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Saturday, April 22, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Tips on tackling debt

If debt is piling up, don't despair. You can climb out of the debt hole, says Liz Pulliam Weston, author of "Deal with Your Debt" and MSN Money financial columnist. Her top tips:

1

Stop digging. The first step is to stop adding to the debt pile. Put the credit cards away and don't take on any more loans.

2

Prioritize your debts. Get rid of your most toxic debts first. For most people, that's usually high-interest credit-card debt. Pay off the highest-rate debt that isn't tax-deductible first. One exception to that rule: If you have a card close to its limit, pay it down, because reaching the limit could trigger a higher interest rate on that card or others you carry. "Creditors look for late payments, maxed-out cards — any sign of trouble," Weston says.

3

Use a windfall. Use your tax refund or sell stuff (for example, on eBay, half.com or Amazon.com) to generate cash to pay off debts. "It can help you take a bite out of debt."

4

In our very consumerist, materialist culture it is not the norm to be frugal. "It's like a diet," Weston says. "It helps to have a budget buddy."

Find a local simplicity circle to join through Web sites such as www.simpleliving.net, which lists 16 such groups in the city of Seattle alone. Or blog with kindred souls at http://frugal-living-today.blogspot.com/

5

Don't worry about good debts. If you have a low-rate mortgage or student loan, be comfortable paying the minimums and don't get obsessed with paying it off. "Some people think all debt is evil," Weston says, "but you have better things to do with your money than pay off fairly cheap debt."

— Carol Tice

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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