(BPT) - Are you feeling overwhelmed by your monthly bills? Do you only pay the minimum on your credit cards each month, or use several credit cards to spread out your debt? These are all warning signs that your habits may be keeping you from reaching your financial goals. The good news is, you can take steps to manage your debt and gradually reduce it over time.
Before you take any action, however, you need to know exactly where you stand financially. Look over all your outstanding debt – credit cards, car payments, mortgage or rent, student loans – to help you determine where you are and which obligations have priority. These tips from Wells Fargo can help you responsibly manage your debt and strengthen your credit situation.
* Organizing debt: Not all types of debt affect your finances equally. Collect recent statements from all your creditors. Write down the creditor, amount owed, monthly payment and interest rate on your account. Knowing which debts have the highest minimum monthly payments and interest rates will help you determine which debt is costing you the most.
* Prioritizing payments: Examine where you can cut back on expenses, and put that money toward your debts. Try paying off your debts with the highest interest rates as quickly as you can, while continuing to pay at least the minimum due on all of your other debts each month. Once you’ve paid off the credit card with the highest interest rate, put that money toward the next highest.
* Calling creditors: If you can’t make a payment or need to make a partial payment, talk to your creditors about setting up a payment plan you can afford. You may be surprised – many creditors will be willing to work with you to find a solution.
* Refinancing your mortgage: If interest rates have dropped since you took out your mortgage loan, consider refinancing to lower your monthly payments. If refinancing isn’t an option, consider other options to repay your loan more quickly. For example, sending additional principal payments with your regular payments decreases the loan balance and reduces the overall interest owed.
* Seeing a credit counselor: These professionals will need to see all your financial material so that they can help you explore your options and make a plan to get you out of debt. To find a reputable credit counselor, visit the website for the nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling, www.nfcc.org.
* Consolidating your debt: You might want to consider combining all of your debts into a single loan. This allows you to pay off your debt with one monthly payment, which could be lower than all of your previous monthly payments combined. It will also make it easier to keep track of your debt. Keep in mind that a debt consolidation loan simply transfers the debt to a new lender – you’ll still have debt. Additionally, if your consolidation loan has a longer repayment period, it could increase the total amount you repay. You can pay the loan off faster, of course, by making more than a minimum payment each month.
There is hope if you are in debt. Creating a manageable plan to chart a path out of debt can give you confidence in knowing that you are in control of your finances and improving your credit health. For more information, visit the Wells Fargo Smarter Credit Center, www.WellsFargo.com/smarter_credit.