Often, the holiday season—with its emphasis on gift giving—serves as an unwelcome reminder of any financial problems people may have. While this notion might seem depressing, it should actually be viewed as an opportunity. Instead of getting bummed about your situation, simply take the reminder as impetus to remedy your financial woes. The lowering of credit card debt, for one, can be approached and ultimately achieved through the consideration of five simple steps.
Step 1 – Evaluate your necessities
Approach your lifestyle with an exceedingly critical eye, and you will most likely discover that you spend money on things that you can certainly live without, though you might initially believe this to be impossible. You shouldn’t waste money on things like cable TV packages, cell phone data plans, dinners out or fancy vacations. Instead, fund only your means of subsistence—things like food, housing and health insurance—and use your savings to pay down your debt. While this step is the most obvious way to lower your debt, it is also by far the hardest to execute because it is often difficult to part with luxuries you have grown accustomed to.
Step 2 – Don’t pay less than the minimum
During the course of your credit card payments, however, you might find yourself unable to make the minimum payment required by your issuer. Still, even if you don’t quite have enough, you should still pay what you can, right? Wrong. Credit card companies view payments below the minimum amount required as if no payment at all was made, meaning delinquency will worsen. Thus, in this situation, you should refrain from making payments until you have enough money to pay your minimum. Remember, however, that your minimum payment is usually 3% of your balance; so if you have already missed a minimum payment make sure not to confuse it with the total amount due. Hopefully you will have plenty of money to make all of your payments after following Step 1.
Step 3 – Make strategic payments
Credit card debt is usually comprised of balances held on multiple cards. When paying for these cards, don’t simply make equal payments to each. Instead, pay the minimum on the card(s) with the lowest interest rate(s) and apply the remainder of your monthly credit card payment allocation to the card with the highest APR. This will effectively lower the cost of your debt. You should make use of this payment technique until you reach zero balance on the card with the highest APR and then apply it to your remaining card(s). Once you have erased your credit card debt, you can apply your credit card payment allocation to any car or loan payments you might have.
Step 4 – Use your words
If the above steps do not do not make a significant difference in your debt amount, you should attempt to negotiate with your credit card company. When people have significant debt, companies are often amenable to recourses that will ensure expedited or consistent payment. Often, they will allow you to follow an amended payment plan that lowers your monthly payments and/or your interest rates in exchange for closing your cards. This prevents you from becoming more delinquent and provides your issuer both dependable payments and a set date by which zero balance is expected. In addition, your credit card company might agree to lower your debt total in return for you paying it off immediately as a lump sum.
No matter your intended end result, you must approach negotiations calmly and with manners. The customer service representatives working for your credit card company likely receive their fair share of unpleasantness and thus should respond to kindly presented reasoning. Similarly, before you call them, determine exactly how much you can afford to pay each month. If you break the terms of an agreed upon debt restructuring, the consequences will be costly. Additionally, if you do not initially reach an agreement to restructure your debt, it is a good idea to call your credit card company every few weeks to discuss your situation. This will allow you to both glean helpful advice and lay the groundwork for a future restructuring agreement.
Step 5 – Seek professional help
Sometimes, it may be more effective to hire a professional debt relief company to handle debt management negotiations. These companies are often experienced in such dealings and have relationships at credit card companies that will prove helpful. However, you must make sure to carefully research any company before entering into an agreement and not assume liability for any payments until a tangible result has been produced. There are many illegitimate companies in this sector, so exercise caution and common sense in your debt relief dealings.
Finally, you should not rule out consulting a bankruptcy attorney because a lot of them offer free consultations as long as you have all your information in order. While bankruptcy is the most drastic and painful step that you can take, it should not be ruled out if it will allow you to emerge with a better situation.
Disclosure: Some of the links within this article point to CardHub.com, which is owned by the same parent company as Wallet Blog.