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Debt is, quite literally, a four letter word. But does that mean we shouldn’t talk about it? On the contrary, it’s precisely the ability to sweep debt talk under the rug that allows so many people to spiral further into financial chaos. All of a sudden, they wake up and are tens of thousands of dollars in debt. They ask, how did this happen? The answer: you didn’t talk about it. You assumed things would get better and that sunnier times would just burn the problem away, like the rain puddles from yesterday’s thunderstorm evaporating under today’s sunbeams.
Unfortunately, this is reality. Problems may disappear temporarily, but they don’t go away. So igniting that conversation about debt is the first step toward tackling the problem. What exactly should you talk about? Well, how about assessing the source of the problem for starters? In other words, how did you acquire the debt in the first place? Ask yourself the following questions:
Are you spending too much money? If your Discover card is maxed out on unnecessary expenditures like HD televisions and plane tickets to Cabo, you might want to consider reigning in your spending habits a bit. If you’re living at the edge of your income and your credit card is full of debt, you’re not building a very good foundation for your financial future. When exactly are you planning to pay off this debt? When you get a raise? When you win the lottery? If you can’t pay off your credit card expenses at the end of every month, you’re building up debt. If this is monthly occurrence, you’re simply spending too much money.
Are you paying whopping interest rates on credit cards and loans? Many student loans can carry very reasonable interest rates that make it acceptable, even practical, to pay them off over longer period of time. But other loans, especially credit card balances, have much higher interest rates and over time you are paying handsome fees on that outstanding balance. At the very least, be aware of what your interest rates are and allocate some of your paycheck toward paying as much of your balance down as you can. In the long run, you’re saving yourself money.
Are you investing money into stocks and bonds? This is sort of a trick question. Investing is good, but only when you have the money to invest. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, you don’t really have the funds for investment projects. Once you scale up in salary, you can think about such things.
Dealing with debt is a brutal reality for many Americans. Learning to manage your debt while not letting your financial health spiral into chaos takes discipline. Assessing your personal finance situation with a few hard-hitting questions is the first step towards this discipline.