Debt is more than a collection of balances written on paper; it’s a concept with deep-seated implications in the lives of those it affects. Debt can make people feel lonely, like they have a secret they have to hide from their loved ones. It can cause anxiety as consumers fret over how they’re going to pay their bills and get out of the red. Above all, debt can cause shame—and this is a major reason people live in denial or decline to reach out for help.
If you feel alone in your debt, consider that the average balance-carrying American household had $16,048 in credit card debt as of September 2017. The total level of revolving debt for U.S. consumers is $1.02 billion. Needless to say, if you carry debt, you’re not alone. It’s comforting to know that many people have been in a similar situation—and that there are ways to beat your debt with pride.
Step One: Acknowledging Your Debts
Spiraling into debt shame, while completely understandable, only ends up holding you back from taking control of your financial destiny. As Money Crashers writes, “Instead of curbing spending and improving debt payoff rates, the embarrassment causes debt to fester unacknowledged and keeps consumers from getting the help they need to take control of their finances.”
The first step is sitting down and taking stock of your debt. Here are a few signs it’s time to actively address the situation:
- You carry primarily “bad debt” like credit card expenditures on non-durable goods.
- Your debt-to-income ratio is higher than 36 percent.
- Your credit utilization ratio is higher than 30 percent.
- You have outstanding balances on credit cards with high interest rates.
- Your credit score has been affected by your payment history.
- You typically pay the minimum balance on your credit cards (or less).
While it may sound daunting to sit down and face your debt head-on, it is also empowering. Only by being honest with yourself can you defeat the shame and denial that accompanies debt.
Step Two: Researching Your Options
The next step is researching the debt relief options available to you. The strategy you pursue here depends on the amount and nature of your debt. Are you able to handle it yourself by making strict lifestyle changes and paying down your debts one by one? Or do you need to pursue a more formal and far-reaching strategy like debt settlement—which aims to negotiate down your principal balance to a fraction of the original sum?
Before signing any agreements, it’s important to make sure you’re pursuing a legitimate solution. Vet any company carefully before handing over your information. Reputable companies will have no problem demonstrating their proven track records. For example, Freedom Debt Relief’s scam page even warns consumers of the signs of a scam company so they can directly compare it to the behavior of a legitimate one.
Step Three: Enacting Long-Term Solutions
Whichever road you take, the key is longevity. Eliminating debt is not a matter of budgeting for a few months; it requires a lifestyle shift and perseverance. For example, in order to find success with debt settlement, you will need to make consistent monthly payments until you reach the threshold required for negotiations. There’s no quick fix when it comes to reducing and eliminating significant debt. Furthermore, it’s important to modify your spending habits so you can avoid facing the same problem further down the line.
Today’s the day to say: No more shame. Beating your debt with pride is within your grasp if you’re willing to acknowledge it, choose a course of action and put one foot in front of the other.