My favorite quote is “Modern slaves are not in chains, they are in debt” (anonymous). Most of us do not have physical chains. We are bound by the burden of owing. The weight of debt is crushing our ability to live the life of our dreams. So how do we get out of debt without suffering?
Suffering is a state of mind. It is not what happens to us, but how we interpret our circumstances. We choose our responses to our circumstances. We can decide to act and do something to get to a better place, or we can suffer. Action erases suffering. You won’t start feeling better until you do something about your circumstances.
How to get out of debt: Step 1 – Pull your credit report
The first thing you should do is pull your credit report. Don’t pay for this service, it’s free once a year. There are three major credit bureaus you want reports from. They are Experian, Transunion, and Equifax. The best place to locate your credit reports is AnnualCreditReport.com.
Why check your credit report? You want an accurate picture of what debt you have and how you’ve been doing on your payments. Even if you think you know how you are doing. The credit report is what matters. You may find that something you believed was paid off the credit bureau says otherwise. Perhaps you have an old credit card you forgot about. You may have accounts in collections you weren’t aware of. We want it all on the table. You can’t conquer your finances if you don’t know what you owe.
How to get out of debt: Step 2 – Organize what you owe
Now that you have an accurate assessment of what the credit bureaus think you owe, it’s time to make a master list. Use your credit reports, current bills and/or online accounts to get the information below.
- What type of account it is (Credit card, student loan, mortgage, medical bill, etc.)
- The total amount you owe
- Due date (when you have to pay the bill)
- The APR (Annual Percentage Rate). This is how much interest you pay on your debt.
- Whether the account is still open or if it’s closed
- Contact information. for whoever you owe the money to
It is essential that you get all the information together. You may have to make a few phone calls.
If you have to call a collection agency and they want you to make a payment right away tell them this. “Thank you for the offer. I am getting my bills organized so that I can begin payments. I’m not able to commit to anything right now”.
I created a workbook just to help you with this organization process. Enter your email below to get it now
How to get out of debt: Step 3 – Negotiate interest rates
You have options when it comes to interest rates. Have a car loan or mortgage? See if you can get a lower rate. Credit cards? Many companies will lower your interest rates if you ask. Student loans? I get a discount on my interest rate for having my account on auto pay.
There is no honor in paying more interest than you have to. Getting your interest rates down will save you tons of money over time. Check every account you have. It’s worth it.
How to get out of debt: Step 4 – Settle anything you can
Do you have old bills that have gone to collections? Ignoring these will not make them go away. Collection agencies have a bad reputation for their pushy techniques. Their job is to get money for the account. It’s as simple as that. Use this to your advantage. When you have a bill that you don’t pay, it often gets bought by a collection agency. The credit collectors then try to get their money back by getting you to pay the bill. They don’t expect to get all their money back from every debt they buy. So when you offer to pay off even a part of it, chance are they will jump on it.
Let’s say you have an account that is $1500. You call and say, “Look, I want to get this debt paid off but I only have $700, will you take it as a settlement?” See what they say. They may haggle with you to pay more. Stick to your guns and be honest about the money you have. Most importantly, get the receipt sent to you stating that the debt is settled! Once you have this no one came back and force you to pay the rest.
This works most of the time, the rest of the time you need to pay the whole amount. You don’t have to do it all at once. Ask them for their payment plans and set the amount as low as they will go. Not because you want the debt forever, but because your next goal is to make ALL your monthly payments on time.
How to get out of debt: Step 5 – Make all the minimum payments on time
Use your Debt Worksheet to see when all your payments are due. Are they close together? That makes it hard to pay them on time.
Simple solution? Move the due dates. You can do this online or by phone. Ask to move the payment date to a different time of the month.
Once your payments are spaced out, create a system for remembering the due dates. Make a calendar with your bill dates, set reminders on your phone or set up auto-pay for the accounts. Get those payments in on time!
Why don’t I tell you to pay more than the minimum right now? Because when you are drowning, you need to tread water before you can swim. Making all your monthly payments on time is a great goal. You still have to live your life while you are conquering your debt. Eventually, do you want to pay more? Yeah, but starting with the minimums is best.
How to get out of debt: Step 6 – Tap into your resources to pay off
You may not realize all the things you have available to you to help you pay off your debt.
Do you have:
- Old furniture sitting in your garage?
- Old electronics and/or cell phones?
- Movies you don’t watch anymore?
- Books you don’t read?
- Clothes you don’t wear?
- Unused gift cards?
People make money every day selling these things on places like Facebook marketplace. Will it take some effort? Yup. Will you clean up your living space while earning money? Absolutely! Going through our odds and ends and selling them for a modest sum has made my family nearly a thousand dollars in the past few months. It’s worth it to see what resources you have and put them work for you.
Do you have a service you could provide for a fee? Piano lessons? Dog sitting? House cleaning? Web design? You don’t want to work multiple jobs forever, but you don’t want to feel crushed by your debt either.
Finally: No magic formula, spend less, pay off more
Paying off debt isn’t complicated. Spend less, pay off more. This doesn’t mean you have to feel terrible while you’re paying off your debt. I know some programs recommend giving up your “little luxuries”. It’s not sustainable. Once you have it all organized, settled, paid off, or are making payments on the rest you will be well on your way!
You’ll feel better. You’ll keep going. You will conquer. I have faith in you!