Sometimes your spending spirals out of control. Once you realize that you've lost control of your debt, you need a plan of action to get your finances back on track. No matter what situation you're in, the relief of a debt-free life is a feasible goal. Take these simple steps to assess and then improve your personal finances.
If you've been burying your head in the sand, it's time to face facts. "A lot of people will say they've got a certain amount of debt — $9,000, let's say — when in reality, it's $11,000 or $14,000," Cate Williams, Vice President of Financial Literacy for Money Management International, told CreditCards.com. She's right, of course; it's impossible to hit your target if you don't know what you're aiming for.
Action step: Write down your debts, including the interest rate, on every card you have.
Pick Up the Phone
Speaking of those interest rates, getting them lowered can be as simple as picking up the phone. Get on the horn, as they say, and ask nicely. Even a reduction by a point or two can earn you big savings.
Action step: Here's a script for exactly what to stay on the phone with credit card customer service.
Pick Your Strategy
Paying off credit card debt is not a game of chance. You'll need a strategy to lessen the financial burden you're carrying month to month. What are your options? Think of snow:
- The Avalanche Method: You pay off your highest interest card first, erasing your debt as quickly and efficiently as possible. With this method, you'll save hundreds or even thousands on interest charges in the long run. The downside is that it's arguably the most painful to execute. Action step: Make minimum payments on all of your cards except the one with the highest APR. For the card account with the highest APR, pay as much as you can afford. When that card is paid off, apply that same amount to the card with the next highest interest rate.
- The Snowball Method: What the avalanche saves you in money, the snowball saves you in morale. What this method offers is a psychological advantage. If paying off the smallest balance first will give you the confidence and headwind to carry out your debt payments, then this method may be for you. Action step: Make the minimum payments on all your accounts except the one with the smallest balance. For the card with the lowest balance, pay as much as you can afford. When that card is down to zero, repeat the process by paying the same amount to the card with the next-lowest balance.
- The Blizzard Method: You combine the best of both strategies by paying off the smallest balance first and then moving on to wipe out the highest-interest balance next. Combine the best of both, and you've got a blizzard.
"The avalanche saves the most money, but some folks prefer a quick win with the snowball method," Beverly Harzog, author of The Debt Escape Plan, tells Credit Karma. "The blizzard combines both — you get the emotional boost and then you can save money by using the avalanche."
Transfer Your Debt to a 0% Interest Card
You may be able to tackle your debt with no interest at all by transferring a high-interest debt to a single card using a balance transfer. Many balance transfer cards allow you to pay 0 percent interest on your balance for a set amount of time, allowing you to pay more toward your principal and reduce the overall amount of time it'll take you to wipe out your debt.
Action step: Check out NerdWallet to see what the current best cards are.
Make a Budget
You need to figure out where your money is going — aka how you got into debt in the first place. Harzog, who paid off more than $20,000 of her credit card debt, says it takes persistence, self-discipline, and "a darned good budget."
Remember the cabbage soup diet? Remember how after three days you were ready to scarf a large supreme pizza? The same principle is at play with living on a budget and paying down debts. An extreme strategy with zero flexibility could quickly activate your desire to rebel and spend more than you can afford, putting you right back where you started.
"Cutting back can be more effective than cutting out," Gail Cunningham, the former spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, told CreditCards.com. "It's hard to adjust your lifestyle too dramatically, and often, little adjustments can add up to big savings."
Instead of making a No Dining Out rule, limit restaurant visits to once per week and cap your drinks at two. Instead of cutting the cable cord altogether, cut out the premium channels; don't go without heat, but try lowering the thermostat by a degree or two.
Action step: Write down three ways you can cut back on some of your splurges and downgrade or cancel some of your services starting today.
Put Your Credit Cards on Ice
We mean that literally. Put your credit cards in a cup or bowl of water and place it in the freezer. You'll still have the card(s) for emergencies, but they won't be in your wallet. Clear any stored credit card data off your computer, too.
Have a Smart Social Life
Derek Sall paid off $116,000 worth of debt before age 30 when he stopped trying to keep up with his friends, especially the luxury-filled highlight reel social media versions of their lives.
"The best tip I can give is just live your own life," Sall told CNBC. "The best way to just live simply and be content is just to turn it all off and hardly pay attention to it at all. Because that's what gets people in the most trouble. They see 'Oh, my friend went on this great vacation, and I wish we could do that!'"
Action step: If you need a digital social media detox to limit the visual envy and distractions, delete the apps off your phone.
Remember why you're doing this. Will paying off your credit card debt allow you to save for a down payment on a house or stop panicking when you open the mailbox?
Action plan: Write your goals down and tack them to the fridge or bathroom mirror. Put a picture in your wallet of your dream house or something that represents financial peace to you. Join a money-saving community on Facebook or post regularly to forums where you can vent, be motivated, and remember you're not the only one in your position.
Keep Healthy Financial Habits
As you pay off your debts, think about healthy spending and saving habits. In particular, practice differentiating between wants and needs. Food and shelter are needs; bills and emergency funds are, too.
But wants are those ads you see on Instagram, a $14 French martini, a new spring blouse. When it comes to spending, make sure your needs are taking precedence over your wants.
Action step: You made that budget. Stick to it.
"Staying out of debt isn't a big mystery," Regina Blackwell, a certified budget counselor at credit counseling service Transformance, tells Credit Karma. "Account for your money. Live within your means. Don't spend what you don't have. After becoming debt-free, apply the lessons you've learned and work toward the establishment of healthy financial habits."
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The National Financial Educators Council (NFEC) surveyed young adults in 2017 and asked them what high school level course would benefit their lives the most.
The majority responded that money management was the course that would be most beneficial.
With personal debt is at its highest record and COVID-19 threatening to have the hardest economic effects on youth, understanding money and finances is an important life lesson that should be taught to children at a young age.
The following is a list of the best financial literacy lessons and tips to teach children throughout different life stages.
I thought I had a pretty good handle on my finances out of school. I worked several jobs while attending university and had little to no problem managing my income. However, once I graduated, I realized how much more complicated personal accounting could really be.
There were so many variables I needed to keep track of. Biweekly bills, monthly charges, and general necessities amounted to a heap of confusing numbers that were often impossible to decipher. The funniest part was that I was actually trying to do this by hand (I don't know what I was trying to prove to myself, either).
After messing up for the 17th time, I decided to give Microsoft Excel a shot. I used Excel a bit in school and I knew all the big-wig finance people used it, so what could I possibly have to lose? The answer is about six hours of my precious time. Excel isn't much of an improvement over handwriting and it's still dependent on the user to manually input all of the information. It's like doing everything by hand with the slightest help, meaning that it still required a tremendous amount of time and concentration. Well that was all for nothing, I guess.
It's sort of funny. I was certain that I could manage my personal finances with ease, when it's practically a full-time job. I was already stressed out enough with my first job and I knew I didn't have enough time to give my finances the attention it deserved.
That's why I decided to try out a budgeting app. My best friend told me that he uses an app called Truebill to manage his finances. "What does it even mean to manage your finances?" I asked him. He told me that Truebill was the personal financial assistant I wished I could have. It could aggregate all of my account information into one place and give me specific insights and actions.
I loved the idea of having full control over my finances, especially during a time of financial uncertainty, and I realized that Truebill would be the easiest way to accomplish this. The user interface is incredibly simple and intuitive, so it doesn't even feel like a finance app! Truebill offers a multitude of features, with their most popular being the ability to cancel subscriptions with the press of a button.
Okay, I had no idea how many subscriptions I was still subscribed to. In fact, I wasn't even using a quarter of the subscription services I was signed up for. Subscription boxes, streaming services, my old gym, and even an old subscription to my favorite magazine--it was all there and I was livid. How could I let myself waste all of this money and how did I never catch this? Thank goodness for Truebill.
Truebill also offers bill negotiations. There is a 40% fee based on how much you save and Truebill even claims that there is an 85% chance that they'll be able to lower your bill once a negotiation is requested. Why wouldn't I take them up on this? There was zero risk and I would only have to pay once my bill was lowered (which means that I would be saving money regardless).
More standard features of Truebill include the ability to generate a credit report on-demand and even request a pay advance. I only used the pay advance feature once when I wanted to buy a gift for my mom, but didn't have enough cash in hand and Truebill automatically reimbursed itself when I got my next paycheck.
The credit report is another fantastic feature and practically taught me what good credit meant. Truebill's credit report basically shows you which financial decisions have the most significant impact on your credit score and ways that you can improve your credit month-over-month. I've never had such control over my credit and it feels good.
I'll be the first to admit that I was extremely naive coming out of school. I figured that as long as I was attentive, I could manage my finances with ease. We manage money to some extent throughout our entire lives, but once you're thrown out on your own, it's a completely different story. With Truebill, I've finally been able to take control over my finances and stay on top of all of my responsibilities.
My buddies and I always try to make it out to a game, but we never really care which one we end up at. Obviously we have our favorite sports and teams, but it was rarely about what game we went to or who we saw playing. It was about watching the game live.
In the early months of lockdown, all we had was Korean baseball, and trust me, we loved it. The only issue was, none of us had any idea what the commentators were saying. Even then, a few of my friends weren't huge fans of baseball. They were into sports like football and basketball, ones that moved at a quicker pace with less down-time in between plays.
We decided to see if there were any other events going down and came across horse racing. Yes, horse racing. It was perfect--short, fast-paced, and most importantly, an opportunity for betting.
I had never really considered watching a horse race any time other than the Belmont Stakes, but the prospects of the sport seemed exhilarating. Even better, with horse racing we knew we could still recreate the atmosphere of a race track. Salty snacks? Check. Stale beer? Check. A simple and easy way to bet? Check.
One quick Google search later, we came across TVG, powered by FanDuel. It's an online betting platform that takes you right to the heart of the action. We were a little apprehensive about using a mobile app to place our bets, but TVG's ability to bet on live horse races from all over the world was too good to pass up.
Here are 5 reasons why we are obsessed with horse racing thanks to TVG:
1. Betting has never been easier
Use your phone or computer to watch and bet on live horse races in real-time. TVG offers a bunch of features to make betting even simpler--live odds and handicapping tips leverage recent learnings to help you make your best bet. Not to mention, TVG's exclusive race content and wagering guide offers an under-the-hood look into the strategy behind horse race betting.
2. The biggest selection of horse races out there
If you're looking to drop a little dough on a horse race, chances are your best option is your local race track. But watching the same few horses races over and over again isn't the most exciting thing. With TVG you have access to over 150 tracks worldwide with races happening consistently throughout the day.
3. Get a generous sign-up offer when you place your first bet
Once you register your account, you will be eligible for a $200 risk-free bet. All you have to do is place your first bet and you're covered. If you happen to lose, TVG will insure you for up to $200 as a sort of wagering credit. I may have been a little trigger happy when placing my first bet, so having this insurance was a great perk. There are also a bunch of promotional offers available year-round.
4. Making deposits and cashing out at the touch of button
With a ton of payment options such as PayPal, BetCash, debit/credit, wire transfers, and other third-party services, making a deposit is a breeze. But what about the payout? Depending on your deposit method, your withdrawal will be available in a few days. No more waiting in-line to collect your winnings!
5. Watching live races with your friends while betting is exhilarating
Even when we were watching Korean baseball, Zoom calls with my friends were a little dull.
With TVG, we haven't had this sort of fun in months! Every weekend we'll turn on a race and throw our bets in. After a few races, and quite a few drinks, we'll tally up our winnings to see who won the most! Sometimes it's not even about making money, but just having a good time.
TVG is the perfect way to add a little excitement to an otherwise mundane afternoon. It introduced me to the world of horse racing, a sport I never would have considered otherwise.
The races just keep ramping up and thanks to TVG, I can always get in on the fun.