August 14, 2017 | Posted in:

Five Tips to Deal with Seemingly Never-Ending Debt

Does it seem like your bills keep piling up no matter how hard you work to pay them off? If so, that’s not too surprising. Americans’ total outstanding credit card debt recently rose above $1 trillion for the first time since 2007, with total auto and student loan balances also over $1 trillion. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by outstanding debt, follow these practical tips:


1. Take Stock

Begin by answering two important questions: First, what do you currently owe? When you calculate how much you owe in total and what you pay every month it’s easier to create or update a realistic budget that can give you more control over your spending and your debt management.

Second, find out how much interest you pay on each balance and rank your balances based on the interest rate—from highest to lowest. Typically, it’s best to pay off the highest-rate loan first, but consider also getting rid of some smaller debts early on—even if they have a lower rate—to give yourself a sense of accomplishment and motivate you to stick to your plan.

Associate Partner Rich Middleton, CPA advises borrowers to “consider consolidating credit card and other high rate debt to a home equity loan and enable a tax deduction for the interest.”

If you need help putting together a budget or with any debt management questions, it’s a great idea to talk to your local CPA and put a fiscally sound plan in place.


2. Check Your Credit Score

Your credit score, which is determined based on a number of factors, is important because lenders use it in deciding whether to give you a loan and how much interest to charge. The lower your score, the more likely it is that you might be denied a loan or that you may have to pay a higher interest rate. You’re eligible to receive a free credit report once a year from each of the credit agencies – Equifax, TransUnion and Experian, so get yours and find out where you stand.


3. Pay on Time

Speaking of your credit score, it’s useful to know what elements count most when it’s calculated. You may not be surprised to hear that a total of 35 percent — the largest single portion of your score — is based on your past payment history. In other words, if you’ve missed payments it will drag down your score. It will also likely subject you to hefty late fees. To keep on track, set reminders about your payment due dates in your calendar and avoid splurges that could leave you short on cash when it’s time to pay your bills.


4. Negotiate Payments

It can be intimidating to contact credit card companies or other lenders if you’re struggling to make payments, but it’s worth letting them know that you’re having some difficulties and are trying to stay current. Many will be willing to lower your monthly payments or make other accommodations if they hear from you and are reassured that you are making an effort.

Before accepting a lender’s offer to forgive the outstanding debt, consider the tax consequence. “Should a credit card company forgive some of your debt, the amount forgiven may be considered taxable income to you,” explains Mike Engleman, CPA. “You may receive IRS Form 1099-C identifying the amount of the debt discharged.”


5. Cut Some Costs

Finding the money to pay on time and eliminate debt can be easier said than done. If your budget is squeezed, it’s time to look for any unnecessary expenditures in your budget. For example, shopping for a cheaper cable and Internet plan and cutting out expensive daily coffees or takeout lunches or dinners can reduce your expenditures and make it easier to keep up with payments and lower outstanding balances.

“Cost control can be accomplished by paying in cash only, effectively limiting or eliminating credit card purchases,” adds Rich.


Your South Jersey CPA is Here to Help

When you need personalized, expert advice on the best paths to take, be sure to turn to your Alloy Silverstein CPA. He or she can provide the advice you need regarding all your financial concerns.


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© 2017 Money Matters are provided by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.


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