Debt can sneak up on you in a variety of ways. Some people don’t watch their spending carefully and wake up one day to find they’re buried in debt. Others take a lower paying job only to find they can no longer keep up with credit payments.
Still, others fall behind because of high medical costs. Some people find it difficult to manage finances after a divorce or the loss of a loved one. Others fall behind after an extended period of unemployment.
There are many reasons for the accumulation of staggering debt. While each person and each situation are different, there are some strategies you can use to get a better handle on your total debt and understand the best way to manage it and get a fresh financial start.
1. Inventory Your Debt and Expenses
The first step to getting debt under control to tally your total debt and expenses. If you don’t know your total debt, it’s smart to inventory your bills and nail it down. Sometimes, when you know your debt is large, you avoid tallying the actual number. Inventorying debit is not a fun task, and for some people, it can be terrifying.
No matter If your debt is big or small, if you’re having trouble paying your bills, the first step is to make a list of what you owe. Add in recurring bills and expenses, including mortgages, cable and phone expenses, transportation costs, medical and prescription costs, food, clothing, utilities, eating out, trips, vacations, and entertainment costs.
2. Tally Your Take-Home Income
Many people don’t add up their household’s total income. They may know how much they make in salary, or how much gross income their spouse makes in a year. But you must also know the monthly and annual total of your take-home pay after things like taxes, insurance, and benefits are deducted. If you have outside income sources, such as child support, alimony, or other regular payments, factor those in as well.
3. Assess the Debt Gap
Now that you know how much you spend each month, and how much you take home each month, you can do some simple math to see if you are making enough money to pay your bills and pay down your debt. If your income is larger than your expenses, you’re in good shape and should be able to work on reducing your debt with regular and timely payments.
If your income just barely covers your expenses, you may want to reduce costs or increase your income with a new job, or even a second job. This will give you a bit of cushion that allows you to pay down debt more quickly.
If your expenses are larger than your income, you’ll need to do some real work to make the kind of changes necessary to get your finances back on track.
4. Pay Your Bills on Time Each Month
As you work on creating a workable budget, it’s also important to calendar payment due dates. Late payments make it harder to pay off your debt because you’re often charged a late fee. If you miss two payments in a row, your interest rates and finance charges may increase. While it may be hard to juggle your debt, try to create a calendar of due dates, and stick to it. Many people find it helpful to generate an alert for the bill several days before it’s due.
5. Get Rid of Extras
To pay down your debt, you’ll need to divert money away from expenses and funnel that into paying off credit cards, medical bills, or other ongoing expenses. While it may seem difficult to give up some extras, it will help you get into better financial shape. How can you trim costs?
- Eliminate gym memberships
- Cancel club memberships
- Downgrade or eliminate cable TV
- If you have a mobile phone, consider removing your landline
- Consider downgrading your mobile plan
- Sell an expensive car and trade it in for a reliable, used model
- Eat out less, or stop eating out
- Give yourself a weekly food budget and stick to it. Cooking at home can save you lots of money.
- Spend time clipping coupons and comparing prices. The savings will add up quickly.
- Stay away from expensive coffee shops. Make coffee at home.
- If your job is more than a few miles from your home, try to find a carpooling buddy or two. You’ll save big on gas and reduce miles on your car.
- Stop buying cans of soda; purchase 2-liter bottles instead. Better yet, switch to tap water.
- Bring your lunch to work.
- Cut back on, or eliminate, cigarettes, vapes, cigars, and alcohol. They’re all expensive habits.
- If you have fine jewelry, consider selling it.
- If you have a garage or basement full of used junk, hold a garage sale, or sell unneeded items online. Look around your house and sell the things you don’t need or want.
- Embrace used clothing. Resale boutiques, Goodwill, and garage sales are all great places to find the clothes you need for pennies on the dollar. And you’re the only one who will know they are used.
- Cut down on salon costs. Stretch out periods between haircuts. Use home hair coloring kits. Give yourself manicure or pedicures.
- Stay away from bookstores; visit the public library instead.
- Eliminate nights at the movies. The public library also lends videos, DVDs, and BlueRay movies.
6. Consider Getting a Second Job
While the thought of working nights the local fast food joint may not be your style, more and more people are making more money with the kinds of second jobs that offer flexibility and income. People bring in extra money doing things like dog sitting, gardening, or rideshare driving for someone like Uber or Lyft. If you have a computer and an internet connection, you may make money doing transcriptions, telemarketing, or by becoming a remote customer service agent.
You can also freelance the skills you use for your day job. For example, if you are a teacher, you can also work as a tutor. If you’re an accountant, you may want to hire out your services to small businesses or for tax returns.
Whatever path you choose, adding a second job, even if it’s only for a few months a year, can help you significantly reduce your debt.
7. Recognize the Signs That You Need Help
Sometimes even the most diligent budgeters find that their debt has grown beyond their control. Once you see that your debt is more extensive than you can handle, it’s time to move to the next step.
Considering bankruptcy is a scary process for many people. However, if you are facing foreclosure, repossession, eviction, garnishment of wages, or a lawsuit from creditors, it’s time to consider the benefits that bankruptcy offers. Going and Plank can help you identify your best options. Contact us today to set up a free consultation.
There are two types of bankruptcy. Chapter 7 helps you eliminate debt, but also requires you to sell many of your assets. Chapter 13 is a way to restructure debt and usually allows you to keep many or all of your assets. While bankruptcy is a step that should be considered carefully, it’s also a way to give you a fresh start. Schedule your free consultation today.
Going and Plank offers free consultations to potential bankruptcy clients. We’ll help you assess your debt and figure out if bankruptcy is right for you. We also help you make decisions that help you save money long term, work through complicated paperwork, and avoid action or activities that would be considered fraudulent. Contact us today.
The Law Offices of Going and Plank are proud to participate in the Hyatt Legal Plan.