Q. Our family New Year resolution is to reduce debt. What advice and suggestions may BBB offer?
A. Financial improvement that includes reducing debt and increasing savings is a common goal for New Year's Resolution. However, it's not always easy.
If you are in debt, you're not alone. Total American household debt is only rising. According to the US Federal Reserve Center for Microeconomic Data shows that total household debt increased by $92 billion, or 0.7 percent, to $13.95 trillion in the third quarter of 2019. Importantly, getting out of debt, especially credit card debt, may seem daunting; it can start you on the road to financial freedom and wealth creation.
If you want to get your finances in order in 2020 and stick to your New Year's Resolution, follow these tips from your BBB:
* Take a closer look at your credit cards. Credit cards are known for their high interest rates, and this can waste a lot of money over time. See if you can use a balance transfer offer to switch to a card with a lower rate. Do your research www.bbb.org first. Consumers nationwide filed more than 8,933 complaints against credit card companies in 2019. Make sure to read the terms and contract very carefully – there may be big penalties if you miss a payment. If you have multiple cards, decide which debt-paying strategy is best for you. Some experts recommend paying off cards with the highest interest rates first, but others recommend paying off cards with the smallest balance first – figure out what works best for you. Additionally, try sending in payments throughout the month. Put the $5 you would have spent on a morning coffee towards your debt instead.
* Don't waste money on unethical businesses or scams. When making a purchase or choosing a business, always check with BBB, Making careful decisions now can save you time, money, and headaches later. Research all companies at BBB.org, and check BBB Scam Tracker regularly to see what scams are happening in your area.
* Take advantage of free tools. There are many online tools that can help you manage and reduce your debt. A great place to start is the BBB Financial Building Blocks, www.bbb.org/financial-building-clocks website, which helps consumers evaluate their finances, learn how to stay debt-free, and protect themselves from scams and illegal collection calls. Additionally, you can use the free and easy-to-use debt solution tool to find options for managing your debt.
* Write out the year 2020. Avoid abbreviating the year 2020. Writing "/20" without the first two digits may leave consumers vulnerable to scammers. Fraudsters can capitalize on the use of abbreviated dates in the new decade, altering document dates to their benefit by adding just two digits. For instance, the date "1/10/20" could be changed to "1/10/2019," making consumers vulnerable to an array of fraud. Checks, bank drafts, pay orders, bills, legal documents and more are susceptible to alteration.
* Start budgeting. Creating a written budget and tracking your spending is one of the best ways to save money and stop spending more than you earn! First, figure out how much debt you have; you need an accurate picture before you can figure out your budget. Note the difference between fixed expenses, needs, and wants. If you have debt, include repayment goals in your budget. If you can, try to factor in retirement and emergency savings as well. Save money by giving up your morning coffee and cooking at home instead of getting takeout. Factor in any alternate income that you can think of, like selling unused items or part-time work in the gig economy.
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.