Managing and Reducing Debt

  • Debt can be disastrous for your finances.
  • It can increase risk which can cause stress and worry in your life.
  • Minimizing and eliminating debt can create more monthly cash flow and therefore financial freedom.
  • Create a plan to minimize debt by clearly identifying your debt.
  • Create a monthly budget to see opportunities for cutting expenses and figuring out how much debt you can pay off each month.
  • A wealth builder does not use debt or uses debt to at a bare minimum.
  • As a wealth builder, your end goal should be to become someone who is collecting interest not paying interest.

When most people hear the word debt the first thing they think of is something that is probably negative. Maybe it’s just me, but when I hear the word debt the feelings that I get are similar to those feelings that I get when I hear my dentist tell me I have a cavity, or the feeling I get when I’m washing my car and notice I have a door ding. These feelings don’t feel good and could be considered a little painful. However, I can’t be too negative towards debt because there have been times throughout my life that I’ve used debt for something that was good. For example, when I was young there would have been almost no way for me to buy a car without the help from my dad. Through the financial help from my dad I was able to get a vehicle, which allowed me to get to a job, which allowed me to make money. Had the vehicle not been in place, the job wouldn’t have been either. Not that it was impossible to get a job without getting a car, it’s just that riding a bike an hour each way to and from the job would have taken a level of ambition that was way greater than where my 16 year-old self was at. I’m sure that many people have found themselves in the situation of needing a loan to buy a car. So, it’s easy to see how debt can be helpful. In another example of debt used in a good way was when I decided to build a house at the age of 26. There was no way I had enough money to even come close to completing the house with the savings that I had at the time. However, there was a bank that, surprisingly enough, was willing to give me a construction loan to build the house. Through this example we can see that debt gives people the ability to buy a home. This can be a good thing!

But, we all know there are always two sides to every coin. So, what are the reasons you wouldn’t want debt? One reason that you don’t want debt is because debt can be dangerous. I’ve seen time and time again people that take on too much debt and before they know it they’re struggling to keep up with all of the loan payments. They find themselves trying to work more hours, in order to make more money so they can stay afloat financially. They live worried lives, constantly stressed out because they don’t know if they’re going to be able to make all their payments. They live in fear of the phone ringing with the debt collector on the other end asking for their money. Taking on too much debt can be disastrous for your health, wealth, and happiness. The stress that debt can put into your life can cause your health and happiness to deteriorate.

The reason debt can be dangerous is because it increases financial risk. Let’s examine what financial risk can look like. This example is something that I’ve seen others experience in my life and I’m sure you’ve either heard of something like this happening or maybe even know someone this example has happened to. For this example I’m going to tell you a story about a guy named Bob. Say that Bob wants to get into the real estate game because he has a friend that has a friend that’s flipping homes and supposedly they’re making a bunch of money doing it. Bob has watched home renovations on HGTV so he thinks that makes him an expert remodeler. So, Bob rounds up enough money to make the minimum down payment on a fixer upper. He thinks, “Its real estate, I can’t loose!” He buys the fixer upper and start dumping his time and money into it. Ok, right there, let’s stop, take a step back and look at where Bob is financially. Bob already had one house payment and now he has another house payment. He also has a payment on a truck that he bought brand new two years ago. Bob used a majority of his savings for the down payment to buy the fixer upper so he’s been putting the cost of the home renovation on his credit cards. The credit card payments are starting to climb but Bob’s isn’t too worried because he thinks he will sell the house before the credit card payments get out of control. He thinks that he can get by making the minimum monthly payments. He’s already maxed out two credit cards and he’s close to maxing out a third one. Bob doesn’t know this yet but he’s heading right toward financial disaster. Ok, let’s continue Bob’s story. Bob get about half way done with fixing up this fixer upper and realizes that it’s taking him way longer and costing way more than he originally anticipated. Not only that, but all the work that Bob is doing on the fixer upper is taking way the overtime hours that Bob was use to getting which helped him get bigger paychecks. Bob was counting on the pay he would get from overtime hours at work to offset the added credit card payments. So, money starts to get really tight for Bob. At this point he’s exhausted all of his savings, he’s barely able to make the payments to everything he owes money on, and his fixer upper house that sounded like a great idea at the time has turned into his worst nightmare. He’s not even done with the fixer upper yet and Bob is out of money, out of credit, and Bob can’t keep up with the mountain of debt that he’s got himself into. Bob is completely burned out from working on the fixer upper nights and weekends. His marriage is struggling because he and his wife have been arguing about how they’re going to pay for all the debt that he has accumulated. He decides to sell the fixer upper as is with some of the renovations still incomplete. Bob knows that he wont get nearly what he originally thought he would get for the house by selling it as-is but he has run out of other options. After Bob pays the real estate commission, the excise taxes, and closing costs, Bob is left with just enough to pay back the loan he originally took out to buy the property. But unfortunately Bob not only lost all of his savings but now he’s left with three credit cards that are maxed out. Bob’s credit score has been destroyed because he was late a few times on the different loans that he had during the process. Ok, so Bob’s story is sad right. Here’s a guy that bets big and does so using a lot of debt. The mountain of debt that Bob accumulated basically killed his investment. Had Bob done a better job budgeting and used cash for the fixer upper he would have been able to complete the project and sold it for a profit. The moral of the story is that debt can be dangerous and by using debt it can put you at a high level of financial risk.

I am a firm believer that if you want to be a wealth builder you need to minimize your debt. A majority of the financially successful people I’ve met either rarely use debt or they don’t use debt at all. They have a paid off house, they pay cash for their cars, and they don’t have credit cards they use a debit card instead. Look, I’m not going to be naïve, I know there are sophisticated investors and wealth builders out there that very carefully use debt to their advantage. For some investors and business owners they can make money by borrowing money. However, it’s also obvious to me that far more people, in fact, I would say an overwhelming majority of people, get burned by using debt in some way. For most people, debt is more debilitating than it is something that will help you. My advice is to strive for a life free of debt. That means that you need to create a game plan to pay off the debt that you have.

The first way to manage debt is to get control of it. This means stop creating more debt and start paying off your existing debt. If you need to buy something use cash, check, or a debt card. If you don’t have the money to buy something then you need to really ask yourself if it’s something that you absolutely need. Do you need a vehicle? Yes, in our society today, in a majority of cases, people need a vehicle for them to function in the economic system that we’ve created. However, that doesn’t mean that you need a brand new vehicle with a huge monthly payment. You can get an inexpensive vehicle that will work just fine. Also, avoid credit cards. The only reason I will use a credit card is if my place of employment requires me to use it for business purposes. I will not use credit card for personal purchases. I will use my debt card for any purchases that I need to make. I don’t care what kind of miles I might be able to get or what kind of points I can earn. In my opinion credit cards are a waste of time and money. I’ve seen people destroy themselves financially because they’ve accumulated too many credit cards and I think credit cards are nothing but a trap to get people to pay a lot of interest when they get in a financial bind.

The second way to manage debt is to create a plan to pay off your debt as fast as possible. There are several ways to go about doing this. For example, Dave Ramsey’s program uses the “debt snowball”. The basic principle is that you list out all your debts. Dave’s plan has you list your debts out from the smallest to the largest. Some people list the debts from the highest interest rate to the lower interest rate. Do whichever way makes the most sense to you, just make sure that they’re all listed. The next step, is to focus with laser beam strength on paying down debt. Make extra payments to principle on your debt as often as you can but don’t forget to keep an emergency fund. You need to keep an emergency fund of one month’s of expenses in place throughout paying off the debt. Once all your debt except the house is paid off then build up a bigger emergency fund of at least 3 months of expenses.

If you want to get serious about paying off debt you need to create a monthly budget. The budget will help you to see things that you can cut out of your spending in order to pay off your debt faster. Your budget will also help you to better manage your cash flow (meaning you’ll make sure you don’t run out of money by the end of the month). I recommend making a zero-based budget. This means that you are telling every dollar where to go throughout the month. Every month you need to plan and you will have a plan through the use of your monthly budget.

Your goal should be to become debt free if you’re not already. Why? To avoid paying interest to other people. As a wealth builder you want to be the one collecting interest not the one that’s paying interest! By eliminating debt you are freeing up cash that can go to other things, like building your investment portfolio, traveling with your loved ones, giving to your community, or getting to do the things that you’ve always wanted to do.