Saddled with an insurmountable amount of debt, some people are left with no alternative but to leave their bills unpaid even in the wake of their death.
Eliminating debt at a younger age, increasing income or slashing the number of credit cards they have means many consumers can prevent this conundrum from occurring and instead work toward saving for retirement.
Yet as the amount of their debt escalates, 21% of Americans believe there is no way for them to pay all their lenders while they are alive, according to a new CreditCards.com survey, an Austin, Texas-based credit card comparison company. Last year consumers felt more positive about the outlook of their income, and only 18% expressed this sentiment while in 2013, only a small majority of 9% of people shared this belief.
The burden of having debt weighs heavily on many Americans, and the average age at which people believe they will be debt-free -- including their mortgages, student loans, credit cards and car loans -- is 54 . Other individuals are more pessimistic, with 48% saying they will still be debt-riddled when they reach the age of 61 years or older. Although many Millennials are weighed down with student loans, credit card debt and auto loans, the majority are surprisingly sanguine about their finances, with only 11% who believe they will never be able to pay down all of their debt.
“Unfortunately, sometimes debt can’t be avoided,” said Matt Schulz, a senior analyst for CreditCards.com. “Unforeseen circumstances, such as medical emergencies and job loss can leave them no other choice.”
Even for consumers who have not incurred any amount of debt -- such as the 22% of Americans who expressed this sentiment in the survey (a 14% increase from last year) -- creating a budget and sticking to it can be a good step in the right direction, he said.
“If you have a good feel for exactly what you’re spending and what you’re bringing in, you can better assess whether you can handle getting a new credit card or mortgage,” Schulz said.
Determining which plan you want to follow can help you reduce your debt faster, even if it is paying only an extra $25 a month toward a student loan or credit card bill or generating some extra income from eliminating a gym membership or selling something you no longer use.
“Even if you don’t make a budget, it is incredibly important to take some sort of action,” he said. “Hopelessness can be paralyzing, so it’s crucial that you do something – even something small to make a dent in that debt.”
Quick Ways to Eliminate Debt
After you set up a budget, be honest and see which items can be reduced or eradicated such as only keeping your Netflix membership and slashing your Hulu account or avoiding driving on toll roads.
Establishing a small nest egg or emergency fund can prevent emergencies such as unexpected car repairs from crippling: having to resort to high interest credit card debt to foot the bill in a jam can be dangerous.
“Having at least a small cash cushion can help you avoid debt if something bad happens," said J.J. Montanaro, a certified financial planner at USAA, a San Antonio, Texas-based financial institution.
Paying less interest is the key to lowering the amount of debt you have, so make a call to your credit card issuer and request a lower APR or apply for a 0% balance transfer credit card while interest rates remain low, Schulz said.
“You’d be surprised how often that works,” he said. “Do something to get the ball rolling.”
Since high interest debt is the “most toxic,” start by paying down those credit cards first, said Bruce McClary, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization.
“Power pay that debt by prioritizing the highest interest accounts and working down the list as those pay off,” he said.
Once you run afoul of your budget, seeking help can push you in the right direction and make sure you remain accountable and stay on the right course, he said.
“Sometimes it can be very helpful to have the help of a third party,” Montanaro said. “Counselors affiliated with organizations like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling can be a valuable resource for people trying to work their way out of debt with tools and programs like debt management plans.
After you have established how much is leftover each month to pay your credit card bills or other debt with high interest, stick with paying the same amount until you are completely debt free, said Jim Triggs, a senior vice president of counseling and support of Money Management International, a Sugar Land, Texas-based non-profit debt counseling organization.
Allocate more money toward your bills with higher APRs initially, because a large percentage of the payment each month goes toward the interest payment first and not the principal amount you borrowed. Even if a consumer's minimum monthly credit card payments total is $600, see whether it's possible in your budget to increase that payment. If you can afford to pay another $300 a month, for example, pay the same $900 per month until all of the creditors are paid off, he said.
Once you have paid the credit card company with the highest amount of interest, move onto the next highest interest rate account that you have and maintain this process until all of your bills are eliminated.
“Not only will this method help you pay off your credit card debt faster, it could help motivate you to keep on track as you start paying off the accounts one by one and even help to increase your credit score,” Triggs said.
Methods to Avoid
Some other strategies are quick and accessible, but utilizing payday and title loans should never be considered, because the interest rates and penalties are extremely high and can add up to more than the initial amount that you borrowed. Obtaining an early withdrawal from a 401(k) or IRA retirement account is never a good idea, because many employees never make up the difference in retirement money and are faced with another loan to pay each month.
“They may sound like a good idea when times get tough, but they can end up being quite costly,” Schulz said.