Debt is a major part of the typical American’s life. Whether it’s a mortgage, auto loan or credit card, debt can be a useful tool to help pay for needs over time, or it can lead to a reckless lifestyle of overspending. Consumer debt in America now totals about $4.1 trillion, with the average household having more than $8,500 in credit card debt alone. Additionally, the average student loan debt in the United States totals more than $32,000. Because debt is a reality for so many families, it’s important to understand how to responsibly manage your obligations.
How can debt be useful?
It’s important to remember that debt isn’t always bad:
- Allows you to pay for large purchases over time
- Helps manage monthly cash flow
- Payment activity can build your credit score
- Mortgage debt is an avenue to build equity in a home
How can debt be harmful?
Debt can also lead you down a path that harms your financial life:
- Allows you to spend more than you have
- Temporarily feels like you’re getting something for nothing
- Can be costly due to interest and fees
- Borrowing from your future income
- Maxed out debt can negatively affect your credit score
Overcoming Your Debt
Why is it so hard to get out of debt? Simply put, making sacrifices now for later is difficult. Oftentimes, just when you’re getting on track with eliminating your debt, unexpected expenses arise. There’s no magic formula to make debt go away quickly. In fact, it can take a long time to make major progress. Plus, paying off debt is not as fun as accumulating it. It’s important to think about the long-term benefits.
These behaviors often lead to accumulating debt:
- Spending more than you make
- Using credit cards for everyday purchases
- Using debt to pay-off debt
- Keeping up with the latest trends
Making a plan is a critical first step to overcoming debt. It's important to gain a clear understanding of your finances overall. First, acknowledge the total debt that needs addressed. Then, track and reflect on your spending habits. Lastly, create a budget for spending and debt repayment.
When creating the plan, remember that repaying your debts can be done strategically. We recommend either a “debt snowball” or a “debt avalanche.” Both methods work similarly, and we recommend paying the minimum payment on all debts, except for the one you are focused on. The debt snowball strategy involves focusing on paying off your debt with the smallest balance. With a debt avalanche, your focus debt is the one with the highest interest rate. As you work through your plan, try your best to live solely on your income. Begin using your debit card, rather than credit cards and stop taking on new debt immediately. One of the best ways to avoid future debt is learning to say “no” to things that you don’t need.
Managing Your Debt
Applying diligence to managing your debt can help improve your finances and day-to-day life. From making your credit score increase to a major reduction in stress, there are many reasons to be responsible with paying your obligations. You’ll enjoy improved financial security for retirement, the ability to buy things you really want, and fewer bills to handle each month.
Avoiding debt in the future is an important part of debt management. To get started, be sure to understand the difference between wants and needs. You’ll also want to build an emergency savings fund with at least $1,000. When your credit card bills arrive, pay them in full each month. Lastly, if you’re considering making a large purchase, take 48 hours to think about how it impacts your financial situation.
Our experts have gathered some of the best ways to stay responsible with your debt:
- Avoid overdraft charges by keeping close tabs on finances
- Limit applying for more credit cards
- Avoid "buy now, pay later" deals
- Avoid cash advances or payday loans
- Be aware of continuous balance transfers that prolong debt
- Limit use of your credit cards until you are debt free
Debt can be difficult, but it won’t go away on its own. Taking control and responsibility of your finances will improve your overall quality of life. Have questions? Our experts are here to support you. Contact Elements for support in all aspects of your financial journey.
Sources: The Balance | Credit.com