Americans are more than familiar with debt, whether it's of the mortgage, student loan, or credit card variety. But while it's common practice to finance various aspects of our lives, once that debt becomes impossible to keep up with, it goes from perhaps being necessary to downright dangerous.
Such is the situation 30% of Americans are in today, according to a report by the Center for Financial Services Innovation. Worst yet, of the 30% who say their debt is unmanageable, 27% claim that it's prevented them from saving for retirement.
And it's not like there's a shining light at the end of the tunnel. A good 38% of Americans with non-mortgage debt are convinced they'll still be carrying that burden in five years' time.
If your debts are wrecking your finances and causing your retirement savings to fall by the wayside, it's imperative that you take steps to dig out of that hole. Otherwise, you'll not only be risking your golden years but your day-to-day quality of life.
Too much debt can take a toll
Large levels of debt can wreak havoc on your finances, bringing down your credit score and making it difficult to do things like secure housing, qualify for an auto loan, or even get a job. Furthermore, the weight of that debt can impact your mental state, causing unhealthy levels of anxiety and stress.
The solution? Start digging out of debt so that you're able to move forward with a cleaner financial slate.
To start, figure out what debts you owe and rank them from least to most healthy. Credit card balances, for example, are considered the bad kind of debt to have, whereas mortgage debt is considered the good kind. Student and auto debt fall somewhere in the middle, so order your various debts and tackle the least healthy ones first. That said, don't waste your mental energy worrying about paying off your mortgage -- many folks need 30 years to eliminate housing debt, so if you rid yourself of your credit card debt followed by your student loans, you'll improve your finances tremendously.
Of course, to do that, you'll need money -- more than what your paychecks provide. To that end, you'll need to make some temporary lifestyle changes that work to free up cash. That could mean downsizing to a smaller living space, unloading a car if you live somewhere with public transportation, or cutting out restaurant meals.
At the same time, make an effort to scrounge up extra cash. Sign up to work extra shifts at your job, or get yourself a side hustle if that's not an option. You can also take inventory at home and sell the items you have but no longer need, whether it's clothing, furniture, or electronics. Trading gift cards for cash is another good way to snag extra money, so it pays to see if you have any lying around.
Finally, if you're paying a really high interest rate on your various debts, it makes sense to explore your options for refinancing. Doing so could lower that interest rate, thereby making your payments more affordable and helping you dig out faster.
Don't risk your financial future
The longer you carry unhealthy debt, the more you put your future at risk. If your current level of debt is such that it's causing you to neglect your retirement savings, or other important financial matters, then it's time to put an end to what's clearly a harmful cycle -- even if it takes years to fully accomplish that goal.