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7 Steps to Living Debt Free

carry debt Are you sick and tired of being in debt?
You’re not alone!

In this economy, more and more Americans are struggling with credit cards, car payments, student loans, mortgages, and more.  So let’s talk about how to get rid of it-every dime owed, every tick on your credit report.

7 Steps to Living Debt Free

Step 1: Stop adding to the pile. People who’ve managed to juggle a big pile of debts tend to get overly comfortable with debts. They’re more willing to charge to a card, get financing, and add to the pile. After all, nothing’s gone wrong yet.   debt slaveThis is madness. Don’t do this. The bigger your stack of debts gets, the worse your interest rates on future debts will get, the more you’re spending on things that reference your credit report, and so on and so forth. You don’t have to go cold turkey…but seriously, go cold turkey. There’s no telling how close you are to the edge on your debts, even ignoring the myriad subtle ways that many debts are wasting your money.  

Step 2: Figure out where you stand. Acting without proper information is a waste of time—maybe you make your situation better, maybe you flounder. Better to take the time to familiarize yourself with your debts and get a firm understanding of the specifics. Which debts have the worst interest rates? Do you have any smaller debts you could rapidly clear? Are there opportunities to consolidate, renegotiate, or defer–student loans in particular might offer possibilities here.   This might be a good time to break out the spreadsheets and calculating tools, if you know how to work them or are willing to learn. Income matters just as much when figuring out how your debts impact you in the short and long term,  

Step 3: Develop long term goals. As you gain insight into your financial situation, proper long-term goals will probably come into focus on their own. Figure out what debts you simply can’t expect to eliminate completely in a short time frame—you might even have debts where slower payments are beneficial; maybe you’re on schedule for your job to pay off student loans, or some form of debt forgiveness. Taking these unusual circumstances into account, you’ll want figure out absolutely everything you need to pay, prioritized in order of interest accrual (based on the size of the debts and their interest rates).   Once you have the big picture, it’s time to dig a little deeper into nuance and figure out what to do right now.  

Step 4: Develop a short-term goal. Small short term goals are great for any task, when paired with a ‘big picture’. They give you something you can aim for and hit in a reasonable time-frame, giving you that little morale boost you need to keep up your good efforts. Your short-term debt goals should fit a few criteria:   Something beneficial to payoff quickly. This goes without saying (or the need for any explaining).   Something that’s going to be a little difficult to pay off, but not unreasonably so. A goal should challenge you to do your best, not serve to disappoint you as you aim for a hopeless ideal. So set something you can hit, if you budget wisely and don’t waste too much.  

Step 5: Build a budget. If you’re deep in debt, you’re almost certainly living beyond your means, especially if the bulk of your debts are from credit cards instead of, say, a mortgage and student loans. That means you’re going to have to really rein in your spending to get your debts where they should be—gone. You’re already going to take a hit from not adding to your debts any further, if you’re reliant on credit cards, but you also need to make room to make bigger payments on your existing debts.   Remember, a low monthly payment isn’t your debt-holder doing you a favor. It’s because they make more money charging you less for years and years and years than they do charging you a lot for a shorter period of time. Paying more on your mortgage or credit cards now saves you money in time. So build a budget which gives you room for bigger payments on your most pressing debts each month.  

Step 6: Fix your budget. Okay, look at your budget. It’s probably wildly unrealistic. Did you account for all the nonsense you spend money for each month—the fast food, the unplanned gift for the children, makeup, movie rentals? You’re not going to avoid spending that money just because you didn’t write it down before—you’re far more likely to spend it, then reach the end of the month and once again make the minimum payments on your various debts.   So fix your budget, including all the nonsense, then give all that nonsense a decent shave. You don’t have to give up on having fun and wasting the occasional dollar, but you do have to start spending that money consciously. Because if you don’t, you’re going to treat the money you planned to spend on paying your debts down faster like a piggy bank with no guard.  

Step 7: Keep at it. Past this point, you need only keep plugging away at your goals while maintaining a smart budget. Make sure to take a step back and re-evaluate on occasion, in case circumstances have shifted and your best path to being debt-free has changed. And when you payoff everything, don’t treat it as a reset, a new opportunity to go build up debts again. Now you have money to save, to invest, to profit from.

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