Q. One of my New Year Resolutions is to be debt free. What advice may BBB offer for this resolution?
A. Is your New Year's Resolution to get out of debt? Improving your finances and increasing your savings is a common goal on Jan 1, but it's not always easy, especially this year.
If you are in debt, you're not alone. With COVID-19 causing budgets to be stretched in many households, total American household debt is only rising. According to the U.S. Federal Reserve's Center for Microeconomic Data, total household debt increased by $87 billion in the third quarter of 2020. The relief measures offered by the CARES act and other programs have provided much-needed funds, but many consumers find themselves owing more money. Although 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 2021 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 on BBB.org first; consumers nationwide filed more than 11.000 complaints against credit services companies in 2020. 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 balances 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.org/ScamTracker 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. You can use the free and easy-to-use debt solution tool, www.bills.com to find options for managing your debt.
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