Credit Card Debt – Don’t Let It Wreck Your Plan

Credit Card Debt - Don't Let It Wreck Your Plan

Credit Card Debt – Don’t Let It Wreck Your Plan

Credit card debt is the enemy of financial success. Not all debt is created equal and there are no set standards as to what is considered too much debt. What is manageable for one may not be for another. Don’t underestimate the power of compound interest. With credit cards, it’s not your friend. If you want to succeed financially, you need to break the cycle of credit card debt.

To be fair, credit cards aren’t the problem. Nor am I suggesting that debt is bad. In fact, taking out a loan or using various types of financing is critical to starting or expanding a business. Even buying a home requires debt. What is critical is how we manage it.

Credit is inherently a good thing but racking up the credit card debt can get ugly quick. The first thing we need to do is change how we perceive credit cards. So from now on, instead of calling them credit cards (which sounds so harmless) we should call them ‘debt traps.’ This is similar to calling cigarettes ‘cancer sticks.’ Let’s call these things what they are. But does this mean credit cards should be avoided completely?

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Credit cards should be used with caution.

Credit cards should be used with caution. My suggestion is that you become the credit card company’s worst customer. Their worst customer uses the card and pays off the balance each month.  Do you like 0% interest? Well that’s what you’ll pay when you pay off the card each month. In addition to paying zero interest each month, you can often earn points for airline miles, hotel stays, etc. Just be careful not to justify frivolous purchases because you’re receiving “points.”

Do you know who is the credit card company’s BEST customer? It’s the person who racks up the debt and pays the minimum payment each month. The credit card company also loves it when you’re late because they can charge a late fee AND jack up your rate. This is often where a financial situation goes from bad to worse. If you don’t stop the cycle of high interest and fees quickly, credit card debt can spiral out of control.

Develop a plan to tackle your credit card debt.

Credit Card Debt Is The Enemy Of Financial Success

Credit Card Debt Is The Enemy Of Financial Success

If you’re serious about long term financial success, the first thing you need to do is develop a plan to tackle your credit card debt. Be honest with yourself. If you can’t pay off the cards within 12 months given your current income, you’ll need to make some serious changes to your budget. But don’t let changes scare you off. You would be amazed at how much you can save but cutting back on several areas of the budget. These don’t have to be permanent changes either. Making temporary changes to more aggressively pay down debt will keep you focused and you won’t feel like you’re going without forever. These little changes will add up and make tackling your debt a reality.

If doing it within 12 months isn’t possible and you feel you’re in too deep, you may need credit counseling. This can be away to help you develop a more comprehensive plan in dealing with the debt. Proceed with caution. The TV commercials can be enticing but not all credit counseling services are created equal. They often tout their non-profit status, but that isn’t the same thing as charity. While these counseling services are not altruistic, depending on your situation it may be a way out of credit card debt.

Avoid withdrawing from retirement accounts to pay down credit card debt.

Three Questions To Ask A Financial Advisor

Three Questions To Ask A Financial Advisor

The worst place to take funds to pay off credit card debt is from tax deferred accounts like 401k and IRA. This is especially the case if you are under 50 due to the penalties involved. I’ve included a link to an article I wrote that goes into more detail called Tax-deferred vs. Tax-free Retirement Accounts. I’ve seen many clients become so obsessed with paying a card off, that they tap into a retirement account. While it might feel good to finally be rid of the debt, paying taxes and penalties just makes it worse.

The word here is avoid. There are absolutely times when an early withdrawal from a retirement account is completely justified to pay off credit card debt. This goes back to understanding how serious the situation is. Does the debt annoy you and you want it gone? That might not be a good reason to tap into a retirement account. Are the interest payments and late fees wrecking your credit rating? That’s an entirely different situation which could warrant taking a hit your retirement account to rid yourself of the debt. Just be sure not to hall back into the bad spending habits that got you in that situation in the first place.

If you do find yourself in the situation of needing to tap into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), be sure you understand the rules. There are ways to avoid the early withdrawal penalty. For more information on these rules, refer to this article Avoiding The IRA Early Withdrawal Penalty.

Credit Card Debt: The Enemy Of Financial Success

It must be noted that not all credit card debt is the result of bad spending habits. There are situations where the only way to address an emergency, be it health or financial, is by utilizing credit. These emergency situations can very easily lead to difficulty paying the credit card debt off despite. This can be the case despite careful and prudent use of credit prior to the emergency.

When your credit card debt is in the rear view mirror you can focus on building up your savings and retirement funds. Getting out from under credit card debt will allow you to devote more funds toward these goals and most importantly will give you peace of mind. Instead of making the credit card companies rich, make yourself rich. Credit card debt is the enemy. Its defeat can bring financial success.

Do you have questions about credit card debt?

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