Like many young people my ex-husband and I got caught up in the "Keeping up with the Joneses" dream. I have tangled with debt collectors, dunning letters, etc. Unmanageable credit card debt can happen before you are aware that you have a real money problem. You are running short on cash so you decide to use your credit card, when the bill comes due you are still short on cash. What do you do? You pay the minimum payment and continue to use your card to offset your cash shortages. This is a common dilemma--and one that can grow into a big problem unless you take control.
You may already have accumulated debt on several cards, if you have, do not waste time and energy beating yourself up over it. Itís done. You have the debt. Now you have to take steps to eliminate it, or it will be there for a very long time, stealing your energy, financial freedom and family unity.
When you find yourself mired in credit card debt, the first thing you need to do is stop using credit cards altogether. That statement is easier said than done. The first step is to commit yourself to not using your credit cards, even when you feel like you are going to run short. You will have to break your credit card dependence and establish self-discipline. Sit down and take a good look at your credit card debt, figure out what the interest rates are on each card. After you have determined which card charges the highest rate, target paying that credit card off first. Continue to make the minimum payments on all your other cards, but try to pay more than the limit on your highest card. Once you get this card paid off, do the same with the one charging the next highest rate until you have freed yourself. It may seem impossible to you now, but it is not. You can get yourself out of debt, by developing self-discipline and a strategy to get it done. Credit card debt did not happen overnight, it took time to get your debt high, it will take time to rid yourself of it.
Put your credit cards away. Since the number one pull of these cards is the convenience, a safety deposit box at your bank may help. I really need/want that cool new gadget I saw on television in the wee hours of the morning. Gee, that means going to the bank this morning, who knows how crowded it will be? Maybe I don't need the cool new gadget.
What can you do to avoid future credit card problems?
- Do not toss those 'Change of Terms' provision in credit card agreement notices that are included with your bills from time-to-time. Read the notice, make sure you understand the small print, then file it with your credit card information.
- Do not wait until the last minute to put your bill in the mail. Late payments are expensive and can result in penalty interest rates, that means that your previously agreed upon lower rate may be raised. Be careful about paying a bill by telephone. Some credit card issuers charge up to $15 if you pay your bill over the phone, even when it is on time.
- Think twice before you respond that "transfer a balance" offer. Be sure to check to see if there is a "balance transfer fee." How much is it? If there is no transfer fee, is the ample time to pay off your debt or at least reduce the debt a significant amount before you are charged interest. If the answer is no, don't do it. Also make sure you know what the interest will be. You have to do the math before you can know whether you are really going to save money when you transfer a balance.
Visit www.consumer-action.org for more credit card information.