In May 2011, LaTisha Styles’ credit score hit an all-time low of 462. Having seven credit cards, she freely bought clothes, took vacations and purchased textbooks for school – all on credit. The turning point came when she couldn’t pursue her passions in life because she had to get a jobs she didn’t like just to pay the bills. She decided to make an all cash budget.
“I realized debt was holding me back and influencing my decisions,” says Styles,31, creator of YoungFinances.com. “By living within my means and managing my credit obligations, I was able to pay off over $22,000 of credit card debt and $10,000 in car loan debt in just three years.”
No matter your credit score, Styles proves that you can get out of credit card debt if you are willing to be disciplined and put in the work. She and our experts give you tips on just how.
1. Stop digging the financial hole. Join Styles in making the all cash commitment. “Plastic equals temptation, so remove the credit cards from your wallet. Now that you’re paying with cash or debit card, when the money’s gone, the spending has to stop,” says Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the National Foundation of Credit Counseling (NFCC).
2. Create an accurate easy-to-use budget. As of today, list your income and debts. Track your spending carefully over the next 30 days. “If you’re going to create a strategy to pay down one or two specific credit card accounts, you need to see the entire picture first,” says Christopher Viale, president and CEO of Cambridge Credit Counseling. “Through the budgeting process, you may discover that there are a few expenses you could suspend, reduce or eliminate entirely, allowing you to put more money toward paying down your credit card accounts.
3. Cut out the extras. Styles evaluated her needs and wants. Then she went in for the kill – slicing and dicing the wants and impulse buying. “Buckle down and really focus your efforts on getting rid of the debt,” says Barry Myers, founder of Living 138 and author of From Debtor to Better: The Details of Debt and How to Get Out! “Cutting unnecessary spending, increasing your income and really paying attention to every dollar that goes through your fingertips will make sure every penny is available to pay down your debts.”
4. Face the music. According to Myers, you should ground yourself in reality. Call the credit card companies. Be honest and ask to negotiate lower interest rates and payments. Order your free credit report from Creditkarma.com and determine how to attack debt.
5. Enlist FREE or low cost programs to help. Styles used a credit counseling service to help her get out of debt. The NFCC has 600 locations in all 50 states. Visits can be in person, by phone or online. Most locations are free or up to $20 for counseling. Go to www.NFCC.org. Viale says Cambridge has the free “Learn Now or Pay Later” Resource Guide to assist consumers at www.cambridge-credit.org. The Federal Trade Commission offers tips at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0153-choosing-credit-counselor.
6. Pick your plan. “You’ve undoubtedly heard the debate about paying the debt with the highest interest rate first versus paying off the smallest debt first. The whole point is to become debt free,” says Cunningham. “Regardless of what anyone says, a person needs to be honest with themselves and select the plan that they know will keep them motivated all the way to the finish line.”
Styles says she is still in the process of building a positive credit history. Her final payment of old debts was paid off in October 2014. Today, her credit score is 641. “Getting out of debt is more than just making the payments, you have to change your mindset about how you spend and dig down to the habits that contribute to your mountain of debt,” says Styles.
Sidebar 1 – Notable Quotable – Do You Trust Yourself with a Credit Card Now?
“These days, I have three credit cards. Each is paid in full every month. And I only have cards that offer cash back rewards. It is nice to get paid to use a credit card instead of the other way around,” says Styles.
Sidebar 2- How I Paid Off $22,000 in Credit Card Debt YouTube Video by LaTisha Styles
Sidebar 3 – Ten Websites to Help You with Credit Card Debt