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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

You Can Get Out of the Debt Cycle!

By Michael Benifez

Christmas has come and gone and you now realize that you have spent way too much on gifts and festivities - most of them on your credit card. How are you going to fix the mess you have made of your finances?

The National Retail Federation claims that on average, people spend over $900 over the Christmas holiday period, a good deal of it on their cards.The consequences of this largesse are very hard to overcome. Approximately one third of people still have a credit card debt from the previous holiday period which they carry over into the next. It has been estimated that it will take around 3 years to clear a $900 debt at 18% interest, when the minimum payments are made.

Constant credit card debt, particularly when you are just starting out, can harm your financial well-being. Because you are always paying off the debt, you can't spend money on the things you really need to such as investments, saving and eating.

Lecturing you about your problems is not going to solve anything. You are looking for answers to your problems.

1. Restraint

You don't have to be a genius to work out that you need to spend less to manage your debt. This isn't much fun - watching how much you spend is very tedious.

There are a number of "budget busters" that, although on their own they don't seem like much, actually start to add up after a while. These include the $4 coffee, $10 movie or takeaway. To give an example, if you go to a movie once a week, in a year it has cost you $520.

Whilst you don't have to be overly stingy with yourself, you should take the time to look carefully at your bank and credit card statements and work out where all that money is going. Take the opportunity to pare down the expenditure and this will help to reduce the debt.

Ridding yourself of debt is like winning a battle, where you need to plan your strategy to ensure that the best resources are where they are needed the most. If you know where your spending weaknesses are, it is much easier to combat them.

When you are going over your spending habits, be on the lookout for two things that can keep you in the debt cycle:

* The "I really need it" virus: Victims of debt regularly confuse things that they want with needs. For example, "I really need that new car..." or "I really need those $200 jeans..." or "I simply can't go without my daily coffee!" * Big-spender-itis: People who are Victims of this syndrome have a need to show friends and family members that they have "made it", even if it means they have to go into or remain in debt to keep up appearances. These people have a big head... and a very large credit card growth!

2. Strike a deal

An effective solution to getting rid of debt is to negotiate with your credit provider and come up with a better deal. Often this will assist you in paying off the debt quickly or in reducing payments if you are really badly in debt.

* Request a lower interest rate. A five-minute telephone call to your finance provider has the potential to save you lots of dollars in interest charges.

* See if a balance transfer will help - shop around for a card with a lower interest rate, but take care with "special" introductory offers. These can be a trap, because that lower interest period is only for a short time and then the rate is sky high again. It will only work if you are sure that you will be able to pay off the full amount within the time frame.

* Choose a card that doesn't have a monthly fee. You may think that you are getting a better deal with a lower rate card where you pay fees, but in reality it isn't the case. For example, if you pay $40 each month toward a $1,000 balance on a card with a 12% interest rate and this card has a $50 annual fee, that's the same as a no-fee card with an 18.4% interest rate.

* Reduce your student loan rate. You can reduce your interest rates by between one and three percent if you choose a lender that gives a discount for on-time payments or automatic payments from your bank account, provided you haven't consolidated your student loans. You can make comparisons through SimpleTuition.com.

* Cut a deal on student loan payments. If you're really struggling with the payments, inquire with your lender to see if you qualify for a graduated payment schedule. You can also consult various bank officers to see if they offer debt consolidation loans. With this schedule, the beginning payments are small and are gradually raised as your income, hopefully, increases. You may also request an extension of time to pay.

3. Boost your income

If when you have trimmed all the "fat" from your spending and you find that you still don't have enough to deal with the debt, a way out of this may be to look at ways to bring more money into the equation. Is it about time for a raise? Have a chat with your boss, but never mention that you need the money to finance your debt.

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