How to Get Back on Track If You’re Drowning in Debt

bigstock-Businessman-Run-Away-From-Debt-103353212Getting out of debt is much harder than getting into it. But you can do it — and along the way, you’ll rid yourself of a lot of stress.

Countless people find themselves drowning in debt simply because they can’t control their spending. If this sounds familiar, try tracking everything you buy for a month, including all those “little” items that cost just a few dollars. Once you see how those purchases add up, you’ll realize how important it is to lay out a budget and stick to it.

Understanding how much you actually spend is a good first step, but that alone won’t get you out of debt. The following strategies for managing different types of expenses — and bringing in some extra income — can you help you reach a happy, debt-free future.

Control your credit card usage. If credit card debt is the problem, take these steps right away:

  • Cut up your cards: Save one card for use in emergency situations. Cut up all the others, and throw away the pieces.
  • Pay with cash: Only pay cash for purchases such as groceries, clothing, and gas.
  • Attack high-interest debt first: Pay off the credit card with the highest interest rate first. Once this card is paid off, apply what you were paying on it to the card with the next highest rate.
  • Negotiate a lower rate: Negotiate your interest rate with your credit card companies. Your issuer will usually work with you if you say you’re going to transfer the balance to another card with a lower rate.

Cut some recurring expenses. Most people have recurring monthly expenses that can be eliminated, including:

  • Excess phone service: If you have a mobile and a landline, you probably don’t need both. Pick one and stop paying for the other.
  • Satellite/cable television: Consider disconnecting satellite or cable service and replacing it with a streaming service, such as Netflix or Hulu. You can get entertainment at a fraction of the monthly cost.

Keep an eye on your indulgences. We all have little indulgences we like to spend money on here and there, but we often don’t realize how much they add up.

  • Specialty coffee: Stopping by Starbucks on your way to work every morning is certainly a luxury you enjoy, but you could save $25 or more a week by making your own coffee at home.
  • Fast food lunches: If you work outside your home, chances are you buy lunch out at least a couple of days per week. These costs mount quickly. Even if you spend only $40 per month eating lunch out, that’s $40 that could go to your savings account or toward a credit card payment.

Bring in extra income. When you lose control of your finances, getting out of debt requires serious action.

  • Take a second job: No one wants to work 16 hours per day, but if that’s what it takes for your family to thrive financially, then it must be done — at least temporarily. It may be that working an additional, part-time job for just 20 hours or less per week is all that’s necessary to help you out financially.
  • Sell things you don’t use: Many of us keep things we no longer need in the basement or storage shed. Sell any item you haven’t used within the last year online or have a garage sale.
  • Sell your (extra) car: If you’re a two- or three-car household, chances are you could make do with one less car. Consider selling one if it isn’t a necessity.

Reduce debt — and stress.

It requires work and a commitment to doing what it takes to reduce your expenses-to-income ratio. Once you make that commitment, you’ll find that your bank account grows and your stress level decreases.

Take advantage of 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 courtesy of Pamela Sams of the LA Times.

The One Way to Never Fall Into Debt Again

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Debt is literally a four letter word; it just also happens to mean you owe money.

Many Americans have a dream they’ll never realize: living without debt. Yet, the dream is possible for nearly everyone – just be prepared for the sea change of behavior required to make it happen. If you are unprepared, your ship will never make it to the safe harbor of paradise, and you will crash upon the jagged rocks of financial ruin.

Follow these simple steps to make your dreams of a safe financial future come true, and steer clear of financial ruin.

Make Up Your Mind

Many people fall into debt because they grow complacent, spending above and beyond their means, living from paycheck to paycheck with barely enough to make the bills. They don’t have enough to pay for dinner out on Friday, the new clothes that go with it, or the movie after.

Yet they do it anyway, and on the credit card the spending goes. The honest, painful truth is that if you don’t have the money for those things, you shouldn’t be doing them. Learning to be satisfied with your limitations is difficult. You want to be accepted by your personal crowd, but if your crowd’s habits are decaying your account balance one bad habit at a time, you have to ask yourself if the consequences are really worth it.

Once you decide that the lush greens of financial security offer an abundance that the Jones’ can’t match, then the seas gets glassy and the waters are far easier to ease through.

Say Goodbye

Once you’ve made up your mind to live within your means, it’s time to say goodbye to your plastic.

Either cut them or bury them far, far away. You may even want to freeze your credit cards. You can’t open the dam for the credit flood waters if you don’t have access to it. Don’t panic. It’ll be tough at first to say goodbye because you’ll feel like you’re being left without a life preserver, but the truth is you’ll be gaining a lifeboat in exchange.

Pay Off Your Debt First

Cutting up your card was the first step. Now you must be proactive about slashing it to zero. Snowballing is an extremely effective way to quickly demolish your debt. Establish your payoff plan and stick to it. This debt is now a “need” on your financial map.

You have a plan for paying off your credit cards, now lay out your map to help you get from paycheck A to paycheck B.

Lay Out Your Map

What are your needs? What are your wants?

By organizing your finances by needs and wants on a paycheck to paycheck scale, you can pay off the needs first, then have whatever is left for you. When you draw your financial map, classify bills, debts, and savings as needs, don’t forget to calculate things like clothes and the once in a while purchases too. Otherwise, your budget won’t resemble reality. The only rule is to determine needs from wants when you allot your funds.

Track Your Money

The beauty of online bill pay is that using it for everything keeps you from running blind through your budget, while showing you exactly what’s happening with your balance. Without credit or debit cards sucking the life from your account, it’s one way in and two ways out – cash and bill pay.

Use bill pay for everything and withdraw your cash for the extras bill pay can’t handle such as gas and petty expenses. Once your cash is gone. You’re done. No more spending until the next paycheck is securely in your account.

Remember to withdraw enough cash to get you through. Allot the amount of cash required for groceries, fuel, kid’s needs, and anything else you may need for the period. If you know your child needs new clothes, establish a plan for that spending and only use cash you have readily available.

Some people label envelopes so they can distribute the cash they need to the places they need it, without cutting into funds from another category. Do whatever works for your mind and your system. The only unbreakable rule is that you can’t spend beyond the cash you have, so you must manage it well.

Once you have learned to live within your means, and have your debt under control, life will be sweeter and you’ll never return to the choppy waters of too much debt again.

*Original article courtesy of Vincent King of MoneyNing.

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.