Get Out of Debt

Did you know that the total U.S. credit card debt is nearly $800,000,000,000. Yes, that is 800 billion!! That means that the average credit card debt per U.S. household is close to $16,000. Average household debt (credit cards and loans) is $54,000. More than 50% of Americans carried an unpaid balance on their credit cards from 2011 to 2012. I imagine this number is only growing.

In 2010 the total amount of consumer debt in the US was nearly $2.4 trillion … TRILLION!!

It is my belief that much of our economic problems and woes are due to this very fact. If I’m right, that means that you and I are at least partially responsible for the economy that we bad mouth! It is time that we (you and me) do something about this. You are probably asking yourself, If he has credit card debt, why is he capable of telling me how to fix my financial issues? And this is an excellent question. The simple answer is, I’m not qualified or certified on any financial level and I’m not really a good example of how to manage your finances. That said, I am adamant in wanting to fix my (and our country’s) current financial shitstorm. Also, I have read literally dozens of books on debt reduction and money management. So, even though I have not been a perfect practicer (is that even a word?), I am ready to say, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

My humble opinion dictates that I am capable of becoming debt free and eventually experience financial freedom! Together, we can make ourselves Financial Wizards and free ourselves of the debt chains that hold us down and stress us on a daily basis. So, bear with me as I preach about something that I have oodles of knowledge, yet have not perfected in my own life…

Getting out of debt is easier than we might initially imagine. Firstly, the credit cards have recently been forced to share a very important piece of information with us: How much we would have to pay to eliminate our credit card debt within three years. It’s true! Look on any of your credit card statements and there is a small box (often hidden away some) that was mandated by the Federal Reserve. This box contains some vital information including how long it will take to pay off your debt when only paying the minimum monthly payment (this can be terrifying when you see something along the lines of 23 years!) Also, this box tells you a payment amount that would have the debt eliminated in only three years. The surprising part is that this number is often only slightly higher than the amount which might take nine or more years to pay off your debt. For instance, I have a card with a minimum payment of $82; which will take eleven years to pay off at the minimum payment amount. However, if I change my monthly payment to $126 ($44 more per month), my card debt will be paid off in precisely three years.

Think about this for a second, and seriously consider paying one or more of your cards at the higher payment amount than the minimum allotted by the super wealthy financial institute we affectionately call, Bank!

Also, it has long been known/believed that you should pay the highest interest card in your stack of bills first. I concur with this one, with the caveat that it may make sense to pay another card first in a few circumstances. Regardless, it is clearly a good idea to rank your cards and work on paying them down in an orderly fashion. As you pay one card off, do not go out and buy something new on a payment plan, rather use the new found money and increase another credit card’s payment amount.

My sister, Raeghn, gave me a different approach that also takes advantage of the “snowball” effect of knocking away at your debt. Instead of going with the highest interest card, you can go for the smallest balance owed. In this way you eliminate a card much quicker and then can apply that money to the next smallest balance. Either way works very nicely and you need to decide based on your particular circumstances.

Most important is tracking your expenses using a budget. Regardless of whether it’s handwritten, software based, or kept in a spreadsheet, you must do this part. And, having your budget on paper does not make it so. YOU are responsible here. You MUST stick to your budget each and EVERY day! The only way to eliminate your debt is to make a plan and stay the course.

If at all possible, I recommend shredding as many of your credit cards as you can. If you keep them in your wallet, it is too tempting to simply use them again the next time you see a shiny gadget that you absolutely must have. If you can’t bring yourself to shred them, at least keep them locked away in your safe at home. You do have a safe… Right?

Finally, I think it is important to reward yourself from time-to-time. Most people struggle with being frugal every day of their lives. Instead, plan a small celebration every three months (or so) to sit down with your spouse (or friend) and blow a small amount of money on a nice dinner (or something along those lines). Toast the fact that you have created a plan and have managed to stay on track. These small joyous celebrations are something we crave, and they help us to appreciate ourselves and believe in why we are doing this in the first place.

If you have budgeting ideas, or crafty ways to reduce your debt, please comment!

My plan is to eliminate my credit card debt within three years (credit card debt free by: 8/1/16). And, then I will work on my other remaining loans and reduce them.

Savings and savings options are another subject entirely, and I will post some of my information regarding this important topic in a future article.

Until next time, I hope you will join me on my quest to become a financial wizard!

-Vaughn

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About Vaughn Ripley

Vaughn is a happily married daddy, author, and CIO. He is an HIV+ hemophiliac, and is one of the longest surviving HIV+ people in the universe.
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Comments

  1. So, good article! Just a few words on credit cards – I always take advantage of the “checks” that are offered occasionally. These usually carry a period of no interest and you can pay off another card with them. It is really important to keep track of interest on the various cards and factor that into any decision on which to pay first. Also if you have paid off a card it is wise to cancel that card as it shows up on your credit report as open and can be detrimental. I absolutely agree that a budget is mandatory! Do you know of any company that does not have an operating budget? Exactly!

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