Debt can definitely ruin your day.
Here at The Motley Fool, we go on and on about the damage a pile of debt can do to your long-term financial goals. It's a distraction, it eats up cash flow, it gets in the way of saving, it makes people feel miserable when they deal with their finances ... it's just a pain. Not all debt is bad, of course -- most of us wouldn't be able to buy a house without borrowing, for instance, and corporations that use debt wisely can increase shareholder value without undue risk. But high-interest debt, such as a big credit card balance, can really clobber your long-term plans. Or worse, it can discourage you from planning altogether.
If you're facing down a big pile of credit card debt (or other personal debt), congratulations! Just by stopping by the Fool and reading this article, you've taken a step toward confronting the problem and solving it. Even if your debts seem overwhelming, as long as you have money coming in, you can start to work on reducing the pile.
Understanding how much money you have and where it goes is the necessary, unavoidable first step toward reducing debt and straightening out your financial life. As hard as it might seem, you've just got to figure out where the money goes every month.
Technology makes it easier, though. For instance, do you use your bank's online banking features? If not, now's the time to start. Many banks and credit card companies, including JPMorgan Chase
Your secret weapon
Once you've got a handle on your spending and can see where there's room to put a little more money into your debt-reduction payments, you can really start attacking that debt in earnest. That secret technique? Make more than one payment a month. It may sound silly, but it's a great way to find some extra financial discipline.
Consider: Do you get paid two or three times a month? Can you send some money out of every paycheck as soon as it gets deposited? Can you reclaim a little bit of money from not-so-essential expenses over the course of the month and plow that in to your debt reduction project? I bet you can, and I'm also willing to bet that as you watch your balance go down, you'll find even more money to throw in to the project. It's just human nature -- as we get focused on a goal, we start to find new ways to work toward achieving it. Making multiple payments avoids the need to muster your willpower and "save up" to make one payment a month, and helps you develop that focus -- and can also lower your "average daily balance" through the billing period, reducing the interest on your next bill.
Sold? Before you start, here are a few things to keep in mind:
• Always, without fail, make the minimum payment on time every month.
• Know your bank's fee structure -- some banks will charge for more than a certain number of transfers or online payments in a month. Sending $20 a day via electronic transfer might feel like a great strategy, but not if it ends up costing you $15 in fees every time. Remember that you can always write a check and mail it instead.
• If your personal debt pile is a car loan or personal loan of some kind, find out whether you'll be assessed "prepayment" penalties on principal-only payments. If so, you might want to save this approach for another debt -- or for building a savings account or investment portfolio.
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