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How To Really Get Out Of Debt

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At one time or another, many of us have wrangled with credit card debt. While, there is no magic secret to getting out of debt, there is a strategic plan to follow to tackle your debt head on. You first want to find out what you really owe. Write down every credit card you have that has a balance, with the interest rate and current balance you owe. Write down every person or other institution you owe money to. Include student loans, loans from 401(k) plans, mortgage and auto loans.

 Your next step is to run your current credit report and get your credit score. One place to do this is at www.myfico.com. You will get your FICO score and a credit report from each of the 3 credit agencies:  Experian (www.experian.com), Equifax (www.equifax.com), and Trans Union (www.transunion.com). If this list (not including the persons you owe money to) is different from your credit report, your credit report is the list to go by, unless you know for a fact there is a mistake on your credit report.

The next step is to consolidate all your debt and lower your interest rate as much as possible. Before you do that, call your credit card company today (ask for a supervisor) and ask for a lower rate. Most of the time they will work with you. If they give you a hard time, let them know you are switching your card to another company. This will lower your interest payment right away. Consolidate your credit cards to as few cards as possible. To look for permanent low-interest rate credit cards, check out www.bankrate.com. I am not a fan of the “balance transfer game”; transferring your balance from one card to another, specifically 0% cards that then jump up to a higher percentage rate (i.e. 14%) after a period of time. Most of us end up missing that transfer period time and lose everything they saved by having a 0% interest rate for a short period of time. If you can, stick to a permanent low-interest rate credit card, preferably under 7-10%.

This is the most important step you can do to pay down your debt. Setup a payment plan to pay off your debt and stick to it. For example: If you owe $10,000, have a current interest rate of 6%, and pay $400 monthly, it will take you 2.3 years to pay off your debt. To find out your debt repayment plan, visit www.kiplinger.com/tools/ debt calculator. You also need to find the $400 a month to pay off the debt and the only way to do this is to change your spending habit. Find a budget that works for you and stick to it.

There are a few more points that are essential to paying off your debt. Stop using your credit card and debit cards—now! Get yourself on a cash only basis. I can’t stress enough how important this is. This is the key to keeping your budget! If you are paying off different credit cards, pay off the ones with the highest balances first. Save your student loans for last. If you are not able to pay off more than the minimum balance on your credit cards and are truly in over your head, you might need to work with a debt consolidator. There are many unethical ones out there, so visit the National Foundation for Credit Counseling www.nfcc.org. They are a government agency that can recommend one in your area.

Finally, enlist a friend or family member for support during this debt repayment time. Having their moral support will really help you towards being debt-free in no time!

(Copyright Down-to-Earth Finance LLC 2006)

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