Your 5 Steps to Dealing with Debt

One of the major reasons holding many Americans back from being financially independent is debt. Recent data has shown that American debt—from student loans to mortgages and credit card debt— is on the rise. It’s frequently cited as one of the reasons some Americans are unable to buy a home or save for retirement.

So how do you even begin to start tackling debt? It may seem daunting, but it’s a challenge you can overcome with discipline, perseverance, and of course a little help from Cal Coast and our Financial Fitness Counselors.

Here’s a 5-step guide for dealing with debt:

  1. List and organize your current expenses – To understand the scope of your debt, it’s important to do a full inventory of all your current expenses. This will not only help keep you on track, but it can also provide insight on where most of your spending is going. This list can show how much you spend on necessities like food and groceries, or bills and utilities. It can also illuminate unnecessary spending.
  2. Trim the list and determine what you can live without – This step is crucial. Many people get in debt because they spend money on unnecessary things. Go down the list you just made and determine what’s vital (food, shelter, etc) and what you can do without. Do you really need that $5 latte every day? What about that monthly subscription you rarely ever use? Is it absolutely necessary for you to go on a three-week European vacation this year? While this may seem like common sense, you’d be surprised at how many people don’t do this. After all, it’s easy not to sweat the small stuff, like those $5 lattes. But it’s these small expenses that you should beware of because they can really stack up. Think of it this way: If you had one $5 latte every single day for a month, that adds up to about $150! That’s $1,800 in a year that you could be putting towards paying down your debt.
  3. Create a budget for occasional expenses – People with credit card debt often cite occasional expenses as a major reason they used their credit cards. Occasional expenses include things like holiday gifts, wedding guest expenses (travel, lodging, clothing, etc), car repair or maintenance, and medical bills. It’s important to budget for these so that you won’t overspend or rely on credit cards. It’s also helpful to set a goal for what you want to pay off in a specific time period. This can help you create a realistic strategy for attaining your goal while also changing the way you look at your spending.
  4. Tackle the credit card or loan with the highest interest rate – Now that you’re tracking your expenses and (hopefully) reducing your spending, the next question is: What do I pay off first? Interest on loans and credit cards can really hurt your ability to pay off your debt. Target the loan or credit card with the highest interest rate. It may take you longer to pay it off, but you’re also saving money by not accumulating any more interest.
  5. Need help? Consult your Cal Coast Financial Fitness Counselor – It’s important to realize that you are not alone in this. Dealing with debt causes a lot of stress, so lean on your family, friends, and other resources for support. It helps to verbalize your goals to those around you so that they can help keep you on track. One resource that you have at your disposal is your Cal Coast Financial Fitness Counselor. You can get guidance on how to achieve your financial goals—like paying off debt. And it’s all part of the benefits of being a Cal Coast member! Click the button below to contact a Cal Coast Financial Fitness Counselor and let’s tackle debt together.