Managing Debt

7 Ways Americans are Getting Out of Debt

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You may be determined to get out of credit card debt, but how do you actually do it? If you’re like most people, cutting out that cup of joe you grab at your local coffee shop in the morning isn’t going to cut it. You’re going to have to use a combination of several strategies to help you reach your goal.

Motivation doesn’t seem to be the issue. According to a recent Credit.com survey, Americans and Credit Card Debt, 72% of people with credit card debt say it is “extremely important” or “somewhat important” to have a plan to pay off their credit card debt in 2014.

And in fact, 85% of those surveyed who say they have credit card debt also report they have been successful paying down this kind of debt in the past.

What techniques have people used to pay down debt in the past? We asked survey respondents to select all the strategies they employed to help pay down their balances and here’s what they told us they did:

  • Took in a roommate — 3%
  • Cut back on buying coffee from a cafe — 13%
  • Got a second job — 14%
  • Consolidated credit card debt — 20%
  • Cut regular expenses (cable, phone, insurance) — 31%
  • Stopped eating out as much — 37%

The No. 1 strategy listed by most respondents who said they paid down credit card debt in the past?

“Started budgeting” was chosen by 60% of respondents.

As dreaded as the task of creating a budget may be, consumers seem to be aware that if they want to pay off debt, they had better start paying attention to where their money is going.

There can be a big payoff to creating a budget: Just tracking spending has been shown to have positive benefits, extending even beyond the money saved. Some research suggests that people who write down everything they spend may see improvement in other areas of their lives, such as eating less junk food and becoming more productive.

Unfortunately, though, most consumers don’t budget. Only 32% of households prepare a detailed household budget, according to a Gallup poll conducted in April 2013.

Consolidation, Counseling and Bankruptcy

As for other solutions those in debt are considering, the survey also asked respondents which of the following they have seriously considered, and received the following responses (from those with credit card debt):

  • Credit card debt consolidation (15%)
  • Credit counseling (8%)
  • Bankruptcy (8%)

While debt consolidation was the most popular option, getting a consolidation loan can be tricky, especially for those whose credit scores have been hurt by the debt they carry. In those cases, credit counseling may be a more realistic option. It usually has the effect of a consolidation loan — lower interest rates and a lower monthly payment — but it doesn’t require good credit to qualify.

Whatever method consumers use to get out of debt, it’s going to take some willpower, creativity and hard work. And time. While 41% of those surveyed said it was extremely likely they would pay off all their credit card debt in 2014, it often takes people much longer than that, especially if their balances are large.

But other consumers have succeeded in paying off massive amounts of debt, demonstrating that with the right strategies and in the right situation, anything is possible.

As you pay down your debt, it’s a good idea to track your progress on how it’s affecting your credit.  For one, it can be encouraging to see the positive effect that paying down your debts can have on your credit scores; but it’s also good to just ensure that your payments are being reported accurately. You can keep an eye on your progress by checking your credit reports — at least once a year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies — which you can do for free through AnnualCreditReport.com — and monitoring your credit scores, which you can do using a free tool like Credit.com’s Credit Report Card.

More on Managing Debt:

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