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Spiraling Credit Card Debt: What’s Your First Step?

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Credit card question: My credit card debt is out of control and I don’t know what to do. What should I do to get my life back?

Answer: I’ve gotten this question many times over the past few months. Many of you wrote to me after reading Confessions of a Former Credit card-a-holic, which was my own miserable debt story.

I’m so glad that some of you reached out to me. I do understand your pain and how awful debt feels. At the time I was in debt, I had few big expenses (like kids or a mortgage). So it worked for me to double and triple my minimum payments. But sometimes the cash flow isn’t there and you can’t take that approach, right?

For those of you who feel totally overwhelmed, I decided to turn to my colleague, Gerri Detweiler, who is Credit.com’s debt expert, for advice.

As part of the Credit CARD Act of 2009, credit card statements now include a table that shows how much you have to pay monthly to pay off the debt in three years. “The first step is to look at your credit card statement and see if you can afford to pay that amount each month. If you stick to that amount, you can be debt-free in 36 months,” says Detweiler.

But what if you can’t make the payments? Detweiler suggests looking for a reputable credit counselor who can suggest options to help you get control of your debt. To find a list of approved agencies, check with the Department of Justice, which has a list of approved agencies by state. Or you can contact the National Foundation for Credit Counseling to find a reputable agency in your area.

Image: sjdunphy, via Flickr.com

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  • Dan S

    How about going to you local financial Institution and getting a consolidation loan? That’s what I did. Low interest rate, select a term based on what you can afford every month, and in 3-5 years your out of debt. Much better than dealing with a “Credit Counselor” in my opinion.

    • Beverly Harzog

      Dan–A consolidation loan is an excellent idea and it’s an option I’d recommend for someone who has spending is under control and who is confident they can pay off the debt within five years or so.

      My recommendation here is directed toward those who either can’t stop spending or who don’t feel they can get the debt paid off any time soon. For some, credit counseling at least gives them an idea of what their options are. It’s just a first step, though.

  • Doris Desmond


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