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Debt Free in Seven Steps

Got debt? You’re not alone. The average American’s credit card balance is over $8,000. Even if you’re in over your head, you don’t need to spend more money than you already have to get out of debt…

Got debt? You’re not alone. The average American’s credit card balance is over $8,000. In 2001 we paid $50 billion in finance charges, and 1.3 million people declared bankruptcy. Fortunately, you can become debt free. If you’re ready to eliminate your debt once and for all, here are the steps I’m following to reduce my debt. I’ve already cut a total debt of close to $100,000 in half, and I hope to be free and clear of the remaining balances in one to two years.

Preparing to be debt free
I’ve broken down the path to becoming debt free into seven steps. Each one is important and, if followed, should allow you to make some significant progress on becoming debt free no matter how much debt you have or how little you earn. Of course, earning more is always helpful, but we’ll get to that.

There are no complicated calculators or special tricks to becoming debt free––as personal finance guru Dave Ramsey says, it’s 20% knowledge and 80% action. That action is what’s so hard. Getting out of debt is like making any big personal change–losing weight, starting to exercise, or quitting smoking–it is not easy, but the results will change your life.

The seven steps to become debt free

  1. Write Down Your Financial Goals — You have to know where you going before you can get there. Often times our debt is the result of short-term thinking. It’s time to think long-term in order to begin to change our short-term habits.
  2. Determine How Much Debt You Have — Are you afraid to look at your credit card balances? I’ve been there. But ignoring your debt will not make it go away. It’s time to swallow hard and take stock of just how bad your debt is.
  3. Develop Your Debt Management Plan — Your personal debt management plan is your road map to becoming debt free. It can be a long road, and you’ll need this plan to make sure you stay on course when things get treacherous.
  4. Negotiate, Eliminate, or Consolidate Debt — Once you have your road map, it’s time to look for shortcuts. Sometimes you find them, sometimes you don’t, but any you do find can get you to your goals faster and save you thousands of dollars.
  5. Automate Your Debt Payments — Pilots use autopilot for a reason—it frees them from routine steering to focus on navigation and safety. Ultimately, it’s safer for the plane to fly itself. The same is true for your debt. You’ll make progress faster—and feel better—if your debt payments take care of themselves.
  6. Monitor Your Debt Elimination Progress — Just because the plane’s on auto pilot doesn’t mean the pilot is ignoring the sky. He’ll want to avoid a collision or find more favorable winds if they come about. Learn to alter your debt management plan as you go along.
  7. Live Debt Free — Once you’re debt free, learn to manage your finances so you never have to face debt again.

Need more debt help?
If you want help with your debt, a professional credit counseling or debt management program may be able to help. First, read my post 10 things you should know about debt management programs.

Published or updated on May 23, 2006

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.

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