Many people never get out of debt because of the severe mistakes that they make when trying to pay off the money they owe.
Avoiding these mistakes is critical because a lot of people dig themselves deeper into debt by making them.
Most people get into debt because of a pattern of mistakes and bad behaviors. The good news is that the pattern can be broken; by identifying the bad behaviors and mistakes, and learning to avoid them.
The truth is that you are probably making one; or more, of these mistakes right now, and you do not even realize it.
So, the first step on the road to being debt free is learning what the mistakes are so you can stop making them.
The Big Debt Repayment Mistakes you are Probably Making
#1 – Not saving until debts are paid
Many people have no savings because they never put money in their savings account until all the debts are paid off.
This is a terrible mistake because most people will always have debts, so they still have an excuse not to save.
They never get in the habit of saving; so they have no extra cash, and often end up deeper in credit card debt. Credit-card debts will grow because these people end up turning to plastic to cover emergency expenses.
A better strategy is to take the amount you plan to save; such as 10%, out before paying bills or debts. Another approach is to set a specific amount for debt repayment each month and pay only that amount.
Putting any extra money you make straight into savings can help you build up a large nest egg fast.
Getting into the habit of saving is the first step in getting out of debt. Not saving is a surefire means of staying in debt forever.
#2 – Always using extra cash you make to pay debts
Paying off debts with windfall money like gambling winnings or bonuses can make things worse in the long run.
Relying on extra cash makes it harder to budget and live within your means. A danger here is that you will write an unrealistic budget, and learn to spend more than you are earning.
Putting windfalls straight into your savings is often a better strategy. That can give you extra cash for future emergencies.
Relying on cash that is not regular income to pay debts will create problems in the future.
#3 – Paying too much attention to debt collectors
Many people only pay the debts from the companies with the loudest; and most persistent debt collectors, and ignore everything else.
The collectors know that many people will pay simply to get rid of them. That is why they keep calling bombarding you with phone calls, emails, letters, etc.
Just because somebody is calling about a debt does not mean it is due immediately or that any legal action is imminent.
Most debt collectors get paid by commission, that means they make money when you pay. This gives them a strong incentive to lie, make threats, and even take illegal action.
A good rule of thumb is to never pay debt collectors over the phone and pay all bills on schedule.
#4 – Not paying off the high-interest debts first
Many people make the mistake of paying only the minimum on all their debts.
This makes it hard to pay off debts because interest rates can add up.
A better strategy is to go over all your debts and identify the ones with the highest interest rates – such as credit card bills.
Then pay as much as you can on those; while paying the minimum on lower-interest obligations like the mortgage.
#5 – Not transferring credit card balances
If you have a good credit score, you can save quite a bit of money by transferring balances from higher-interest to low-interest credit cards.
Taking advantage of credit cards that offer an annual percentage rate (APR) of zero; or a low APR, on balance transfers can reduce repayment costs. A truly smart move is to transfer the debt to a card that offers a 0% APR for 12 or 15 months, then pay the balance off before the deal ends.
#6 – Not having a plan for paying off your debts
Planning will not solve your problems, but it can help you face them and understand them.
Go over all your debts; figure out how much you owe and how much you can pay each month. Then write out a plan for payment that includes the amounts you plan to pay to each creditor.
Identify the debts with the highest interest rates; or those obligations that create the most significant problems for you, and pay them off first. Understanding how much you owe and to whom is the first step in getting out of debt.
#7 – Not having an emergency fund
An emergency fund is an amount of cash kept in a savings or money market account that you can draw on if something goes wrong.
If you have no emergency fund, you will end up reaching for the credit cards when unforeseen expenses appear and dig yourself deeper into debt.
Having an emergency fund allows you to get through rough times without accumulating more debt.
Make sure that the emergency fund is full before you embark upon a severe debt repayment effort.
Most experts recommend that the fund contain enough cash to cover two or three months’ expenses. If that is unrealistic just $1,000 will help you cover most unforeseen expenses.
#8 – Worrying too much about your credit score
Your credit score only matters if you are planning to borrow money, rent a home, or apply for certain jobs.
Unless you are engaged in one of those activities; your focus should be on paying down the debts, not keeping the credit score high.
Having a high credit score will not do you any good if you have a huge amount of debt.
#9 – Not focusing on the total balance of your debt
Many people never get out of debt because they focus only on whatever bill they are paying right now.
Creating a spreadsheet of your total debt balance and subtracting what you pay each month can provide a strong incentive for debt repayment.
If you need help doing this, use one of the debt calculators found online.
#10 – Not trying to increase your income
Most people get into debt because their income is too low. They compound the problem by focusing on thrift or cutting expenses rather than making more money.
Spend part of your time thinking about ways to increase your income. Income sources to investigate include changing jobs, part-time jobs, small-business opportunities, rental properties, e-commerce platforms like eBay, Etsy and Amazon, gig-economy side hustles like Uber, GrubHub, and Lyft, consulting work, and freelance work.
Even many people that work full time can make quite a bit of extra cash in their spare time with a little creativity and hard work.
If you work for somebody else, seriously consider asking for a raise. You will never know what you can get if you fail to ask.
#11 – Not having enough insurance
Many people cancel insurance, or cut coverage or raise deductibles to get money to pay off debts.
This can be a huge mistake because these people will have no means of covering losses that insurance might pay for. They might end up using credit cards to cover losses. Even worse, they may have to go begging for help from friends or family.
Make sure that your insurance will cover all your losses, and seriously consider paying extra to get lower deductibles. The lower premium can come back to haunt you – if you end up with a $1,000 deductible you cannot pay.
The final mistake most people make is not to address the problems; such as overspending and low income, that got them into debt the first place.
If you understand what went wrong, you can avoid repeating those mistakes in the future.