Managing Debt

4 Signs You’re in Real Financial Trouble

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Sometimes it’s not so easy to tell how bad things are until you are in real trouble. When it comes to your personal finances, there are some telltale signs it’s time to take action.

The sooner you take action, the less likely you’ll encounter long-term damage down the road. But the first step is identifying the need for change. Here are four signs you are in real financial trouble.

1. You’re Avoiding the Problem

If you have started piling unopened bills in the corner, you may be avoiding the problem. Setting it aside will not make it go away. Even if it is depressing, it’s best to take an honest look at your finances. This way you can make a plan and tackle it head-on. For example, make it a goal to stop using your credit card and set a timeline for paying off your debt. That way, even if the amount you owe is still large, you can feel good that it is getting smaller.

Another reason to check your monthly credit card and bank statements is to watch out for fraud. If you are already in financial trouble, the last thing you need is to be on the hook for charges you didn’t make. But if you’re not checking, you won’t know they are on there, being added to your debt.

2. You Pay Only the Minimum

You’re making payments on time so you’re all good, right? Not if you are making only the minimum monthly payment. By making the minimum payment, you are stretching the cost what you are purchasing over a longer time period and thus, paying more in interest charges.

Would you really have picked up that cute on-sale sweater if you knew it was going to cost you twice as much? Make it a goal to use your credit card to purchase only things you can pay off in full. This ensures your hard earned money stays with you, instead of funding the credit card companies. If you want to see how your growing debt is affecting your credit, you can use free tools on Credit.com to check two of your credit scores for free, plus a breakdown of the major factors impacting your scores.

3. You’re Opening New Lines of Credit … to Pay Off Debts

Just when you are struggling to figure out how to pay your credit card bill, you get another credit card offer in the mail. It can be tempting to use that new credit card to pay off your other debts, but make sure you read the fine print.

If you will get a promotional no-interest period and make a plan to pay off the debt in that time, this can be an effective tool (just watch out for balance transfer fees). But if you are consistently opening new lines of credit to pay off other debts, you may be setting yourself up to pay more in interest and to pay higher interest rates in the future.

4. Your Savings Is Dwindling

If you are putting money into an emergency fund regularly, you are helping to ensure your future financial health. If, on the other hand, you find yourself constantly taking from your emergency fund instead of building it up, you might be in trouble.

An emergency fund should ideally be for real emergencies — unexpected health emergencies, job loss, etc. But if you are reaching into your savings every month to bridge the gap between how much you are bringing home and what you are spending, you need to stop. Rethink your budget, reassess your spending habits and resist the urge to touch your savings.

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