The first step toward getting out of debt is acknowledgment. Most likely, you’ve landed on this blog post because you recognize that you’re in debt and need to take serious action to get out of it. Congrats on getting this far. It truly is a big, empowering step and can come as a relief.
Now it’s time to action—and ensure that you’re putting your time, effort, energy, and money in the right places and working in the right direction. Unfortunately, the road toward a debt-free life can be littered with traps, bad habits, and costly mistakes.
To help you stick on the right path toward getting out of debt and building good credit as quickly as possible, we’ll lay out what to avoid. Here are the 5 worst things you can do while trying to get out of debt—so steer clear of the slippery slope they can present.
The 5 worst things you can do while trying to get out of debt
1. Maintaining bad spending habits
You’re in debt for a reason. It may be because of unfortunate luck, unforeseen circumstances, or it may be because your income doesn’t support your lifestyle and spending habits. Regardless, in order to get out of debt, your old spending habits need a Marie Kondo-inspired refresh or spring clean.
Take a look at your monthly income and spending and categorize them into essentials like rent, bills, and groceries and non-essentials like shopping, eating out, and fun times out with friends. Seeing your spending habits laid out is helpful on its own, but take it one step further.
What is essential? What “sparks joy”? What has to go? You may realize that you only spend a third of your income, for example, on essentials and the rest of your spending is frivilous. If you’re serious about getting out of debt, give yourself a very small “sparks joy” budget every month as a treat for your hard work.
Bring down your spending versus income ratio. It’s the best way to get out of debt and stay out.
2. Not setting SMART goals
The worst thing you can do when you’re trying to get out of debt is not set goals, write them down, make yourself accountable, and stick to them. SMART goals, as we’ve mentioned in past posts, are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.
Now that you understand your income and spending habits, make SMART goals for limiting your spending and starting to chip away at your debts. Hold yourself accountable with deadlines that are reasonable based on your income and essential spending.
3. Not creating and sticking to a healthy, strategic debt payoff plan
Unhealthy debt payoff plans can leave you worse off than being in debt in the first place. For example, you don’t want to try to pay off everything at once and leave yourself without money for the month. But you also don’t want to pay off so little that you’re just paying off the minimum and interest still racks up. You’ll also want to avoid paying off one credit card with another.
There is a difference between healthy and unhealthy debt payoff plans. Arm yourself with knowledge and research before making any moves or commitments. Some things to consider when you’re trying to get out of debt are:
- How much debt do you owe?
- Over which accounts do you owe this debt—and how much in each?
- How much interest is racking up against you?
- What is your monthly income?
- What is your monthly essential spending?
- How much can you reasonably afford to set aside to pay off debts?
- Which accounts will you tackle first?
- What time frame will you give yourself to pay off each account
4. Avoiding saving
In your debt pay-off plan, ensure that you’re setting aside savings for unforeseen costs, bills, and circumstances that may have landed you in debt in the first place. Think of it as being proactive versus reactive. Paying off debt is reactive. Saving for the future and potential challenges that life can sometimes hand you is proactive. Plus, it will make you feel good that not only are you working your way out of debt, but you’re saving for your debt-free future. Savings are your insurance and reassurance for all of your hard work and effort.
5. Attempting to get out of debt alone
Trying to get out of debt yourself is the last and final worst thing you can do.
Hold yourself and your goals accountable by telling people your plans and bringing people—or credible lenders—onboard when necessary. But be careful of partnering with lenders that send out checks to pay off your debt instantly, because there are often expensive catches: extremely high-interest rates and unhealthy debt payment plans. Avoid short-term debt relief that may seem great at the time, but may leave you in even more debt, worse credit ratings, and with interest as high as 36 percent to pay off.
At Progressa, we work with consumers like you to set SMART goals and create healthy and sustainable payment plans that are unique to your situation. We’ll help you get out of debt the smart way that helps you save for the future while working to improve your credit score.
The author Sam Milbrath
Sam Milbrath is a freelance copywriter and brand marketer. When she isn’t writing for brands or doing her own creative writing, she’s exploring, taking photographs, gardening and doing pottery. Check out her work at www.sammilbrath.com