So you are in debt-who isn’t these days? We live in a society that encourages people to go into debt. Credit card commercials tell us that a trip to Jamaica is just what we need, regardless of whether we can afford it. (That’s what your gold card is for, right?)
Loan brokers want us to borrow up to 125 percent against our home equity. Even the federal government just had its first balanced budget in a generation and now faces the enormous task of paying off over trillions of dollars in debt.
Yet not everyone is in debt. Many people know how to deal with money. Their debts are manageable, and they have money in the bank. That sounds nice, doesn’t it money in the bank? That is what you deserve. In order to get there, however, you are going to have to change some of your thinking about money and learn a few new methods of dealing with it.
literacy is not taught in schools, and too often parents are too busy trying to dig themselves out of their own financial hole to help much either. Yet, unfortunately for many of us, we learn more about money from our parents than anywhere else. The good news is that learning how to get out of debt and become more financially literate is not all that complicated.
The first step in the process is to figure out how you created so much debt, because if you don’t figure out how and why you got yourself into this pickle, you might get out of debt, but you certainly won’t stay out. So the first question to ask yourself is: Why did you go into debt in the first place?
Sometimes going into debt is unavoidable, but often it is not. When money is tight, you have several options; going into debt is just the easiest. Instead of choosing more debt, you might have decided to work overtime and make more money, or possibly you could have tightened your belt and spent less money. Debt was not your only choice.
There are many reasons people go into debt: some are good reasons, and some are bad. It doesn’t matter. Did you buy luxuries you could otherwise not afford? Did an illness or a divorce set you back financially? Was debt your way of dealing with some other sudden, unexpected expense? When you look at the reason why you went into debt, the important thing is to notice whether your spending habits follow a pattern. If you can see a pattern, you need to address that pattern as much as the underlying debt.
Consider Mark and Diane. They both make a good living: he’s a psychiatrist, and she’s a psychologist. They have two kids to whom they are devoted. They send both to private school, which costs a total of $15,000 a year, and both kids go to summer camp. This expense adds up.
Mark and Diane don’t buy luxuries, they don’t travel much, and, except for the kids’ expenses, they are very frugal. Yet the only way they can pay for everything is debt restructuring by going into debt. They use their home equity line of credit and credit cards to stay afloat. Although they would like to move to a less expensive neighborhood, they can’t because they have no equity in their home, so they are stuck.
What are they to do? If they are going to get out of debt, something in their lives is going to have to change. The private school is going to have to go, camp may be out, or they are going to have to start making more money. The same is true for you. If you want to get out of debt, you are going to have to identify why you went into debt and change that behavior or pattern.
Good and Bad Debt
Debt in and of itself is not a bad thing. Both of us (the authors) were able to start our own businesses because of debt; Steve began his own law practice, and Azriela began her own entrepreneurial consulting business. So we understand what debt is and why some debt is great debt.
Debt allows you to do things you otherwise normally could not do, such as start a business, go to college, or pay for a home. Debt constructs buildings and funds investments and entire corporations-even the government is funded by debt. The trick is to foster debts that help the cause and banish the ones that don’t. Not all debts are bad debts.
Debt that helps you, enriches your life, is manageable, and is not a burden can be called good debt. For example, student loans are good debt if they enabled you to get through school and further your life goals. They are bad debt if you dropped out of medical school after one year to become a writer. A good debt helps; a bad debt hinders. We want to help you get rid of that bad debt.
Other examples of debt that may be considered good include:
1. Home loans. A mortgage can be a great debt. Not only does it permit you to own your own home, but it also allows you to build home equity. People who are financially savvy earn interest and equity. People who are not financially savvy pay interest and create money for others. For example, charging groceries means that you will pay about 17 percent interest on items that will be consumed within a week. A financially literate person would never do that.
2. Car loans. A car loan can be a fine debt because you get something long-lasting out of the debt. If you need a nice car for your job (if you are a real estate agent, for example), a car loan may be considered good debt because it helps you in your career. However, a car loan that you cannot afford is a bad debt because it detracts from your life.
3. Business loans. If you can service the loan, and it helps you make more money, the loan is good debt, but if the loan is nothing but a source of problems for you, the debt is bad.
4. Credit cards. Credit cards are fantastic. They are convenient and easy. They can help finance a business or even medical emergencies. The problem with them, as you probably know only too well, is that it is too easy to fall under their siren spell and get in over your head before you know it. That’s when they begin to hurt your life more than help it.
Bad Debt Blues
How do you know if your debt is good debt or bad debt? Easy. Bad debts cause stress. You sleep poorly because of them. They cause fights and foster guilt. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell was once asked to define obscenity. Hard-pressed to come up with a definition, Powell uttered the famous line, “I know it when I see it.” The same could be said for bad debt: You know it when you see it, and it certainly can be obscene.