Thursday, February 12, 2009

Tackling Credit Card Debt: How to Get Started

Yesterday, I got a very thoughtful question from a friend and reader of this blog:

Can I ask you - I saw on your blog (yes I'm an avid reader of it) that you went from 20K to 0!!! I have about 10k in cc debt... can i ask you what strategy you used?

To answer him, I pulled together some information I wish I had five years ago. Please add any other helpful hints you might have in the comments! Here is my response (edited slightly for reposting here):

In terms of strategy, I had none 5 years ago. I was at the end of my rope and just felt completely unknowledgeable and overwhelmed by my bills. I really didn't have a clue what to do. I turned to a non-profit credit counseling program which consolidated all of my cards into one payment that I made to them each month. They also got my interest rates reduced (to the 8-9% range or so). The only catch was that I paid them $20/month for them to do this for me. I was happy to do so because I was incredibly overwhelmed and it helped just to have the one bill to pay each month. The thought of it taking over 4 years was scary, but it felt good to have a plan. It was a hard transition. One of the terms of the agreement was that I had to completely stop using all cards and not apply for any new credit. That means I had to start actually living within my means and stay on top of what I was spending.

Since that time, I've learned a LOT. First, in terms of just learning the ins and outs of staying on top of my day to day finances so I wouldn't overdraft using my debit card (I had to start somewhere!) But in the last couple of years, I stumbled on the world of personal finance blogs and have learned so much I wish I'd known earlier.

I do not regret using the counseling service to consolidate my debt, but I wouldn't advocate it as the first option now. They really didn't do anything that you can't do yourself. I just didn't know enough and wasn't in the mental "place" to take those steps myself at that point. It is possible to call credit card companies to either request interest rate reductions or to work out a payment plan directly with them. To learn more about how to do stuff like that, check out The Simple Dollar and click on '31 days to fix your finances'. Day 25: Evaluating Your Expenses - Credit Cards, in particular, is a good primer on how to go about dealing with your cards. Also, check out his 'Recommended Reading' listing of books on the right side.

The best thing I can recommend is to check out the blogs (another good one is Get Rich Slowly) and maybe one or two books on the subject and just dive in. I am proof that people really can change – I went from someone with a total head-in-the-sand approach to finances, to a complete geek about it. I now find it fascinating and fun to talk about. I never would have imagined that!

But if all this seems like a huge overwhelming chore, there is nothing wrong with asking for help by way of consolidation. It's like paying someone to clean your house because it's worth the money to not have to deal. It was for me at the time I started this. But if you're willing to dig in and take a DIY approach, it certainly can be done. You pay with your time/attention rather than money. Either way, as I said before, I've become really into the whole thing and would be happy to help if you ever have questions, etc.

That’s all I got but please add further advice below. Thanks!

*Update: I just read a great A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Your Credit Card Interest Rates Reduced over at The Simple Dollar. It's a great place to start.


Anonymous said...

Great post Amelia!

Anonymous said...

Hi Amelia - you definitely have the right attitude - regarding strategy, you may be interested in helping others even more than you do by adding a debt pay down service to your portfolio - Id love to tell you more about it - check my site and get back to me.




Thanks for the feedback!