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.”

*Article source written by Stephanie Steinburg of US News.

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.

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

Bad Credit Makes Everything Harder: How to Fix it

07232014_Woman_Dollars_Lasso_Women_originalHaving poor credit definitely makes your life more expensive. Mortgages, car loans, insurance policies and a host of other items all carry higher rates if your credit score is low – which is why achieving and maintaining a solid credit score is a must for anyone who wants to improve their financial situation.

But higher expenses aren’t the only way a bad credit score can cost you. Renting can be more difficult, as landlords commonly pull a potential tenant’s credit score as part of the rental application process; many will dismiss renters with low credit scores without a second look. Finding the right credit card could also be a struggle, as there are fewer options for those with poor credit.

Here are three other lesser known ways that poor credit makes life more difficult – plus five tips to dig your way out of that:

1. Setting up utilities is more complicated.
For those with good credit, setting up utilities usually requires a simple phone call or two – but people with poor credit have to take extra steps. If your score is really awful, you may need to put down a deposit with each utility company to get your services started.

2. Getting a new job or promotion is more difficult.

Potential employers can’t view your actual credit score, but they can request an employment credit report, which omits your account numbers and personal information yet includes your payment history and loan information. In today’s employment market, a poor report could be the reason you’re rejected for a job or a promotion.

3. Starting a new relationship can be – complicated.
Not even your romantic life is safe from a bad credit score. Savvy consumers who are financially responsible know the potential impact of a partner’s bad credit on their own finances. According to a NerdWallet analysis, 53 percent of single adults over age 25 say they are “somewhat less likely” or “much less likely” to go out with someone with bad credit.

Though bad credit can be a heartbreaker in more ways than one – you can fix it. Here are five ways to raise your credit score:

  1. Pay your bills on time – no exceptions, no excuses. This is far and away the most important thing to build and maintain good credit.
  2. Avoid using more than 30 percent of the available credit on your cards during the month, say many experts. Monitor your balance carefully throughout your billing cycle and make a payment if you start to get too close to that threshold.
  3. Start using credit as soon as you can. The easiest way to do this is to get a credit card and use it responsibly and consistently.
  4. Only apply for credit you actually need – too many hard inquiries in the span of just a few months will ding your score.
  5. Use AnnualCreditReport.com to obtain a copy of your three credit reports once per year. Review them, carefully, for accuracy; if you spot an error, start the process of having it corrected as soon as you can.

Feel free to check out our free, interactive financial calculators – we even have ones for Credit Cards and Debt Management!

Original article source by Lindsay Konsko of The Fiscal Times.

What’s the Worst Kind of Debt?

DEBT inscription bright green lettersWhat is the worst kind of debt to carry? Is it student loan debt, credit cards, a mortgage — or something else? Even the experts don’t always agree on which debt is “good debt” and which is “bad,” so imagine how confusing it can be to consumers who are dealing with debt!

Student Loan Debt

Why student loan debt is the worst: The loans are often given to young people with no credit experience and no clue how they will pay them back. Balances are often high, and the jobs borrowers counted on to make payments may be non-existent or take a really long time to acquire. Finally, unlike every other type of consumer debt, it is very difficult to discharge balances in bankruptcy.

And why it may not be: College graduates, on average, still earn significantly more over their lifetime than those without a college degree. In that sense, student loan debt can be considered an investment that pays off in future earning power. In addition, students may be able to defer payments on their student loans during times of economic hardship (usually at a cost), which makes them more flexible than other types of loans. In addition, borrowers may be eligible for reduced payments and loan forgiveness under the Income-Based Repayment Program or other loan forgiveness programs.

How does student debt affect credit scores? Large balances typically don’t hurt credit scores as long as the payments are made on time.

Credit Card Debt

Why credit card debt is the worst: With interest rates hovering around 15 percent on average — and more than 20 percent for some borrowers — credit card debt is often the most expensive kind of debt consumers carry. And with the low minimum monthly payments that issuers offer, cardholders can find themselves in debt for decades if they aren’t careful.

And why it may not be: While making minimum payments on credit cards is not a great idea over the long run, having that option can come in handy in a financial pinch. It can give cardholders time to get back on their feet without ruining their credit.

As far as credit scores are concerned, as long as cardholders keep balances low (usually below 10 to 20 percent of their available credit), and make minimum payments on time, credit card debt should not hurt credit scores. Bills

Mortgage Debt

Why mortgage debt is the worst: If you wonder how bad mortgage debt can be, just ask the owners of some $8.8 million homes that CoreLogic said had negative or near-negative equity as of the second quarter of 2013. That means those owners owe close to, or more than, what the property is worth. That also means they can’t sell those houses without shelling out money to pay off their mortgage or doing a short sale that damages their credit scores. Even for those who aren’t under water, rising taxes and/or insurance premiums, the cost of maintenance and loans that typically take 30 years to pay off can make one’s home feel like a financial prison at times.

And why it may not be: Over time, homeownership remains one of the key ways average Americans build wealth. If you are able to keep up with your home loan payments, eventually the home will be paid off and provide inexpensive housing or rental income. Equity that has built up can be accessed through a reverse mortgage or by selling the house, or it can be passed along to heirs — sometimes tax-free.

When it comes to credit scores, this type of loan will generally help, as long as payments are made on time. Even large mortgages shouldn’t depress credit scores, unless there are multiple mortgages with balances. That’s usually a problem that affects real estate investors however, not homeowners with one or two homes.

Tax Debt

Why tax debt is the worst: If you owe the Internal Revenue Service or your state taxing authority for taxes you can’t pay, you can suffer a variety of painful consequences. If a tax lien is filed, your credit scores will likely plummet. In addition, these government agencies usually have strong collection powers, including the ability to seize money in bank accounts or other property, or to intercept future tax refunds.

And why it may not be: The IRS offers repayment options that may allow a tax debt to be paid off over time at a fairly low rate. (Similar programs are available for state tax debt in many states). And unlike applying for a loan, you don’t have to have good credit to get approved for an installment agreement.

The good news when it comes to credit scores is that tax debt itself isn’t reported to credit reporting agencies; a tax lien is the only way that it may show up. By entering into an installment agreement, you may be able to get a tax lien removed from your credit reports, even before you’ve paid off what you owe.

Auto Loan Debt

Why auto debt is the worst: The average auto loan now lasts five and a half years, and some 12 percent last six to seven years, according to Edmunds.com. That means payments will last long after that new car smell has worn off and well into the years when maintenance and repair costs start creeping up. Even more troubling, these borrowers may be stuck if they need to sell their vehicles since they may be “upside down,” owing more than what they can sell their car or truck for.

And why it may not be: Many consumers budget for a car payment, and as long as they aren’t hit with unexpected expenses, they are able to make this payment a priority. In addition, borrowers may be able to refinance their auto loans and lower their monthly payments. Plus, cars often get people to work, where they can earn the money they need to pay off debt.

Vehicle loans that are paid on time can help credit scores, and are rarely a problem unless someone has several car loans outstanding at once or misses a payment.

The Worst Kind Of Debt

When it comes down to it, the worst type of debt is … (drumroll please), the one you can’t pay back on time. If that happens, your credit scores will suffer, your balances may grow larger due to fees and interest, and you may find yourself borrowing even more as you try to keep up with your payments.

Article Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/creditcom/whats-the-worst-kind-of-d_b_4220046.html