Credit card debt is a problem that just hasn't gone away in the US. Recent research indicates that almost half of the households in this country have ongoing credit card debt, with each household in debt carrying an average of nearly $7,000 in revolving balances. You can imagine how much more that comes out to once you add interest rates and fees.
How can you break out of the cycle of accumulated debt, or avoid the problem altogether? It's time to put on your fatigues and get back to boot camp. Follow these time-tested tips to erase your debt.
1. In-processing: Determine What Got You Into Debt
Your first week in the military is devoted to learning how to do things the right way, from storing your gear to activities like marching, drilling and conditioning. When it comes to debt, your first goal should be pinpointing how you got there. Was it a particularly large expense that set you back? Or was it smaller expenses that built up over time? Have you accumulated debt over several credit cards, or just one?
Create a spreadsheet that lists all your credit cards, how much debt you have on each card, and the interest rate for each card. Once you've figured out how much debt you're dealing with (and the extra interest you're paying), start setting goals for erasing it. Use a debt calculator to determine monthly payments that fit within your budget.
2. Build Confidence: Transfer Your Balance to the Right Credit Card
In subsequent weeks of boot camp, you build confidence in yourself and your fellow service members, which is key for being prepared for any contingency. Your key for building confidence in overcoming your debt: consolidate your debt with the right credit card.
Credit cards are not all created equal. Some place higher interest rates on your balance, and others charge hefty fees when you transfer your balance from one card to another. Even if you can't cut down on expenses immediately, you can trim quite a bit from what you owe moving forward if you transfer all your credit balances to the right card. Look for these features:
- No annual fee
- A low introductory annual percentage rate (APR) on balance transfers (up to 12 months, if possible)
- No balance transfer fee, or a low balance transfer fee
- Rewards on the purchases you do make (which will help you save money as you go)
- The ability to manage balance transfers easily and securely online or through a mobile app
3. Perfect Pushups: Trim Your Expenses
Getting yourself in prime physical shape during boot camp is a necessity. Now that you've consolidated your balance with the right card, It's time to slim down your debt by following this exercise:
Based on the debt spreadsheet you've created, separate your expenses into "needs" and "wants." Make sure the "needs" are covered first, then cut down on "want" expenses. Look for cheaper alternatives for your expenses, too. Instead of a pricey cable TV subscription, try a streaming-service subscription. Instead of the expensive vacation around the world, look at travel discounts closer to home.
Bravo Zulu! Graduate from Debt Boot Camp
Eliminating debt doesn't happen overnight -- think of it as your standard Basic Training obstacle course, in which you overcome everything in front of you, one obstacle at a time. Keep track of your debt and spending as you go, stick to your goals, and adjust when needed.
Just as service members maintain the lessons learned during Basic Training throughout their military careers, stay vigilant as you monitor your spending and credit card balance. Remember these fundamental tips, and you'll graduate from debt boot camp, with a commission in financial victory.
For more tips on overcoming debt, visit Military.com's Personal Finance section.
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