It started off as one missed payment. Soon your debt spiraled away from you, with one late fee leading to another slip-up, and before you know it, suddenly you’re behind on your student loans, credit cards, and car payments.
If this sounds at all familiar, you probably know firsthand how overwhelming debt can be. The constant harassment from debt collectors in warning letters and phone calls might make it difficult for you to breathe, and if you can’t pay for your utilities, it might seem as though you’re waiting on pins and needles for the moment they eventually shut your power off.
Fortunately, there’s hope. Even when it feels like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, it’s possible to get yourself out of debt and regain your financial freedom. Here’s how.
- Assess the Damage
When you’re living beyond your means, this part is never fun. It requires you to take a cold hard look at how large your debt has grown due to purchases on new clothes, spa services, vacations, and so forth.
Even if you don’t owe your debt to a life of luxury, you might not be aware of how badly the interest has racked up, which accounts are in delinquency, and so on. It’s time to gather every piece of mail boasting an ominous “Past Due” stamp that you’ve tossed aside to see where your debt is at, so you can then learn how to fix it.
Use this template to organize your outstanding creditors, the amount owed, the interest penalty, and the date due. Once you have a clear picture laid out before you, you can work on your plan of attack.
- Can You Consolidate?
Now that you have your debt organized, you can see if there’s possible room for consolidation. When you consolidate your debt, you combine different loans with varying interest rates into one debt with one interest rate. Instead of working with multiple lenders, you work directly with one. This not only reduces your stress (and the amount of debt collector calls), but you may also get access to lower interest rates and lower monthly payments.
- Switch Repayment Methods
Debt consolidation is just one out of a few ways you can reorganize your finances to clear up debt. Another successful strategy is to switch up your repayment methods by either increasing your monthly payment, or by making smaller payments every two weeks. Either option will help you pay off your loan faster, but make sure that your new payment strategy doesn’t dig too deeply into your monthly budget.
- Budget or Bust
Speaking of the “B” word, a budget will be your best friend when it comes to getting yourself out of debt. It’s true that budgeting is neither fun nor easy; it will require a lot of will power and determination, but the closer you stick to it, the faster you can go back to making independent purchases!
If you don’t have one already, be sure to create a meticulous budget that breaks down how much you can spend per day and per week. Creating a budget will look something like this:
- Start with your net income (the residual amount of earnings after all deductions have been taken from gross pay)
- Subtract your cost of living expenses (rent, utilities, gas, etc.)
- Subtract your outstanding financial obligations (bills such as student loans, car payment, etc.)
The amount you have left over is what’s available to spend on miscellaneous purchases. When you’re in debt, always opt for the more affordable option, such as cooking dinner instead of going out, or streaming a movie versus heading to the theaters.
- Go to the Government
If you carefully follow the first four steps and see no difference in your debt, it might mean that you’re heading into insolvency. Declaring personal bankruptcy is usually reserved for worst-case scenarios, but there are a few signs that may indicate bankruptcy could solve your debt.
If you’re in the U.S. and have canceled, forgiven, or discharged debt for less than the amount you pay—either through bankruptcy or other means—remember to file a 1099 C Cancellation of Debt. Otherwise, you might incur penalties and/or fees that set you back once again.
It’s definitely possible to get yourself out of debt while you’re young, you just have to start taking the right steps now before it’s too late!