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Digging out of holiday debt

1:19 PM, Jan 8, 2013   |    comments
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"The average person takes until May to pay off their credit card debt," Financial planner Nicole Middendorf explained.

We are at her office at Prosperwell Financial to find out how to show people a way to dig out of debt in the new year.

"You can't help yourself get in a better financial situation unless you know where you are," she says with a knowing smile.

Step 1: Make a financial road map to figure out everything you owe.
Middendorff says it is essential you know exactly what your debt looks like and to whom you owe the money. "So many times, people don't really want to know, " she offered. This includes student loans, auto loans and mortgages.

Begin this process by running a credit report, you can do that free of charge at annualcreditreport.com.

Step 2: Target paying off your highest interest rate cards first.

Middendorf says it's simple arithmetic. Pay off the highest one's first then move on to the next. And there's something else: Stop charging.

"You really need to change the behavior because if you pay off those cards and pay off the debt but you still keep charging, you're going to be in the same spot. It's a vicious cycle," she said.

Sometimes it's necessary to cut the cards up or at least put them in the deep freeze, literally. "Put them in a glass of water and in the freezer so you can't access them."

Step 3: This is the most important and perhaps the most difficult. Make a budget and stick to it.

"Maybe you need to go to a system of paying cash for things," Middendorf explains. She says people who pay with cash typically spend less and live within their means. "Say you budget $500.00 dollars for things like clothing and eating out, when the money is gone, it's gone."

If you are determined to keep using plastic, Middendorf says keep track of your spending. "The other thing is treat your credit cards like a debit card. I mean how many times have you ever received a credit card bill in the mail and you're shocked at how much it is."

Mint.com is an app that could be useful.

It may not be easy, but following these steps could be the biggest gift you give yourself in the new year.

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