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TOP FIVE WAYS TO AVOID FALLING INTO DEBT:
1. Create a budget and stick to it!
Keep your credit card and credit line balances low. Determine your limit on each account and try to keep your balance below 50 percent of the limit. This will prevent your credit score from being docked and will help you avoid over-limit fees.
2. Watch how much you spend.
How much is too much? Your credit obligations should be limited to no more than 20 percent of your monthly income. Compare your total debt payments (auto loan, credit cards, student loans, and all other consumer debts but not rent or mortgage) to your take-home pay for the month. Do not take on more debt if it means exceeding 20 percent of your income.
3. Learn to save money.
Try to put aside some extra money during each pay period, no matter how little that amount might be. Even $5 or $10 each month can add up surprisingly fast. And most importantly, you'll establish a good habit that will help you with your finances while creating an emergency fund.
4. Use debit cards.
They're a great way to monitor your spending. Debit cards still offer the convenience of credit cards, but unlike a credit card, debit cards only allow you to spend money that is already in your account.
5. Get educated through credit counseling.
Nonprofit organizations like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling web site serve as knowledgeable, personal resources for consumers looking for credit and debt advice.
TOP FIVE WAYS TO GET OUT OF DEBT:
1. Make a personal assessment.
The first step to getting out of debt is to honestly assess your situation. Gather all your bills. Write down the due dates, balances and interest rates for all credit cards so that you can see which debts are costing you the most.
2. Learn from past mistakes.
Once you have worked through your current situation, it's extremely important to learn from any past mistakes to avoid repeating them in the future. Yes, sometimes debt is unavoidable, due to a job loss or illness. But there are many simple ways for you to become more financially solvent in the future.
3. Make a plan to get out of debt.
First, create a budget and watch what you spend. Track household spending and plan ahead for expenses. Relying too heavily on credit cards each month can lead to dangerous over-consumption. Try paying cash or using debit cards for everyday expenses. It will help you realize the actual cost of simple things like gas and groceries, and non-essential items such as coffee shop lattes and dining out. Careful budgeting and monitoring can help you live within your means
4. Cut back on the credit cards.
It is also important to reduce the number of credit cards you use. Avoid using the credit cards that have high interest rates. Always try to pay off the entire balance every month. And if that isn't possible, pay off more than the minimum required by the credit card company. Remember that the only way to become truly debt-free is to pay off the entire balance.
5. Don't hide.
Instead of avoiding phone calls or letters from your creditors or or collection agencies acting on their behalf, be open and up front about your financial situation and all your different obligations. If you communicate with them, they can help you figure out a realistic option, such as negotiating the amount of debt owed, creating a payment plan, etc.