Debt — it’s just part of life. In your 20s and 30s, accumulating debt is part of becoming more stable. You buy a car, or two, save up to own a home, upgrade your technology devices, and maybe your kitchen, and take regular vacations. It is all part of everyday life for most of us.
But as you hit your 50s and 60s, that same debt can start to feel like a noose around your neck. Debt can keep you from saving for retirement or achieving other life goals.
But know this: it is never too late to change your habits and begin living a debt-free life. These key steps, provided by the team at White Mountain Partners, will lead you to a life without debt and the worry and stress that comes along with it.
Key Number 1: Don’t Spend Money You Do Not Have
This is a big mind shift for most of us. But as the economy starts to contract and inflation keeps going up, now is as good a time as any to change how you look at income and debt. Get clear with what comes in and what goes out each month. Take a long, hard look at where you can cut back. Living under your means will get you out of debt and bring you the sweet relief of less worry and the joy of looking forward to a better future. Cut unnecessary subscriptions, cancel one of your phone lines, and buy store-brand items. These small changes will add up to savings.
Key Number 2: Where Are You Now?
Goal-setting requires the establishment of a starting point. To do this you need to know how much debt you have, what interest rates you are paying, and what the monthly minimum monthly payments are. It’s critical to know what your highest interest payment is on your debt — and look to pay that down first if you can, says Raj Patel, a financial consultant at White Mountain Partners, a company that offers debt consolidation loans. If you don’t have a handle on your monthly statements, your credit report will generally list all your debts. A free report can be obtained at www.annualcreditreport.com once every 12 months. Put this information on a spreadsheet and tally up what you owe in unsecured debt, i.e. credit card debt or loans. (Secured debt is that which is attached to an asset, such as a car loan or a mortgage.)
Key Number 3: Reorient Your Thinking
Now that you have tallied your debt and taken a long hard look at your spending, now is the time to think about your priorities. Is your money being spent on the things that are most important to you? Write down the life goals you have and see if you are spending money toward those goals. Ideally, you should establish a spending plan based on those priorities. If retirement is a focus, then be sure you are directing money toward that first after you’ve paid for all your essentials (housing, gas, food, utilities).
And if a debt is keeping you from being able to fund your priorities, then this is the moment to commit to living a debt-free life, says Patel of White Mountain Partners. You need to make paying off debt a top priority for a few years. This goal is more important than a new car, watching the latest show on Netflix, getting a new cell phone, and more. Create a concrete play to pay off your debt — and imagine the freedom you will feel when that is done.
Key Number 4: Bring In More Earnings
There are two ways to pay off debt: reduce spending and increase income. This might mean taking a second job or being creative about “finding” money. We are a society that accumulates “things.” Sell whatever you are not using. Look at your skill sets and find ways to utilize those skills for making extra money. If you are great with computers, home improvements, photography, or any range of skills you have developed over the years, create a side job that generates income. Many people have discovered their hobbies can provide an income stream well into retirement.
Key Number 5: Set Aside for A Rainy Day
Life is unpredictable and it is not always possible to account for unexpected expenses. The car breaks down and the roof springs a leak. Having money set aside in an emergency fund to deal with the unexpected will keep you from relying on credit cards again in the future. So set aside $50, $100, whatever you can a month while you are paying down your debt. If there is no emergency fund, efforts to become debt-free debt can feel like one step forward and two steps back when life’s little emergencies hit. That discouragement could derail your goals.
Key Number 6: Reduce Your Monthly Expenses
Take a critical look at every bill and see where you can save. Compare insurance rates, raise deductibles, or eliminate premium services. Seniors and veterans qualify for all types of discounts and senior discounts sometimes start as early as 50. Many people discover when scrutinizing bills line by line, that they are paying for extra services they never even remember signing up for. Becoming more fee-sensitive can save a lot of money.
Key Number 7: Call White Mountain Partners — Set a Timeframe for Paying Off Debt
Without a specific end date in mind, it is easy to let weeks and months slip by with no forward momentum. The only way to get out of debt that likely took years to get into is to make a plan to get out. Perhaps set a goal to become free of credit card debt in 4 or 5 years. Talk to an expert who can help you make a plan to address your debt, with monthly payments you can afford.
If you are burdened with high amounts of credit card debt and want to make a plan to pay it all off — whether with a debt consolidation loan or a debt resolution program — call White Mountain Partners today for a free financial analysis that won’t impact your credit score. Committing to a plan to resolve your debt is the first step to setting yourself on the path to a financial future you can count on.