In 2008, American households carried $280 billion in debt. While debt dwindled in the following years, in 2017 the country hit another record – $13 trillion in household debt, including mortgages, car loans, credit card debt and student loans, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. If you, too, are struggling with debt and you're looking for some strategies to reduce what you owe, try implementing these smart money-management habits.
If you’re not disciplined enough to create a budget and stick to it, to work out a repayment plan with your creditors, or to keep track of your mounting bills, you might consider contacting a credit counseling organization. Many are nonprofit and work with you to solve your financial problems. But remember that “nonprofit” status doesn’t guarantee free, affordable, or even legitimate services. In fact, some credit counseling organizations — even some that claim nonprofit status — may charge high fees or hide their fees by pressuring people to make “voluntary” contributions that only cause more debt.
And many lenders won’t give credit to people with a history of recently missed payments on other credit accounts (with "recently" translating to two years back). Missing enough payments that your account is turned over to a collection agency is another sure way to tank your score, not to mention limiting your access to affordable credit – or make it cost more than it should.
The third factor that is utilized to calculate credit score is your history of credit. This category is catered towards how long each line of credit has been opened. For example, how long have your credit cards been active? How long go did you open a car loan? The longer a loan or credit line has been active, the better your history of credit will be. Now, this category is relatively easy to control. All you need to do is keep quality active lines of credit open. In other articles on our website, we discuss what could happen if you decide to close a matured credit line.
A third of your overall credit score is based on the credit utilization ratio across all of your cards. Because of the way credit scoring works, it's better to carry a $1,000 balance on a card with a $5,000 limit (20% credit utilization) than to carry a $500 balance on a card with a $1,000 limit (50% credit utilization). That's why, in discussing payment pecking order, we recommended paying off the cards closest to being maxed out. That's also why you shouldn't terminate accounts. It'll increase the percentage of total available credit that you’re using – and that will reduce your score.
Like credit builder loans, secured credit cards are an easy way to build or rebuild credit history. The application process is the same, but secured credit cards require a deposit between $50 and $300 into a separate account. The bank then issues a line of credit that is typically equal to the deposit, allowing you to build a credit history without putting the lender at risk.
This tip is a valuable financial lesson that many people can implement, and it can completely transform their financial situation. Typically, people tend to wait until the last minute to pay their bills, which results in late payments, late fees, and extended loans. The goal with this is to develop the habit of scheduling your payments to be automatic. IF you have already missed a payment in the past, this tip is even more important for you. By scheduling your payments automatically, you are making the dedication that the money will be in the account by the time the bill needs to come out. This, at the same time, if properly managed, can help direct your entire attention on paying your bills on time, rather than purchasing something out of instant gratification. Also, by showing lenders that you have set up automatic payments, it shows a level of dedication towards fast credit repair.
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Ultimately, the best way to consolidate credit card debt depends on your financial situation. If you want a quick application process and the potential for no fees, you may choose a balance transfer credit card. Meanwhile, if you don’t have the good or excellent credit needed for a balance transfer credit card, you may look toward loans. If that’s the case, the question becomes whether you’re willing to put your home up for collateral to get a potentially higher loan amount, or withdraw from your 401(k) or simply receive cash from an unsecured option like a personal loan. And, if you struggle with managing payments for various credit card debts, you may lean toward a debt management plan. Whichever option you settle on, make sure you have an actionable plan that allows you to fully repay the loan during the term and maintain a debt-free life.
Next, estimate your monthly spending habits for other expenses such as gas, groceries and entertainment. Create a limit, based on your income, of what you can spend in each of the different categories of expenses. For example, if you tend to spend $400 a month on groceries, try to stick to $300 a month on groceries by making changes like buying generic brands, using coupons, and resisting impulse purchases.