New Years Debt Resolution

Getting out of debt is a lot like trying to lose weight, quit smoking, or be a better whatever. Getting out of debt requires a tremendous amount of hard work on your self. Yes, you’re self.

Let’s say for example you were someone who has been smoking cigarettes since you were 15 years old and now you are 50. Would it be easy to quit? No, it would be next to impossible.

Let’s say for example you were someone who was overweight and out of shape you’re entire life. Would you be able to snap your fingers and miraculously start powerlifting in the gym and do a juice cleanse? No, you would not.

Does that mean that once you’re in debt you are destined to always remain in debt? Absolutely not. What it does mean is that similar to quitting smoking or losing weight; in order to finally become free of debt it is going to require a tremendous amount of hard work.

Much of that work is work on your self. Getting out of debt starts with a thought, a desire to change, then the discipline to create a plan, and a determination to never give up and ultimately achieve your goal.

I know of someone who smoked 4 packs of cigarettes every day for nearly 20 years. I’m told it was painful just to breathe. Moving furniture, jogging, sex, sleeping, and eventually breathing were all becoming cumbersome. But, quit smoking…no way. It was simply too addictive and too pleasurable.

However, miraculously, upon learning of the news that his spouse was with child he made a mental commitment that he wanted to be alive to witness his child grow, learn, marry, and prosper.

That idea was really a revelation or a wakeup call. That wakeup call blossomed into a calling and a commitment that would not go unbroken. It led to a detailed plan that started meticulously with reducing his cigarette intake from 4 packs a day to 3, to 2, to 1, to a few, to chewing on a plastic knife, to keeping a toothpick in his mouth at all times, to ultimately smoke free.

The same can be said for someone who desperately wants to lose weight. How many stories have been retold of the shy ugly duckling, overweight, unpopular teen that morphed into one of todays supermodels. It doesn’t happen by accident.

The point is if you want to eliminate credit card debt from your life you have to want it…so bad that it hurts. You have to picture yourself living a life of debt freedom. You have to literally imagine what your life can look like without having to be shackled by high interest minimum payments that seemingly never ever end.

The thought of ending up debt free and the life you can create because of being debt free has to burn an imprint so hot in your mind that it consumes you. One day the revelation will come. Maybe a debt collector will harass you to the point of embarrassment or you will be faced with having to choose between paying your mortgage or your Amex card.

Once you mentally commit to eliminating and paying off your debt you need to plan a call to action. Take out all of the credit card statements and create a spreadsheet listing the name of the creditor, balance, payment, interest rate, and credit limit.

Start by calling each creditor and kindly asking them to reduce your interest rates so the debt doesn’t continue to rapidly multiply at an egregious pace. Next, begin paying down the card with the smallest balance or the card with the highest interest rate.

Reward yourself by purchasing something that you always wanted using cash or a debit card after paying off one of your cards. This will help to create new powerful habits to ensure you succeed.

Ultimately follow all of this up by curbing your spending and your desire to needlessly spend.

Stay resilient, stay out of debt in the new year.

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What means the world to you? What is my relationship with my Money$?

Piggybacking on my last blog “Ho, Ho, Ho where did my good judgement go”…we all have a relationship with money.

If you were fortunate enough to grow up in a dual-income household in which each of your parents earned money, excelled in their careers, and instilled values in you regarding money than consider yourself one of the lucky ones.

if your parents sat you down and invested in a conversation with you about the importance of earning, working, saving, and investing then chances are you are way ahead of the pack. Similar to a conversation about “the birds and the bees” not enough parents, teachers, older siblings, mentors, business leaders, are spending the time needed to educate the younger generation.

We have to pay it forward. It’s incumbent upon us as a society to educate our young people on the importance of having a relationship with money.

What is money? In its purest form it is simply a piece of paper. Nothing more, nothing less. In our culture and greater society, however, money represents a conduit or a bridge to something greater.

Money is a currency used to pay for essential goods and services vital to everyday life such as food, shelter, and transportation. Used wisely money will be the bridge to ensure that those three vital elements of survival are paid for in earnest.

Used unwisely, money, and it’s inglorious pursuit will ruin you financially, destroy relationships, and unravel your self esteem faster than you can say bitcoin three times.

Why? Well, if nobody ever sat down with you and educated you about the importance of frugality, fiscal conservatism, budgeting, taking care of your personal household economy first, well then that’s why you may be having difficulty.

And trust you me, the desperate and frantic mishandling of your personal money will negatively show up in almost all areas of your life…professional and personal.

Many in our country, irregardless of class, lower middle-class, working class, rich and poor, see money as a be-all and end-all, a solver of problems, and a feel-good solution. There is the notion that money is not everything, it’s the only thing. That’s fine, we are capitalists too.

However, draw up a T-chart, and on the left-hand-side write down what money means to you and on the right-hand-side write down what is truly important to you in life.

Things like family, friends, love, and health are common themes that money may be able to enhance but certainly aren’t necessary to accommodate. Unfortunately, Steve Jobs is the richest dead man in the cemetary. Great visionary, and may he rest in peace. But, the point is that until you define what money means to you…you will never be able to responsibly understand and manage it.

Did you grow up in a financially poor household and did watching a music video or movie star glorify your relationship with money because of it? Do you have the irresistible need to keep up with the Jones’? Do you feel angry with yourself if you are running low on money in your pocket? Do you spend money to acquire friendships and justify your selfs’ SELF?

It wouldn’t be fair to judge you if you desired money to enhance your social status or allow you to possess fancy material items such as cars and jewelry.

That said, if you live outside of your means, spend twice as much as you earn, save nothing, know little about investing, and expect to be financially secure….well I think not.

As an adult and faced with money decisions all day along it would be worthwhile for you as an individual to sit down and even quietly meditate about what money means to you. Think clearly about the importance of money in your life and what it can and cannot do for you, should and should not do for you.

I asked Siri “What is Money” and she defined it as “any object or record generally accepted as payment for goods and services and repayment of debts in a given socio-economic context or country.”

Let’s not attach anything else such as vanity, jealousy, envy, greed, to our definition of money. Self worth trumps net worth.

Lastly, if you’re self worth is sound and your mind is strong then you should have no problem understanding how to cultivate a healthy productive relationship with money.

If you could use a little bit of help getting back on track after some past indiscretions….particularly over-spending on your credit cards…then hey, that’s what we are here for.

Utilization Ratio

With Christmas fast approaching it’s extremely easy to get carried away using your credit cards to shop for gifts.

If you spend excessively you may run the risk of running the cards up too close to the credit limit.

The closer you get to the limit on the cards the more damage you are causing to your credit score.

The credit gods, aka the credit bureaus, consider you much more of a future credit risk as you get closer and closer to your credit limit.

The reason is that the nearer you are to the limit the more of an impression you are giving to a future lender that you are relying on using the cards.

Believe it or not the creditors love that you are using the cards. They earn money by charging you interest on your purchases.

However, try and be disciplined about how much you charge especially during the holidays.

The best gift you can give to yourself is a good payment history and a great credit score.

Ho Ho Ho, where did my good judgement go?

Underneath all of the bright lights and Yuletide joy during Christmas, the holidays tend to expose all that can potentially be bad and harmful about money and debt.

January and February are usually the months when you receive your credit card bill in the mail and there is nothing left to spend because the limits are at the max after all of that holiday gift giving.

So, the question is; what is it about the holidays that induce level-headed, budget conscious consumers to lose their minds and consequently the money in their wallets?

Well, everyone has a “relationship” with money whether you realize it or not. That feeling, trust, knowledge about, value system, hence relationship is cultivated during childhood. Perhaps you watched how your parents spent money, and how your peers spent money.

In today’s “keeping up with the jones'” society it’s easy to get caught up in the spending spree that coincides with the tradition of religious celebration and family bonding. Isn’t THAT what Christmas is supposed to symbolize?

Instead, Christmas means what family has the most decorative and expensive and flashy lighting display on the front lawn. Every car dealership has their showroom wrapped in red ribbons just waiting for someone to unnecessarily upgrade on a vehicle and over-extend themselves into another installment contract. And, of course every shopping mall in the country is packed to the gills with shoppers maxing out their high interest rate credit cards and overdrafts on their checking accounts to get the newest and latest electronic devices. See play station and iPhone.

Now, I don’t mean to be the Scrooge of the holidays but be aware of how much you are spending, stick to a well thought out budget, and don’t get caught up in the hype.

Refinance vs. Renegotiate

If you are one of the lucky few who bought a home prior to the housing boom in 2002 you might be in luck. Particularly if you put down a significant amount of money, roughly 20%, for a down payment, and upgraded the amenities in your home through renovations. Also, if you purchased the home in the right location then you may have a really significant amount of equity in your home. That equity can come in handy when it is time to pay off debt.

The equity in your home has what is known as tangible value. And, in difficult times like these in which access to money is scarce; that equity can be potentially very valuable because it can be accessed as collateral for a home equity refinance. Typically a home equity refinance will come in the form of a Cash-Out Refinance or a Home Equity Loan.

According to federal housing guidelines a lender will evaluate your equity based on a standard statistical model known as a Loan-to-Value calculation. The lender will measure the value of your home through an appraisal and inspection, then deduct the mortgage balance and the unsecured debt from that equation to determine your net equity. If the equity in your home amounts to at least 20%, then in all likelihood most major lenders will gladly refinance your home. This will allow you to either take cash out to pay off all of your debt or add a Home Equity Loan in what is known as a second mortgage that you can borrow against to pay off debt.

On the other hand, some are not so fortunate. If you own a home, but only lived there for a few short years, weren’t required to have to put down much of a down payment, and the home needs some fixing up, then you may not have quite enough equity to borrow against to pay off debt. Also, lets say that your home is not in the most desirable location, or you were late in payments, or lost your job, or were a victim of any of the other natural disasters that have befallen our society today. Well, there are still options for you to settle your debt, pay off debt, repair your credit, and ultimately pay off all of your credit card debt.

Debt consolidation in the form of a debt negotiation is a really handy way to approach your creditors and strike a deal if your are starting to feel the pinch of a bad economy. If you have tried to refinance your mortgage to pay off debt and have unfortunately been denied by your lender then seeking out a debt consolidation is the next logical step.

At the end of the day the long-term goal is pay off all of your credit card debt so that you can get out from under the vicious cycle of only being able to afford to pay your most minuscule minimum payments. Hiring a trained negotiator to call your credit card representatives and arrange a lower payoff is a great way to pay down your debt, get rid of your interest, and slice and dice your minimum payments to something hopefully much more affordable.

One of the key ingredients to a debt consolidation is that while negotiating with your creditors you are able to focus squarely on the task at hand and not have to ever risk being unable to repay a home equity loan. In other words, your home is never at risk.

Take comfort in knowing that there are money-saving options out there for you.

How to Dispute Items on your Credit Report in a more Advanced Way

So, you’ve done things the nice way by writing the creditors a “Goodwill Letter” and still nothing has changed.

Then, you tried removing negative items from your credit report by firing off “Challenge Letters” to each of the three credit bureaus http://www.equifax.com http://www.experian.com, and http://www.transunion.com. Unlikely that some items wouldn’t be removed but stranger things have happened.

What’s the next move?

It stands to reason that if a piece of data about you, describing your spending pattern, and associating itself with you, appears on your report than it has to be proven to be yours. It would not make any sense if a slew of late payments on a Victoria’s Secret charge card appeared on the Transunion report of say a single teenage male. We are now entering the realm of what’s commonly known as Debt Validation.

Logically speaking, the burden of proof is on the creditor, collection firm, attorney, credit bureaus, to prove or validate that the debt is yours. If they’re going to report something, positively or negatively, about you it has to be true. According to the FCRA, Fair Credit Reporting Act, if a consumer asks for a validation of the debt the reporting party has 30 days to provide sufficient proof that the debt is yours. If they cannot, and they often cannot within this allotted period, then on the removal list it goes.

Now, this should do the trick in the majority of cases, but like anything else several attempts may have to be made. Several cycles of letters may need to be written. Be dogged and stay on the offensive. The creditors and credit bureaus are are made up of guess what…people just like you and I.

Another great strategy is the “Pay for Delete.” Sometimes, you have to bite the bullet and weigh the importance of fighting and writing to no reasonable end. Negotiating for anything is always made easier when you have the financial wherewithal to backup your argument. If a creditor or collections agency is giving you a really hard time; try calling the creditor and offering to pay and settle the debt. Obviously, if you have the money this helps tremendously. A Pay For Delete would involve asking the opposing party to remove the negative late, collection, judgement, payment permanently upon receiving settlement funds from you. Try offering an even higher amount than would be customary as an incentive for the collector to seek permanent removal of the negative item.

You will probably end up saving more money in the long run because better credit means cheaper rates to borrow. So, don’t be stingy. It’s the old addage, “you get what you pay for.”