Reduce Debt By Taking Charge

Getting out of debt and staying out of debt is not easy. If you’ve already amassed a fair amount of debt and are thinking it will be impossible to ever get out from under it all, don’t despair, you can learn how to stop incurring new debt and take charge of your life.

The first thing you must do is STOP increasing your debt! If you have any credit cards that are maxed out, destroy them. The best way to manage your debt is to get spending under control by eliminating all of your credit cards, except one. Use your one credit card ONLY to buy “must haves” until you can get your finances in check.

Avoiding more debt starts with knowing what you are spending your money on. Record your spending. This is key to getting out of debt. You’re in debt because you spent money you didn’t have. If you’re like most people, your debt didn’t come from a single large purchase; it was trickles of spending amassed over time.  Each day for at least one month, write down every penny you spend, no matter how small.

The next step is to categorize your spending. Put your monthly expenses into groups of “Must have,” “Should have,” and “Like to have.” “Must haves” are things that will cause harm if you don’t buy them, such as food, rent, medicine, pet food, etc. “Should haves” are things that you need, but can do without for a little while, e.g., new clothes for work, gym membership, etc. “Like to haves” are things that you don’t need, but enhance your life, e.g., magazine subscriptions, newspaper, cable tv, coffee with friends, etc. By doing this, you’ll have a good idea of what you spend your money on, and you’ll be able to figure out where you might need to cut back on spending. You don’t want to eliminate all of the “should haves” and the “like to haves,” but take a look at those first.

Now, make a budget based on your spending record. Looking at your new budget, you’re going to be able to see areas where you might be able to cut back. Chances are, your budget has some fat that can be trimmed. Be realistic, but vigilant. Over time you will be able to hold back on purchases and you will be able to come up with a dollar amount that can be put toward paying down your debt.

To begin paying off your debt, first figure out how much you owe, to whom, and on what terms. Debt can often feel overwhelming because you really don’t have a clear idea of how much in debt you really are. Gather your bills, and make a simple list of all the debts you have. Write down all the pertinent facts, including name of the creditor, your total balance, your minimum monthly payment, and your interest rate.

Prioritize your debts. Debts that are past due, ones where the creditors are hounding you, and those with exceedingly high interest rates should be considered top priorities. You should pay the minimum on your low interest rate debts, and apply the bulk of your available funds to the highest interest rate notes. Once you pay off one creditor, each debt gets easier to pay off than the last. Continue to pay off each debt in your priority list. You’ll refine your budget over time, increase the amount of money you can pay yourself, and the amount you can put toward debt.

Once things become more manageable, make sure you always pay more than the minimum required, otherwise it will take an extremely long time to eliminate your debt. For example, a single credit card with just a $1,000 balance and 19% interest will take about FIVE YEARS to pay off by making only the minimum payment of $26. Paying the minimum, you will spend $1556.40, with the Total Interest Paid: $556.40! Paying only the minimum payment will equate to giving them 55% more than you actually borrowed.

Don’t give up. You probably didn’t get into debt in a day, and you won’t get out of debt in a day. There are no quick fixes. Consider contacting a credit counseling agency to consolidate or settle your debts. Learning how to manage your money can bring great peace into your life, and will give you the freedom to spend your energy on other things.

DMCC is a 501 (c)3 nonprofit organization committed to educating consumers on financial issues and providing personal assistance to consumers who have become overextended with debt.  Education is provided free of charge to consumers, as well as personal counseling to identify the best options for the repayment of their debt. To speak to a certified credit counselor, call toll-free 866-618-3328 or email

Save Your Money

Saving money is one of the single most important steps to achieving most of your financial goals in life and becoming financially sound. The sooner you begin to save, the better of you will be. Having a savings in place can also serve as a form of protection during a financial crisis such as job loss, unexpected medical expenses, death of a family member, etc.

A savings serves as your cash reserve or safety net when you need it. The key is to have it in place before the need arises. At the core of building adequate savings is debt avoidance.

You should try to save a minimum of 10 percent of your take home pay in addition to your retirement planning contributions. If you do this on a regular basis, you will become used to it and accustomed to living below your means. If you are able to save more then 10 percent, do it!

Also, you have 3 to 6 months worth of expenses saved up as your emergency fund. This amount includes all expenses, fixed and unfixed. For example, if in January you spent a combined total of $2500 on your mortgage, car loan, home utilities, insurance, food, credit card bill, and other expenses, then you would need to save three times that, or $7500 at the minimum.

Unfortunately, most people live paycheck to paycheck with little or no savings. Work to build your reserve as fast as possible. Consider automating your savings. Most payroll providers provide an auto transfer feature directly to your savings when you get paid.

Start saving as early as possible. The amount doesn’t matter in the beginning. Just start some place and be consistent. Condition yourself into not missing or needing that amount. Over time, your savings will grow due to your diligence. View your savings as another bill that has to be paid. Once you pay off a line of credit (car note, credit card, or mortgage), continue to pay that same amount toward your savings.

Before you know it, you will have the protection you need on the event of an emergency. By building your savings now, you will have a larger nest egg available when you need it.

DMCC is a 501 (c)3 nonprofit organization committed to educating consumers on financial issues and providing personal assistance to consumers who have become overextended with debt.  Education is provided free of charge to consumers, as well as personal counseling to identify the best options for the repayment of their debt. To speak to a certified credit counselor, call toll-free 866-618-3328 or email

Start Fresh After Bankruptcy

Getting back on your feet following bankruptcy can be a very difficult task. You’ll be starting from scratch. It’s critical to your future financial success to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes .

To ensure you make a “fresh” start, you need to think and analyze your previous spending habits. What really lead you to go bankrupt? Analyze your expenses, the way you handle your money and of course your lifestyle. Do you have to live a lavish lifestyle? And the major question is can you afford that kind of living? What are your major purchases recently? Asses your situation, and the causes that made you experience bankruptcy.

After that, make a plan on how recover and live without going into a financial difficulty. The primary thing that you have to do is to reestablish your credibility, especially to financial institutions. You must regain a good financial standing status. Start to build up resources. Save your money and put it to good use. Don’t splurge on extravagant items. Keep in mind what drove you to bankruptcy, your too much spending attitude. You have to change the way you regard your expenses.

If you use a credit card, be sure to pay on time, in full. Make sure also that when using credit cards, it’s for emergency purposes and not for luxurious items. Keep only one or two credit cards. A lot of credit cards may lead to temptation. You don’t want to end up into the same situation again. Having a savings account is also a good option because it means less reliance on your credit card purchases. You’ll learn how to set aside cash in your account for large purchases.

Budgeting is also very important because it teaches you on how to manage your money. Stick to your budget!.

Some lenders are willing to offer housing loans to people who have declared bankruptcy. If you find a financial company to hold your home mortgage, make sure you pay them promptly. Prove to them that you’re worth their risk.

Bankruptcy can bring stress to your life, but there is a lesson to be learned. You’ll know now how to deal with your monthly expenditures. Your spending habits will change for the better and you’ll live a life without worries. Keep in mind, it’s fine to have debts as long as you know how to manage your resources and pay your creditors.

Credit Card Balance Transfers, the Pros and Cons

Most people with credit cards know the term balance transfer. They may have even been enticed by an offer in the mail. To those with an enormous amount of debt, it may seem counter-intuitive to get another credit card. But in the slowing economy, balance transfers can lower monthly expenses and play an important role in personal budget management.   A balance transfer literally transfers the balance from one credit card to another one with better terms and low or zero interest rates. It can assuage post-holiday-spending hangovers, help you make large purchases, combat high interest rates (especially on rewards cards), or relieve you when intro rates on current cards expire.  It can be a smart way to buy time-for a limited period of usually 6 to 12 months-where you can avoid finance charges and make payments to the principal balance.

Why it’s offered

It’s in the interest of credit card companies to offer balance transfer deals. They want to lure new customers with good credit who’ll stay for at least four years. They also want to keep pace with the increasingly competitive credit industry. They do this by offering teaser rates (0% or low intro rates for the balance transfer for a limited time) and low fixed rates (for the life of the transferred balance).

However, given that most people won’t pay off their balances before intro rates expire, they stand to make money from interest. They also charge different (higher) rates for new purchases made on the card with no grace period.

Who qualifies

For a new credit card and ideal intro rates, you need good credit. Just applying for the offer doesn’t guarantee you’ll lock in intro rates, especially if your credit is bad. If it is, and they still grant you a card, you’ll have higher interest rates and it won’t be worth it. For tips on repairing and building credit read Building Credit While You’re Young.

The Transfer

After you have applied for a Balance Transfer card and received it in the mail, read the card-member agreement that comes with it.  If you have qualified for the 0% balance transfer rate, call your new card issuer to request the transfer. Some issuers will mail you convenience checks — just make sure they are for balance transfers not cash advances. Continue making minimum payments on your old card since it can take four weeks for the transfer to complete.

What to Watch Out For

Hidden Fees: Most charge a transfer fee, usually 3% of the transfer amount. Aim for one that caps the amount at $50 to $75, or else a large balance transfer could cost a few hundred dollars. Avoid cards that charge a membership or annual fee.

Transfer rates versus purchase rates: Some offer 0% APR on balance transfers but not new purchases. Right now, a number of banks are offering 0% APR on new purchases as well, so make sure you’re getting the best deal possible.

Tricky payments: Payments are often applied to the transferred balance first because it has lower rates. The balance transfer must be paid before payments are applied to new purchases. For example, if you transfer $5,000 and then charge $50, all payments will go towards the $5,000 until it’s paid. Meanwhile, the $50 accumulates interest because most balance transfer cards don’t offer grace periods for new purchases.

Ways to Save

Shop around: Compare the fees, APRs and payment policies of several cards. And be realistic about how quickly you’ll be paying down your debt. If you won’t have the balance paid before intro rates expire, find a card with the best overall rates and fees.

Pay more than minimum: Pay the principal balance before intro rates expire so you won’t have to pay interest. If you can’t pay down the full balance, at least pay more than the minimum. Once the standard rates kicks in, just making minimum payments extends the debt’s life for years.

Personal Budget Management: Always make (at least) the minimum payment and pay on time. If you miss payments, you’ll end up with unreasonably high rates and late fees. Set up automatic bill pay if you’re forgetful.

Maintain clean credit: Some credit card companies routinely check your credit reports and raise interest rates if your profile changes for the worse. Make sure you keep a clean credit history.

Think long term: Don’t think that serial balance transfers are a way to avoid paying off your debt. Sooner or later you’ll have to pay it off. Consider them a potentially smart, near-term way to reduce the cost of carrying the debt you have and help you get back into the black sooner.

DMCC is a 501 (c)3 nonprofit organization committed to educating consumers on financial issues and providing personal assistance to consumers who have become overextended with debt.  Education is provided free of charge to consumers, as well as personal counseling to identify the best options for the repayment of their debt. To speak to a certified credit counselor, call toll-free 866-618-3328 or email