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Debt Management

As a New Year begins and we all think about resolutions and set new goals be sure to have “paying off credit cards” at the top of the list!

After all the Christmas decorations are taken down and the first set of batteries have died in the kids toys is about the time when your credit card bill arrives in the mail. Take a deep breath, open it, and resolve to tackle your debts once and for all.

The first step is to stop accumulating debt! You have all heard the saying “Don’t buy it if you don’t have the money!”

Build a budget! Start by looking at where you spend all your money. Collect up all your bank statements and credit card bills for the last three months and start identifying where it all goes.

Put yourself on a cash diet. Most people have no clue how much pocket-money they spend. Start with $40 in your pocket on Sunday night. That is all the money you have to spend for the week on discretionary items such as lunches, coffee’s, magazines, taxi’s, etc. So if by Wednesday lunch time you have run out of money you don’t have any more money to spend until the following Sunday night. This will definitely help you to think about spending before you do.

Money is Finite if you spend it over here – you don’t have it to spend over there. Decide if what you are going to purchase is more important to you than the other things you wish to purchase. Rather than buying that top you may wish to take a beach vacation or get a new car.

Is it a Want or a Need? Every time you pick something up when you are out shopping, stop and ask yourself “is this a want? or a need?” if it a want ask yourself “do I want this more than I want a the beach vacation, new car, or being debt free?”. If it is a need ask yourself “does it have value? or can I buy that same top over at Winners for 30% less?”

If you have debt, here are some cardinal rules to help you get debt free:

1) Pay out highest interest debt first! Maybe you have a couple of credit cards with balances on them at 19%, a store credit card 26%, a personla loan from the bank 9%, a line of credit 7.5%, and a mortgage 5%. Start by listing them ALL on a piece of paper with the interest rate from highest to lowest. See example below. Then be sure to pay the MINIMUM on all the debts and on time (more on these later). Then with any extra income left over be sure to apply it all to the one with the highest interest! For example – lets say you have $2000 a month for paying your debts and you go through and write them all down and it looks like this:

Type Interest Rate Balance Min Payment
Store Card 26.0% $1,100 $50
Visa 19.0% $3,800 $114
Master Card 19.0% $2,700 $81
Loan 9.0% $12,000 $218
Line of Credit 7.5% $8,500 $170
Mortgage 5.0% $176,000 $950
Total $204,100 $1,583

Once you have paid your Min Payment on all debts you will have $427 left over. Take that full amount and put it directly against the store card. This will have you pay out the highest intered card the fastest and save you thousands of dollars in interest!

2) Put your credit cards on ice! If you carry a balance from one month to the next on a credit card you will lose your grace period. If this happens call the credit card companies and ask them how much you have to pay to pay them off in full including all interest. Instruct them to make a note that you will be doing that, that day. Once you have paid them off put credit card in a block of ice in your freezer for two full months! You do this because if you use your credit card at any point in the next two months you will be charge interest starting from the moment you swipe that card. You lose your 20 day grace period until you have gone two complete billing cycles with payments in full.

3) Watch out for rocketing interest rates Many card companies will increase interest rates if you are late with your payments. Be sure to ALWAYS make at least your minimum payment ON TIME. Once you have been late or missed a few payments your lower interest rate cards that you thought were 9% could be as high as 36% or even higher!

4) Lower your limits. Many cards will increase you credit limits every time you use your cards to their limits. This may be useful when you are trying to purchase things but can cost you thousands of dollars in interest charges. Fortunately there are plans to restrict this practice. Pick up the phone call the card company and ask them to reduce your limit to a more manageable level.

5) Avoid taking cash advances. Either from payday loan companies (almost the worst) or from your credit cards. The interest charges start right away and are always very high. Take money from lines of credit, personal loans, or Mom!

6) Avoid promo gimmicks. If you have ever been to a hockey, baseball, or football game, or even just walking through an airport; you may have been tempted or enticed into signing up for a credit card to get a team hat, shirt, towel, or travel rewards. Be careful! Even though you might not use the card – every time you apply for a card it reduces your credit score which ultimately can increase interest charges on loans.

Even with all this advice you may want to get some additional help. Go to www.creditcanada.com They are a leading Canadian charity that provides money management and credit management counselling and education services that help individuals and families prevent and respond to financial difficulties.

Speak with spouse and family and work together as a team to tackle the debt. Ask your financial advisor and put a plan together to consolidate and payout the debt systematically.

Good luck!

Frank

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