Now You Know Legal

Getting out of debt

By Attorney Xenophon Peters, Partner, Peters and Associates, LLP

Being in debt is no fun. Getting harassed by debt collectors because you’re behind is even worse. Fortunately, there are several avenues for getting out of debt.

Once your essentials budget is complete and you’ve got a couple of dollars in your emergency fund (to prevent going into more debt), it’s time to figure out which debt-relief option is best for you.

First things first: How much debt do you have? You’d be surprised how often people come into our offices for help with debt relief but don’t know how much they owe or to whom the debt is owed. It’s a common problem, especially when people have been avoiding dealing with their debts for several years.

Make a list of all debt

I recommend a basic sheet like the one below that lists who you owe, how much you owe, and minimum payments. If you have bills or collection letters, they can be listed on this sheet. See above for a basic outline of how this should look.

Don’t forget any payday loans, title loans or medical debts. If you don’t remember your debt, your credit report may help, but things like payday loans and medical bills may not be listed.

Also note, credit card companies are required to show how long it will take you to get out of debt if you make only minimum payments.

Once you’ve got it all on a sheet, add up the columns — total debt and the total of your minimum monthly payments. Now it’s time to evaluate.

How much did you have left over after your essentials budget? Does that cover your minimum payments? If it does, how much more than your minimum payment is left over?

Once you've finished documenting your debt, analyze it

Obviously, if you can afford to pay off your debts in full by paying three, four or five times the minimum payment due, that’s the best option to get out of debt. But if your budget barely allows you to make the minimum payments and it’s going to take five, 10 or even 30 years to get out of debt, it’s time to get some help.

People who can make only minimum payments, or who can’t even make their minimum payments, often feel trapped in a cycle of debt. They get bombarded by ads and trolls telling them that people who don’t pay off their debt are deadbeats or that if you have a low credit score, you’re worthless.

There also are subtle, backhanded ads that say, “Bad credit? No problem!” and then hit people with 30 percent interest rates or huge down payments that could have otherwise been used to get out of debt and break the cycle. It’s all nonsense.

People who need help with their debt aren’t bad people. In fact, according to a recent survey, 1 out of 4 people in America sometimes misses a payment, 44 percent of Americans don’t pay off their balances every month, and nearly 2.7 million bankruptcy cases have been filed in the past three years.

If you can’t make your minimum payments, or if getting out of debt is going to take an unreasonable amount of time, take advantage of a free consultation at a full-service debt-relief law firm to learn what other options might be available. Your attorney can help you work out a plan to get out of debt and rebuild your credit so you can get on with your life.

Pro Tip

Your minimum payment covers interest plus a tiny bit of principal. If you divide your total debt by the amount left in your budget (after minimum payments) you can get a good idea of how many months it will take you to get out of debt. So what’s your number?

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    Please note: The information in this column is intended for general purposes only and is not to be considered legal or professional advice of any kind. You should seek advice that is specific to your problem before taking or refraining from any action and should not rely on the information in this column.