Planning to improve your money-management methods in 2018? More than 42% of New Year’s resolutions involve money-related matters, and 8.5% of Americans say they’re going to make better financial decisions in the coming year.
We’ve got some bad news, though. Approximately 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by February, and goals from hopeful resolutionists continue to unravel as the year progresses. If you want to beat these depressing statistics, you need a solid plan of action. We’ve got 5 handy tips to help you tackle your debt in 2018, whether you’ve got a couple maxed-out credit cards or your mailbox is filled with notices from collection agencies.
Review Your Credit Report
Many people avoid looking at their credit reports, but you can’t escape debt if you don’t know who to pay or how much you owe. You can track accounts and balances on sites like Credit Karma, but doing this isn’t a substitute for obtaining an official report.
Once you have a copy of your credit report, make a list – either on paper or in a digital spreadsheet – of your debts. Save this information; you’ll need it when you utilize some of the other debt management tips in this article.
Not sure where to get your credit report? Each year, consumers qualify for one free credit report from each credit bureau. The Federal Trade Commission recommends ordering your reports from AnnualCreditReport.com.
Dispute Inaccurate Information
Tired of dealing with debts you didn’t create? So are thousands of other Americans. In 2016, 43,206 consumers filed complaints with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) about issues related to their credit reports. A staggering 73.95% of these consumer complaints involved allegations that their credit reports contained inaccurate information.
Here are some common reasons why information might be wrong on your credit report:
- A company mixed up your balance with another consumer, so even though you do owe the company money, you do not owe the balance requested
- Your ex obtained credit in your name after a divorce
- You were a victim of identity theft or financial fraud
- An account was transferred, so it appears that you need to repay a debt with multiple companies when you really just have one account
- A company failed to update information after you paid off a balance
- A medical provider sent your account to collections before waiting for a payment from your health insurance company
If you can relate to any of these issues, file a dispute as soon as possible. You can do this by submitting a dispute notice to Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Your notice should include your name, contact information, account number, and a brief statement about why you dispute the debt. Make sure you sign and date the letter before you send it to the credit bureaus.
Calculate a Budget
After you dispute inaccurate charges and figure out how much debt you have, it’s time to create a budget. A budget helps you stay on top of normal living expenses, such as rent and utilities, and it also helps you determine how much you can dedicate toward paying off debts.
Be realistic when you create your budget, and focus on your actual costs rather than your desired costs. Avoid overly optimistic statements like “I bet I can reduce my electric bill to $100 a month if I dress in layers and never turn on the heat.” Make facts and figures your BFFs instead of relying on emotional arguments when you create a budget.
Grab bank account statements or prior utility bills from the last 12 months, and use them to calculate your average monthly expenses. Many utility companies are happy to provide an itemized statement that breaks down your gas, electric, or water costs.
Create a 2018 Snowball Debt Calendar
If you’re a Dave Ramsey fan, you may already be familiar with the debt-snowball method. This popular debt management technique encourages consumers to pay off their smallest debts first without skipping payments on larger debts.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you have 3 credit cards, 2 student loans, and 1 installment loan. Your credit cards have balances of $500, $1000, and $1500, and they all have a minimum monthly payment of $30. Your student loans are for $15,000 and $20,000, and your installment loan is for $10,000.
Start by paying extra on the credit card with the $500 balance, but continue making the minimum monthly payment for your student loans, installment loan, and remaining credit cards. Once your $500 balance is paid in full, move on to your $1000 credit card and repeat the process until all of your debts are gone.
Confused? You aren’t alone! It can be tricky to manage multiple payments, which is why many folks use a snowball debt calendar.
You can create your own snowball debt calendar for 2018 or download one from a trusted financial expert. A snowball debt calendar makes it a cinch to figure out when to make each payment, and you can also see exactly when each debt should disappear.
Remember to include interest, annual fees, and similar expenses on your 2018 snowball debt calendar. If not, you might miscalculate the length of time required to pay off a bill.
Recruit Help if Needed
Sometimes it’s overwhelming to manage debt, but many people are hesitant to ask for assistance. If you’re contemplating bankruptcy or losing sleep over unpaid debts, it might be time to enlist the help of a trusted advisor. This may be a lawyer, a debt consolidation firm, or a financial planner.
There’s no wrong way to achieve a debt-free lifestyle in 2018. Do what works best for you, whether you incorporate a snowball debt calendar or hire someone to help you analyze your financial habits.