5-Step Emergency Plan for Dealing with Debt

Intense panic accompanied by stifled screams and helpless flailing is a monthly ritual for people drowning in debt.

But it’s never too late to turn things around. First and foremost, be committed, says Jeff Schwartz, Executive Director of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services Of Canada Inc.

“People have to want to get out of debt. They aren’t going to get out of debt just to get out of debt, they have to want it.”

Here’s a 5 step emergency plan to help you in dealing with debt:

  1. Establish your bearings.
  2. Chart your path.
  3. Put the plan into action — the dreaded “B” word.
  4. Pay your bills.
  5. Add stability to your credit file.

1. Establish your bearings.

Once you’re absolutely, unconditionally prepared to do whatever it takes to pull your credit rating out of a nosedive, you’re ready for stage one.

The best way to assess the condition of your finances is by pulling your credit reports.

Learn how to read your report. It can be illuminating. According to Schwartz, “People tend to underestimate rather than overestimate — probably about 20 percent lower than what they actually owe. The average debt is $9,000: 20 percent of $9,000 is $1,800 — so that is a pretty significant fluctuation for most of us.”

2. Chart your path.

How far behind in your payments you are can drastically alter your plan of action. “People have a lot of options,” Schwartz says. “Unfortunately, they don’t realize all their options. Bankruptcy isn’t the first option; it’s the last option. The first is to juggle the household budget.”

3. Put the plan into action — the dreaded “B” word.

Call it a budget, spending plan or resource allocation; it all comes down to the same thing: Stop spending.

“Stop spending; use cash instead of a credit card,” Schwartz says. “Most people’s budgets are 15 to 20 percent fat. You don’t need a $4 latte at Starbucks every day. People can do without certain things — do you need 200 satellite channels? Can you get away with 100?”

Wondering where you can start slashing? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Cable and Internet service. “In most situations, that’s $100 per month, and for most people those are among the last things they would think of turning off,” says Davidson.
  • Make your coffee at home. Gourmet coffee drinks are the new daily habit, right up there with cigarettes and alcohol on the list of money-draining vices.
  • Check your car insurance. “Adjusting your deductibles or coverage on your insurance” can save money, Schwartz says.
  • Get rid of the gym membership and cut out the carwashes. Remember, these are emergency circumstances. Research ways to exercise for free.
  • Skip the manicures and pedicures. The list could go on and on — car pooling, coupons, cutting out dry cleaning.

If you look at your monthly spending and just don’t see anything that can be cut out, you may need to get professional help.

4. Pay your bills.

So your budget is whippet-lean, yet there’s still not enough money to stretch across all your obligations. You do have options..

Worst-case scenario

When you just can’t even come close to paying your debts, declaring bankruptcy is an option. The long and costly process will, if successfully completed, discharge most of your debts and let you build up your credit again.

5. Add stability to your credit file.

If you have really bad credit — perhaps even filed bankruptcy — don’t let your credit status go dormant. “The faster you begin to re-establish good credit, where you pay on time, every time,” says Craig Watts, public affairs manager at Fair Isaac Corp., “the faster you’ll improve your credit score.”

Last, open a savings account at your bank. This shows creditors that you are working to save and that you have reserves to repay debts.

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