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How To Get Out Of Debt
Once you accept the fact that you are in debt and come up with a detailed budget–or spending plan–you are ready to start getting out of debt.
As an essential first step, most financial advisors will tell you to stop adding to your debt. That means putting away the credit cards to avoid the tempting buy now, pay later option. The average American family has a dozen or more credit and store cards. Take them out of your wallet or purse and put them out of reach, out of temptation. Better yet, cut them up. Then pay cash. If you can’t afford it, don’t do it.
But, with an exception. You should keep one credit card handy-preferably the one with the lowest interest rate and lowest amount due-for the occasional emergency, like an unexpected medical or repair bill, but use it for nothing else.
Your next moves depend on the size of your debt (which you have now itemized!) and you can do a number of things yourself. For instance, you can contact your creditors, in person if possible, about renegotiating the terms of your debt. They may be willing to do this if some changes allow you to continue paying something on a regular basis. Speak only with a supervisor, a credit manager, or someone with authority, not just the person who happens to take your call. Ask about your options, whether there is a way you can pay less or stop paying interest, at least temporarily, whether you qualify for a lower interest rate, or whether you can work out a schedule that reduces payments to a level you can manage.
Some creditors, especially those with unsecured loans like credit cards, may agree to this approach if they believe you are acting in good faith, so it is worth a try. Be sure to keep a written record of your conversation, including the name and title of the person you speak with, the date and time, and a detailed summary of your agreement. Then send a copy, by certified mail with a return receipt, to the person you spoke with-and be sure to keep a copy for your records.
If you are not confident about your ability to negotiate, or simply have too many different creditors, you may want to try a debt management program. With these programs, a counselor-who should be certified and trained-will contact your unsecured creditors and negotiate to lower interest rates and waive fees. Once a debt management plan has been finalized, you make a monthly payment to the program, which will use those funds to pay your creditors, as agreed.
Before you sign any agreement for debt management, check to be sure you are dealing with a reliable firm. Insist on a regular statement that documents the amounts and dates of payments made to your creditors-if they are not made on time or payments are missed, you are responsible–and be sure exactly how much this service is costing you.
Up to this point, you are dealing with unsecured debt where no assets are at stake to guarantee payment. That changes with debt consolidation, which usually involves taking out a new loan to repay all the other debts. Refinancing a home or car, borrowing against a retirement account or insurance policy are typical ways to raise the money to pay off debts with a single payment. The lure is the convenience, the downside that the new loan-which should have a lower interest rate than the existing loans-must be paid on time, or the asset used to secure the loan may be forfeit.
A final possibility is bankruptcy, but most financial advisors consider that an option that should only be used as a last resort.
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