Congratulations! You’ve made the commitment to get yourself out of debt.
Eliminating debt is an important and difficult goal to achieve, but it can be done — if you do it the right way. Here are five common mistakes to avoid:
Mistake #1: Keep your old spending habits
You buy a latte on the way to work. You grab a sandwich from the deli for lunch. You dine at your favorite restaurant every Saturday night.
Luxuries like these are nice, but you may need to change your lifestyle while you’re paying off debt. It will be significantly more difficult to make headway in your debt-elimination goals if you don’t change your spending habits.
Take a long, hard look at where you can cut spending. Pack a lunch instead of buying that burrito bowl. Watch a movie at home instead of going to the theater. Experiment with a new recipe instead of eating out on the weekend.
These changes will add up. It might hurt a little, but you must change your habits first in order to have money to put toward debt.
Mistake #2: Go it alone without professional counseling
Paying off debt is hard. That’s why there are professionals to help you through the process from start to finish.
There’s free help just a phone call away. Call a nonprofit credit counseling agency, and they will guide you through what you need to know as you start your debt-elimination journey.
They can suggest methods that are specific to your financial situation, so you make the best decisions going forward. For example, if your debt is manageable, credit consolidation might work; if it’s grave, they may suggest you declare bankruptcy.
Mistake #3: Sign up for a scam
Beware of any debt-relief program that looks too good to be true. It probably is. Check with the Better Business Bureau before signing up for any program. Don’t trust any institution that isn’t completely safe.
Mistake #4: Borrow from your 401(k) or take out a home equity loan
It may be tempting to take money out of your retirement account or to take out a home equity loan to help pay off your debt faster, but it’s a bad idea in the long run. Your retirement account should not be touched until you retire; it’s not a pot of money to dip into when times are tough.
Taking out a loan might be attractive, but if you have a hard time paying off a home equity loan, you could be in danger of losing your house. Avoid both of these quick-fix ideas.
Mistake #5: Ignore your retirement account and emergency fund
Finally, paying off your debt does not give you an excuse to withhold contributions to your retirement/savings account and your emergency fund. These accounts will keep you from going into debt again in the near future, so adding to them as you did in the past is essential.
This may mean that it takes longer to eliminate your debt, but you’ll be making wise financial decisions as you do so, which is the responsible choice to make. You won’t regret these investments.
The bottom line
Getting out of debt takes diligence and may require changes to your habits. But you’ve got this.