — and find out the total of what you owe.

Knowing the total will give you a rough sense of how long this might take. If you’re shocked by the number you see, just remind yourself that this is the highest the number will be. Within the next month, it will start to get smaller. Knowing your minimum payments will help you budget, and having your interest rates will help you decide on your debt repayment strategy. List your debts in order of highest-interest rate to lowest. Tally up your minimum payments so you know the minimum amount you need to put toward your credit cards every month. Keep the list easily accessible and editable so you can refer back to it in the coming months.

3. Try to make 0% balance transfers, get your APR lowered, or refinance.

Now that you’re committed to paying down your debt, it would really help if it weren’t simultaneously increasing bit by bit. If you’re eligible for 0% balance transfers, see if it makes sense to transfer your credit card debt.

But beware the fine print. If the 0% offer only lasts six months, be sure you can pay that debt off within that timeframe. If not, you could end up paying higher interest than you were before — and it could even apply to the initial six-month period (look for the term “accrued interest” to see if this might happen). Also, calculate what the balance transfer fee is and make sure that even with the fee, you’ll still save money on the transfer.

If you’re not eligible for a 0% balance transfer or decide it doesn’t make sense for you, call your credit card company to see if you can negotiate the APR down. If your main debt is a mortgage, look into refinancing.

First Financial’s Visa Platinum Credit Card has no balance transfer fees, a Cash Advance Fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), and a Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount.* Rates are also as low as 10.9% APR and first time card approvals are eligible for 2.9% APR for the first 6 months on purchases and balance transfers!**

4. Start tracking your spending.

In order to pay down your debt, you’ll need to find ways to free up the money you already have. Knowing where your money goes will help you spot where you can cut expenses. Look for big expenses that don’t align with your priorities. If you’re surprised to see you spend $200 a month for work lunches, start packing lunch from home. Also keep an eye out for expenses that you’re not utilizing (do you actually use that monthly gym membership or Netflix subscription?). And note anything that was more expensive than it should have been, and get used to searching for coupon codes for online purchases and only shopping at in store sales.

5. Do a first pass at your budget.

Figure out your annual take home pay — what hits your bank account after taxes and 401(k) retirement contributions. If you receive a paycheck every other week, multiply the amount by 26, then divide by 12 to get the exact monthly figure. Tally up your necessary expenses: housing, transportation, utilities and groceries. Try to come up with a reasonable amount for your monthly groceries that you can stick to.

If the sum of your necessary expenses is greater than 50% of your take home pay, it might be hard for you to pay off your debt in an expedient fashion. (If you have other necessary expenses like childcare, which allows you to work, then it’s fine to go over the 50% threshold). Otherwise, if you’re exceeding the 50% mark, see if you can cut back on any of these necessary expenses in any way.

6. Work your debt and discretionary expenses into your budget.

Now, calculate what percentage of your take home pay your minimum debt payments are. If your necessary expenses are 50% or less, aim to put 20% of your take home income toward your debt.  If your minimum payments are less than 20%, you’ll be able to put more than the minimum toward your debt each month.

Finally, see how much you have left to live on each month. From your monthly take home, subtract your necessary expenses and your projected 20% debt payment. Divide the leftover by 4.33 to see how much you can spend each week. Is this enough to live on each week for your dining out, shopping, gym, entertainment, travel, gifts, cable, health and other costs?

If not, get the numbers to a ballpark range that feels doable, even if it means not hitting that 20% debt repayment goal. Expect that you’ll have to go through a period of trial and error before you find the exact plan for you. But make a decision, and head into the next step knowing what you’ll be paying toward your debt every month.

7. Start your debt repayment plan.

Now that you have a monthly debt repayment target, go back to your debt spreadsheet. Pay the minimums on every debt except the highest interest rate debt. Put the rest of your debt repayment money toward that debt every month until it’s gone. Afterward, cross it off the list and do the same for what is currently the second highest interest rate debt. Continue like this down the list. This method of repayment will ensure you pay the least interest.

8. Stick to your weekly allowance.

The only way you’ll be able to pay off your debt is if you don’t keep adding to it. This means being vigilant about living within your means. Depending on your income and the cost of living in your area, this can be difficult unless you keep an eye on it. If you know you need to make a shift in your spending habits, try using cash. Take out your weekly allowance in cash each week and only let yourself spend that amount until it runs out.

9. Adapt to your new lifestyle.

Now that you’ve started on your plan, you need to learn what behaviors will support it. If you feel comfortable doing so, tell friends and family about your debt repayment goal so they understand why you’re suggesting more potlucks. If a friend suggests an activity that will be difficult on your budget, look for good free or inexpensive alternatives.

Even for non-social activities like personal hobbies, look for ways to cut costs: If you dropped the gym, can you run outside or play tennis with a friend?  Maybe you realize that with advanced planning, you can more cheaply stock up on household items by buying in bulk. To freshen up your wardrobe, browse good local thrift shops or hold clothing swaps with friends.

10. Earn more money, and put gifts and windfalls toward your debt.

Finally, one of the best ways to get out of debt — is to earn more money. While cutting costs might free up a few hundred every month, a solid side gig could give you an extra $1,000 or more to put toward your debt. Do you have a hidden talent that you could put to work for you? If so, let everyone in your network know that you’re looking for freelance gigs. Put your gifts and windfalls to work as well. If you receive a large sum, put the vast majority toward your debt. With a little discipline, you really can become debt free!

Don’t forget about First Financial’s free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

*APR varies from 10.90% to 17.90% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. Rates quoted assume excellent borrower credit history. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. No Annual Fee. Other fees that apply: Cash advance fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), Late Payment Fee of up to $25, Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount, $5 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of up to $25. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a VISA Platinum Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

**The 2.9% promotional rate will apply to purchases and balance transfers only for six statement cycles from the new account holder’s initial balance and/or initial transfer to the First Financial VISA Platinum card. The balance transfer promotional rate does NOT apply to cash advances.

Article Source: Laura Shin, http://www.cuinsight.com/the-ultimate-guide-to-getting-out-of-debt.html

3 Debt Payoff Tactics That Should Never Be Used

conceptual image of a piggy  bank with tight belt  isolated on white background

Paying off your debt is an admirable goal and a great move for your financial health. But some ways of doing it might hurt more than they would help. Withdrawing from your 401(k), draining your emergency fund, or ignoring your monthly bills in the name of paying off your credit card debt may seem like good ideas in the moment, but they can have adverse consequences in the long run.  Don’t be tempted by any of them!

Dipping Into Your 401(k) – Not a Good Idea

There are plenty of reasons not to use your 401(k) to pay off debt, but let’s start with the potential financial ramifications. If you take money out early, before age 59½ — not only will that money be taxed at your current income tax rate, but you’ll also pay a 10% penalty.

By using your retirement funds to pay off your credit card debt, you’re potentially setting a dangerous precedent. You’re making tapping into your retirement fund an option for sticky financial situations, which could help you justify withdrawals in the future, even if they aren’t absolutely necessary. Unless you’ve exhausted all other legal options, try to leave your retirement savings alone for your future.

Draining Your Emergency Fund – Also Not a Good Idea

Because of high interest rates on credit cards and lower interest on savings accounts, it isn’t wise to keep a large cash reserve while carrying credit card debt from month to month. However, it’s also not a good idea to drain your cash reserves completely to wipe out your debt. Emergencies happen, and you need to have some savings in place to deal with them because a credit card isn’t an emergency fund.

The amount of emergency savings you should keep depends on your personal situation. As a starting point, everyone should have $1,000. Some people — like small business owners, custodial parents or sole breadwinners — may need more, while a single young professional without a mortgage will probably be fine with a small fund. Any savings greater than what you need for emergencies can be put toward debt, but don’t drain your entire rainy-day fund.

Neglecting Your Current Bills – Really Not a Good Idea

When you’re anxious to get rid of your debt for good, it may be tempting to cut corners elsewhere to pay it off as soon as possible. But ignoring your monthly payment obligations to pay down debt isn’t a sound approach. You’ll likely get hit with fees, and your late payments may be reported to the credit bureaus and remain on your credit reports for seven years.

Instead, pay your bills and minimum debt payments first. Then, provided you have a small emergency fund already, put the excess toward extra debt payments.

The Bottom Line

Pay down your credit card debt aggressively, but don’t hurt yourself financially by withdrawing from your 401(k), draining your emergency fund, or ignoring your monthly bills. Instead, aim to bring down your debt by making more or spending less, and allocating the extra funds to your credit card bills.

Don’t forget about First Financial’s free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

Article Source: Erin El Issa for Nerdwallet, https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/tips/debt-payoff-tactics-recommend/