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Last weekend I put $5 in my pocket and headed out to do some yard sale shopping (my tweet of announcement). More than anything I love to look through the newly discovered treasures as well as see who I run into. After all, a Saturday morning full of summer sunshine – that is hard to top. Well, after visiting three yard sales, I had successfully stuck to my allotted amount and found some fabulous deals – one of which was Jean Chatzky’s book Pay It Down! – one of the only books of hers I don’t have yet.
While there are slight deviations on how to pay down credit card debt, the respected experts in the field – Chatzky, Suze Orman and David Bach – to name the few that I have followed – adhere to similar advice. And while I highly suggest reading one of their many books, here is the general approach:
HOW TO GET OUT OF CREDIT CARD DEBT
1. Assess the reality of your situation. How much debt do you honestly have? Consider all credit accounts (cards, home loans, car loans, student loans, etc). The student loans can be handled slightly different, but credit card debt and anything else other than your mortgage should be included as “bad” debt.
2. Set a goal. What is the deadline you want to set for being debt-free? One year from now? Three years?
3. Look at your income and expenses. No guessing is allowed. Take time to look at all of your expenses (mandatory and discretionary – we’ll eliminate unnecessary later). Then look at what you earn.
4. Determine how much. Based on how much you earn, how much can you pay each month to complete your goal by the set date? In Jean Chatzky’s book, she devises a plan to rid yourself of debt on $10 a day (a minimum of $310 paid down on debt each month).
5. Trim your budget. Now, take a look at where your money goes each month. Do you really need two pedicures at your favorite spa each month or can you spend $9 on OPI nail polish and give yourself pedicures at home, saving yourself $50-$100 a month? Love books, but spend more than you realized on Amazon? Start visiting your local library. Click here to learn more ways to trim your budget.
6. Know your credit score. Each year you are able to check your credit score for free. Visit one of the big three credit reporters – Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion – to see exactly where you stand. Chatzky breaks down in detail exactly how your score is tabulated and what scores are preferred.
7. Pay down the highest APR first. If you have multiple cards, while you have to pay on each of them monthly, pay only the minimum on the lower APR cards and the majority on your highest.
8. Negotiate a lower rate. Don’t be afraid to call up your credit card company and negotiate for a lower rate. Bring up all of the positives you have provided as a customer – always paying on time, the length of time you’ve held their card, etc. Then, if you are going to transfer your balance to another card, threaten to cancel the card. If nothing works, look at #9.
9. Consolidate if possible. If you already have a card that offers interest free balance transfers and a 0% APR for a year or two, transfer your other card balances onto that card. Why? Interest free. This will give you time to pay down your balance without incurring interest on what you owe – in turn, saving your money. Just keep in mind the regulations – how long this grace period lasts, etc. If none of your current cards offer this option, look for a card that does (they are out there). Three things to look for – rate, fine print and fees (annual, late payment, etc).
Once you have followed these steps and wiped your balance sheets clean of debt, be very stern with yourself and continue to remain debt-free. Last year I shared specific tips on how to successfully have a credit card, but today I would also like to share money rules to follow as you go about your daily life that will also keep you out of debt permanently.
HOW TO STAY OUT OF CREDIT CARD DEBT
1. Only eat at a restaurant once a day. While many of us don’t eat at a restaurant every day, keep this rule in mind when you do, and never go out twice in one day. If you know you have dinner plans to dine at your favorite restaurant, pack a sack lunch for work instead of going out with co-workers.
2. Don’t carry your credit card with you. Or if you have to, place a piece of paper around your credit card, write FOR EMERGENCIES ONLY and wrap it with a rubber band. At least, you will have to think twice before using it. Once you trust yourself, #2 isn’t necessary.
3. Shop with a list. Real Simple did a study that revealed women who think they are successful are women who make lists. Avoid unnecessary purchases and don’t leave home without your list!
4. Shop for groceries once a week. Take time to plan the week’s meals and then on the same day each week, gather up your coupons, list and cloth grocery bags and head to your local market.
5. Withdraw cash for your monthly grocery budget at the beginning of the month. I always find it interesting that I would often let my cravings increase my grocery budget unnecessarily, but when I know I only have so much cash each week to go grocery shopping, I shop wiser, I keep my cravings in check and I am forced to get more creative in the kitchen and use what I have.
6. Bank online. In an effort to avoid missing bill due dates, pay bills online. This is a wonderful approach for working together with your partner, so you know for sure that bills are paid, but it also allows you do schedule payments even if you haven’t received a bill in the mail.
7. Don’t be afraid to put something on hold. If you’re shopping and you come across a dress that catches your eye, but you’re not sure it’s worth stretching your budget on, put it on hold. If you still want it the next day and can afford it, go back and get it, if not, you’ve saved yourself some money.
8. It’s okay to return items. Don’t feel guilty or ashamed for changing your mind. It’s your money, and if you don’t want something as badly as you initially thought, return it.
9. Refuse to follow the crowd. While your friend, neighbor, or parents may have fabulous decor, clothing or outdoor equipment, you do not know the state of their finances. However, you do know yours, and you know what it takes to keep yourself financially secure – paying your bills on time, staying out of debt and saving for retirement. The New York Times recently reported in an article that in 2010, 75% of Americans approaching retirement had only on average $30,000 saved for retirement. That’s absurd! Hopefully they enjoyed their third car because retirement may not be all that enjoyable.
Don’t get sucked into doing something because someone tries to make you feel inadequate. The best feeling in the world is financially security and one of the biggest contributors to stress in life and in relationships is money, so make sure to handle wisely the money you earn.
More than anything, take the responsibility to control what you can, and how we spend our money is something that is very much in our control.