Even a little debt can snowball. Interest rates can mean that even regular repayments are only just enough to keep you afloat, and poor debt management can quickly see things get out of control.
No matter how much you owe, debt management is crucial to avoid small amounts of money owed turning into ever-increasing money problems. When it comes to understanding your debt, financial literacy is paramount, and misplaced confidence in their debt juggling skills can often lead spenders into greater financial difficulty.
Understand how debt works
The Wonga Money Academy does a good job of explaining the four pillars of financial literacy – debt, saving, budgeting and investing – and how best to manage your money so you can see the big picture.
It’s a good idea to make a list of your debts, your monthly payments and your due date so you can refer to this list as you pay your bills. Your credit report can help you confirm the debts you have to pay, and make sure you update your list periodically as the amount you owe changes.
Paying your bills on time is an important part of debt management to avoid even more debt piling on due to late payment fees. A calendar reminder can help you stay on top of what payments are due so you never miss one – otherwise you could see your interest rates increase.
Decide what debts to focus on
It’s a good idea to pay your credit card debts first, as credit cards often have the highest rate of interest when it comes to debt. If you have more than one credit card to pay, choose to pay the one with the highest interest rate first, as this is the one that will cost you the most money.
Even if you can’t afford to pay off much of your debt, you should always make the minimum payment. Even though it won’t make a big difference due to interest rates, it will keep your debt from growing and ensure that your credit rating remains intact. Missing the minimum payment can make it very hard to catch up.
Once your biggest payment has been prioritised, go through your debt list and decide in which order they ought to be paid. If you have enough money, you could choose to pay off the debt with the lowest balance first, simply to get it out of the way and cross it off your list.
Managing debt with limited funds
Don’t pay more than you can afford – or debt begets debt. If you find yourself with inadequate funds for repaying debt, focus on keeping your other accounts in the black. It’s a bad idea to sacrifice positive accounts to pay off those that have already hurt your credit, or you will just end up with more negative accounts to deal with. Just pay your outstanding accounts as soon as you can afford to do so.
When you can, you should work towards creating a backup fund to fall back on in times such as these, so you can avoid getting into deeper debt. Even if you don’t have much to spare each month, saving a little here and there adds up, and can really get you out of a bind when you need it. Even a small emergency fund will cover a few crucial expenses, and you’ll be glad to have it.
Use a monthly budget for debt and expenses
It’s important to create a monthly budget plan so you can ensure that you have enough money to cover your monthly expenses so that your debt does not grow.
Instead of budgeting from month to month, plan far in advance so you can see potential problems coming before they hit. If it looks like you won’t have enough money for your bills in the coming month, you can take action now to prevent issues arising later. A budget like this can also help you see where you can put away any extra money into your emergency funds, or use it to pay debt off a little faster.
Get help to manage your debt
You don’t have to suffer with your debt alone. If you are finding it too difficult to pay your debt and other bills every month, a debt relief agency can help you sort through your options. Debt consolidation and bankruptcy are also options to help you manage debt, although each one has pros and cons that can affect your financial future, so it is vital to be well-informed of the consequences before making a decision.
If you are worried about falling back into bad spending habits and accumulating more debt, or if you feel you have a spending problem that is preventing you from managing your debt, there are groups such as Debtors Anonymous that can really help you figure out the root of your problem, helping you to get back on track.