As they stare down at a teetering pile of bills, so many consumers wonder how they racked up such a large debt. The answer boils down to simple mathematics.
“On a basic, fundamental level, the problem is created by spending more than you make,” says Brad Stroh, co-CEO of the San Mateo, California-based Freedom Financial Network, LLC, a company that specializes in debt resolution services.
The reasons for doing so, he notes, are varied:
• Spending addictions
• Lack of budgeting (mistaking the amount of money coming in and going out)
• Loss of income (reduced hours, layoffs, forced to leave the workforce)
• Increased costs (health-related expenses, fuel and other basic living expenses)
• A personal hardship (divorce, medical illness, loss of a loved one or other major changes in a person’s life)
You can, however, get out of debt—but it takes commitment. Here are 5 steps to accomplishing your goal.
1. Start Planning—and Saving
“The only way to guarantee solid financial footing is through proper planning—and that’s where most consumers go wrong,” Stroh says. “Proper planning means monthly budgeting of cash flow, combined with saving for long-term security.”
Stroh recommends saving at least 5% of your income to ensure long-term financial security.
“Of course, this percent will vary by age group and the individual’s financial goals and objectives,” he says. “Younger people can expect to spend their early years saving less of their income, paying off student loans and debts incurred during periods of lower income. Older individuals should be planning for retirement and saving a larger share of income.”
2. Seek Professional Help
If you are facing financial hardship, do not procrastinate when it comes to seeking professional advice.
“People often wait too long,” Stroh says. “If someone is living paycheck to paycheck, is behind on any revolving financial obligations (including credit cards), is using credit cards to pay for necessities, or is facing collection, he should consider getting immediate advice from a professional debt management firm or financial advisor.”
3. Stop Spending
If you continue to spend money, despite your ever-growing debt, you likely have a bona fide addiction that requires psychological intervention.
“Debt problems are frequently symptomatic of more fundamental personal issues, such as reticence to address difficult financial problems,” Stroh says. “Spending addictions can have many causes, including lack of personal confidence and fulfillment. Similar to many other addictions, a spending addiction can fill a void in an individual’s life—albeit with a fleeting source of satisfaction. People with spending addictions constantly strive for the ‘high’ that they receive from buying clothes, cars and other goods. This leads to a long-term problem when they cannot meet the consequent financial turmoil that comes when the bills arrive. For anyone who may think he has a serious spending addiction, we advise seeking professional counseling or therapy to resolve the fundamental sources of this addiction.”
4. Start Communicating
If you’re like many consumers with outstanding debts, the last person you think about speaking with is the creditor—the company you’ve been avoiding at all costs.
“Not contacting your debt creditors to discuss and develop a plan for paying, settling or reducing the principal amount and/or interest on the debt” is one of the worst mistakes you can make, says financial expert Ivan Gelfand, president and CEO of Pepper Pike, Ohio-based Ivan Gelfand, Inc., and author of “Your Money, Your Future” (to be published in April).
He also recommends contacting relatives or friends for temporary assistance in reducing debt and making payments, which will lower your outstanding debts’ interest rate.
5. Conquer Denial—Today!
Many consumers who recognize—and even accept the fact—that they have a spending addiction refuse to address their problems, according to Stroh.
“Budgeting is not fun,” he says, “but dealing with creditors is even less fun. Many people will therefore bury their heads in the sand, hoping their problems will go away. Unfortunately, outside of winning the lottery or getting a windfall inheritance from a long-lost uncle, budgeting and consulting with a professional counselor are the only ways to successfully resolve financial problems.”