By Carlo Versano
Your debt doesn't need to follow you around forever ー especially not credit card debt, that insidious baggage that so many of us carry with us daily.
According to Jennifer Streaks, nationally recognized personal finance expert and author of Thrive! ... Affordably, the first step is to avoid getting overwhelmed. "Understand that there are steps you can take," she told Cheddar Wednesday.
Among the most underutilized ways to achieve debt relief is an old-fashioned phone call, Streaks said. Banks are amenable to lowering interest rates or waiving late fees or service charges, particularly for long-standing customers who pay on time, all the time. "They want to cater to you," she said ー so come right out and ask for a break.
There's also debt consolidation. Don't be so quick to throw away those snail mail offers for credit cards with zero percent interest. So long as you are able to pay off the debt load within the time frame of the zero percent interest rate ー usually around six months ー it could be worth it to transfer debts from cards you already have, according to Streaks. Consolidation can make sense if your debt doesn't exceed 50 percent of your income and your cash flow is enough to consistently cover debt payments. Credit unions also often offer low-interest loans that provide a way to pay off all credit card debt in one fell swoop, she said.
Whether you may qualify for one of those loans or a no-interest credit card will depend largely on your credit score, that big round three-digit number by FICO that seems to be generated by some form of black magic or witchcraft. As it turns out, Streaks said, FICO scores are fairly easy to predict when you look at what they consider: 35 percent is payment history, 30 percent is the amount owed, 15 percent is the length of credit history, and 20 percent is a combination of your new credit and credit mix. But what matters most is regular, on-time payments.
"Debt comes from the habits we form," Streaks said. And once you change those habits and tackle that debt, "it's really freeing."