There is really no one-size-fits-all when it comes to managing your debt elimination. Debt comes in all shapes and sizes. Not all of it is created equal, but all of it is leeching away money that would be better used to improve your family’s financial security. That being said, it’s important to make sure to avoid certain things while you’re trying to get out of debt. Here are some things NOT to do while you’re defeating debt.
1. Don’t get caught in the minimum payment trap
Even though you may think so, credit card companies are not simply trying to make it easier for you by keeping your minimum payments low. They do it to make sure you pay longer which means more interest. And if your balance is high enough, the minimum payment may not even pay any of the principal balance, leaving you paying into perpetuity if you don’t pay more. In order to avoid getting caught in the trap, put as much of your income toward your debt as possible so that you can minimize the amount you pay in interest, and the length of time it takes to pay it off in full.
2. Don’t wing it
The best thing you can do to get your debt paid off as quickly as possible is to have a plan. Include your financial goals in that plan to help motivate you to tackle the debt problem head on. Write out your plan, either with pen and paper or with computer software like Excel. Doing this will help you keep yourself accountable. If you don’t do it, it’s kind of like going through college without a graduation plan. If you’re dedicated, you’re still likely to graduate, but all the distractions along the way will delay finishing up. There are different ways you can do it, but set a plan and stick with it.
3. Don’t take on new debt to pay off old debt
Debt consolidation can be helpful in a situation where you’re significantly decreasing your interest rate, but it can easily get out of hand and become a habit. It’s easy to do, and there’s no shortage of companies looking for new debtors. So rather than robbing Peter to pay Paul to make sure your payments are on time, reach out to your creditors and try to get some sort of temporary relief so you can get all your ducks in a row. And if you can, avoid taking on any new debt to finance purchases that aren’t necessary. Adding more debt while you’re trying to get out of it will leave you caught in a never-ending cycle.
4. Don’t touch your emergency fund
If you have a huge mound of cash stashed away for emergencies, it may be tempting to throw it at your debt to get a good head start. The problem with this idea, though, is that if an emergency happens you’re going to be right back where you were in the first place; taking on new debt to stay afloat. The ultimate goal is to get out and stay out so using your emergency fund is not only a huge gamble, it’s only a temporary patch. Instead, try to find ways to cut your spending. Realize that in order to reach your goals, you may have to live a little less comfortably and conveniently for a while. It’s not exciting, but when you’re finished it will all be worth it.
The biggest mistake I have seen people make is not paying attention to their statements and credit reports. Believe it or not, credit companies make mistakes, and if they aren’t reported promptly it can be a nightmare disputing them. Checking your credit periodically can also help you catch any shady activity, plus shows you how you’re doing overall with your credit. You can print out your credit report once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com and can also monitor your credit score on sites like Credit Karma or Credit Sesame. Doing this will keep you in the loop and can also motivate you to push harder to improve your report and score.
Getting out of debt is hard enough as it is. Making sure you aren’t doing any of the above tips will not only make your life easier, it will help you get out of debt faster. Then you can focus more on preparing for the future and building your financial security.
Ben lives with his wife, Kilee, and dog, Paisley, in Arkansas. He has a passion for personal finance, sports, and learning. Ben recently started a blog at www.wealthgospel.com where you can find more of his opinions on personal finance. His life goals are to write about personal finance all day and start a non-profit organization to help others become self-reliant and to find their true potential. On any given day, you could find him eating homemade salsa, picking blackberries, or staying up until 3 a.m. to finish a book.