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Can I Get Free From 4 Credit Cards?

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Your situation is far from hopeless, even if you're mired in credit card debt. Chuck Bentley offers basic steps to help you work toward becoming debt free.

Q: I have a rather unique problem: I feel like I’m drowning in debt, but I’m told I’m not in deep enough to get help! I have a car payment with 14 months left. I have four credit cards that I make payments on, but I’m finding it hard to keep up with them (overall credit card debt about $5,000). By the time I pay other bills like phone, utilities, and fuel, I'm broke. I can’t take Crown’s advice to get ahead by using my tax refund to pay debt as I usually only get about $1,000. I can't see how my refund can help. My credit cards are causing my financial issues, but after I am tapped out in paying bills and making payments, I usually need them to survive until my next paycheck. I tried to get a debt consolidation, but they say I don't have enough debt. I'm feeling lost, but I know GOD will get me through this. I just don't know how to start.

A: Please know that there ARE things you can do; your situation is far from hopeless!

I want to encourage you, that while it may take time, you can begin the hard work by setting a goal of getting debt free. Make up your mind that you don’t want to live like this any longer and then follow a step-by-step plan.

I’ve found in working with other people facing the same struggle, that it generally takes about 5 - 7 years to become fully free, so understand that it’s really about changing your mindset and making a lifestyle change to accomplish your goal.

Let’s start with the practical. First, you must create a truly functional budget. Look at all that you own, all that you owe, and all of your obligations so that you have a clear picture of where your money is going and where it is needed. Crown has some free tools to help you build a budget that reflects all that you are spending and will help organize your finances. This step will identify the real problems that need to be addressed.

And as much as I believe in getting debt free, I recommend that you begin this entire process by saving $1,000 that you don’t touch except for true emergencies. This would be a good use for your tax refund. The reason so many of us turn to credit cards is because we don’t have savings set aside when emergencies come – and they will come.

Next, understand that credit cards themselves can be a useful tool in our electronic culture but only when you can pay them off every month.  I’ve written about the right way to use credit cards in this column. I would advise you to cut up three of them, so that no further charges can be made. Then pick the one with the lowest balance and work to pay it off first. It is not always to your advantage to cancel credit cards as that can hurt your credit rating, but if you cut them up, you can stop the spending.

In looking at the information that you gave me, I note that your car is almost paid off. Take good care of it and keep it running. Consider working to pay that off early, as that payment, once available, will really be useful in paying down your other debt.

With these basic steps in place, it’s time to consider the fact that you may need more money to best accomplish your goal of becoming debt free.

Consider whether you have items around your home you could sell and apply to your debt. Most of us have things we don’t use that might be of interest to someone else. Consider changes in lifestyle, such as cutting back on eating out or getting a roommate to share those rent and utility costs. But I would also encourage you to consider whether you need a new job or to add a second part-time job to increase your income that is going to pay off your debt.

But there is a silver lining to this cloud of debt: Proverbs 16:26 says, “The appetite of laborers works for them; their hunger drives them on.”

The urgency you are feeling may be a push from the Lord, a motivator, to make some changes in your life or seek a new job that works better for you.

Over the years, I’ve worked multiple jobs myself, and while you may not want to do that long term, if you had an extra job on weekends or evenings you could apply your extra paychecks to address your deficit more quickly. A good friend once posed the question, “What are you doing after 5:00?” in context of earning more income to support my growing family.

Solomon said it this way in Ecclesiastes 11: 6 – “Sow your seed in the morning,
and at evening let your hands not be idle,
for you do not know which will succeed,
 whether this or that,
or whether both will do equally well.”

Crown has some excellent free resources on managing debt and we also have some valued partners like Christian Credit Counselors who may be able to counsel you in developing a debt-management plan to help you pay off your debts more quickly.

Okay, ready to take the first step?  I hope so. No need to keep treading water when a lifeline is available.

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