Got Debt? Get Busy!

The first step to getting out of debt is to line up everything you owe and see where you stand. Could there be anything less pleasant to do?

Well, yes. (I've thought about this, by the way.) For instance, it's less painful than trying on bathing suits under the harsh glare of fluorescent lighting.

At the Mall of America.

On the day after Thanksgiving.

In a dressing room where the latch doesn't work.

Lining up all of your credit card bills seems a little less daunting now, doesn't it? At least this exercise has a happy ending: The euphoria you'll feel as you watch your debt dwindle every month will far exceed any high brought on by the most flattering bathing suit -- even one in your favorite color. And marked 50% off. That, I promise.

The first step to getting out of debt is to get everything down on paper. Write down everything you owe -- to whom, how much, and at what interest rate. (Use our How-To Guide on reducing debt to help you keep track.) This may be the most startling list you ever make, but it's a necessary first step.

Once you've written it all down, it's time to plan your attack. You don't want to throw yourself at a mountain of bad debt without preparation. A scattershot approach will lead to frustration or, worse, a slide back into old charging habits. That's why you need an actual get-out-of-debt plan to get the job done. The links below offer an ordered and sane approach to this project.

As you lay the foundation for your debt-repayment plan, be mindful of your must-pay obligations, such as food and rent -- but not cable TV or daily happy hours. Job loss, a short- or long-term disability, a family illness, or a really, really bad haircut (actually, scratch that last one) can throw off your plan. You don't want to trade a few bad debts for other bad debts.

Now let's get busy and start paying it off:

Foolish personal-finance expert Dayana Yochim is the author of The Motley Fool's Guide to Couples & Cash.

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