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How do you overcome debt?

| MoneyRates.com Senior Financial Analyst, CFA
min read

Debt can seem overwhelming, but the key is to take control. Show your debt who's the boss by putting a plan in place to deal with it. Understand these three common debt problems and follow the tips deal with them effectively.

1. High credit card debt: debt consolidation or personal loan

There are many causes for excessive credit card debt, but in many cases it just creeps up on people. A little bit of borrowing seems harmless, then an unexpected expense seems to justify a little more borrowing, and the next thing you know using credit just to make ends meet becomes a habit.

If your credit card debt keeps growing month after month, you have a problem. How do you get out of credit card debt? Don't wait until you reach your credit limits before you start to address that problem.

Credit card debt management strategies

  • Budget and use cash

The first thing you have to do is make rules about when you can and cannot use credit. Set up a budget, and leave your credit cards at home if you can't avoid using them compulsively.

  • Transfer balance to a low interest credit card

Prioritize your credit card debt, and try to shift the balances to the cards with the lowest interest rates. You might also consider transferring your balances to a card with a zero-interest promotional offer, but be wary of transfer fees that can undermine this money-saving move. Use a calculator to determine the amount of lower interest credit card savings you could benefit from before transferring over your balance.

  • Create a timetable for paying off the balance

Work out a timetable for paying down your debt. A big cause of financial mistakes is the feeling of not being in control of events. Setting out a timetable for repayment, however long it takes, is an important step toward seeing how you can take control of the situation.

  • Explore personal loans

Depending upon your credit score, you may be able to consolidate credit card debt by taking out a personal loan with a lower interest rate, paying off credit card balances, then working hard to repay the personal loan.

2. Excess student loan debt

It used to be that credit card debt was the first major financial pitfall that young people fell into soon after leaving school, but now they often don't even make it that far before acquiring a serious debt problem. Student loan debt has mushroomed in recent years -- the total amount outstanding has doubled in the past seven years.

Not surprisingly, a 2016 poll sponsored by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) found that almost 66 percent of adults said student loans impacted their finances in a negative way. Many of the NFCC survey participants (41 percent) did not feel confident in repaying a student loan worth $30,000.

How to manage debt problems with student loans

There are at least three things to consider when you need to overcome student loan debt.

  • Carefully consider taking on more student loan debt

To get control, look to stop compounding the problem. Any degree you pursue should be researched as an investment, and based on an assessment of the job market, wage levels and what qualifications are necessary. Work part-time during college to self-fund as many costs as possible and save up as much money as you can before pursuing a graduate degree.

  • Take advantage of grace periods during loan repayment

The NFCC advises that to start coping with your debt, you should recognize the flexibility that is built into many student loan programs. These loans often have grace periods of six or nine months after graduation before you have to start repaying them. Use those grace periods to start saving some money to make your monthly payments a little easier once they start.

  • Find a repayment plan that works for you

While the standard repayment period for federal student loans is 10 years, you may qualify for a longer period or payments based on how much you earn. These alternatives can help payments fit into your budget, but be advised that they can result in you paying more interest over the life of the loan.

3. Too much mortgage debt

This is a common problem because people have such high expectations for what they want from a house. Paying for your dream house may look manageable on paper, but unexpected expenses or other setbacks can quickly make a mess out of those plans.

Mortgage debt management strategies

  • Consider mortgage refinancing

First, explore options for making your mortgage more manageable. This can include refinancing to lower your interest rate or restructuring the loan to spread payments out over a longer period. Talk to your current lender because they might be most receptive to finding a workable solution, but also shop around to see if better rates or terms are available elsewhere. Uus a loan calculator to find out if you should refinance your home mortgage and compare your current and new mortgage rates.

  • Downsize to a less expensive home

The main thing about coping with this problem is to be decisive. Payments in the early years of a mortgage are mostly interest rather than principal. In essence, continuing to make payments on a mortgage you ultimately won't be able to afford is just throwing money away because you won't be building much equity. If you can't find a payment plan that works, sell your house and find a cheaper home before you waste any more money.

The common denominator to all of the above is that the longer you take to confront these problems, the worse they can get. Solving these problems may take a long time, but the immediate need is getting a plan in place.

More from MoneyRates.com:

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