How to Tackle That Debt

Feeling buried in debt? You’re not alone! This post explores practical strategies to tackle your debt, from budgeting tips to repayment methods, and help you achieve financial freedom.

Assess the Situation:

List your debts: Make a comprehensive list of all your debts, including the type of debt (credit card, student loan, car loan, etc.), the outstanding balance, and the interest rate. This will give you a clear picture of what you owe.

Track your expenses: Understanding where your money goes is crucial. Track your expenses for a month to identify areas where you can cut back and free up extra cash for debt payments.

Choose a Repayment Strategy:

There are two main strategies for paying off debt:

Debt avalanche: This method focuses on paying off the debt with the highest interest rate first. By eliminating high-interest debt quickly, you save money on interest charges in the long run.

Debt snowball: This method prioritizes paying off the smallest debt first, regardless of interest rate. Seeing debts disappear quickly can be a motivation to keep going and help you stay on track.

Create a Budget and Allocate Funds:

Budgeting: Create a realistic budget that allocates enough money to cover your essential expenses (housing, food, utilities), minimum debt payments, and ideally, extra money towards debt. Many budgeting apps and tools can help you with this.

Debt allocation: Assign the extra money you freed up to your chosen debt repayment strategy. Whether it’s the debt with the highest interest rate (avalanche) or the smallest balance (snowball).

Reduce Expenses and Increase Income:

Cut back: Identify areas where you can cut back on spending, like eating out less or canceling unused subscriptions. Every dollar saved can go directly towards your debt. Many people find meal planning at home helps them save a significant amount of money.

Boost income: Consider a side hustle or explore ways to increase your income at your current job. This extra money can significantly accelerate your debt payoff.

Additional Tips:

Pay more than the minimum: Make more than the minimum payment required whenever possible. This reduces the principal faster and saves you money on interest.

Explore debt consolidation: Consider consolidating high-interest debt into a single loan with a lower interest rate. This can simplify your payments and potentially save money.

Stay motivated: Paying off debt takes time and discipline. Celebrate your milestones and track your progress to stay motivated.

Consider a Debt Management Plan: Find a reputable not-for-profit agency that offers a debt management plan to help you reduce your monthly payments and overall interest while paying down debt sooner.

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Choose the strategy that works best for you and your financial situation. Don’t hesitate to seek help from a credit counselor (such as at Parachute).

If you’re dealing with high interest debt payments as well, see what you can save with Parachute’s Debt Management Plan https://parachutecreditcounseling.org/dmp-calculator/

Would you like to meet one-on-one with one of our Financial Counselors to talk specifically about your budget? Check out our Financial Coaching Session https://parachutecreditcounseling.org/services/credit-budget-counseling/#financial-coaching  or call 716-712-2060.

**NEW** We are now able to assist residents in the state of Texas! We are excited to extend our services to the Lone Star State!

Using Credit Wisely

Credit cards can be a powerful financial tool when used responsibly. They offer a convenient way to make purchases, build credit history, and earn rewards. However, they can also lead to significant debt problems if not used carefully. Here are some credit card essentials to help you use your cards wisely:

Understand your credit limit: Your credit limit is the maximum amount you can borrow on your credit card. It’s important to stay within your credit limit to avoid paying high-interest fees. In fact, creditors want you to use no more than 30% of your available credit. This is known as credit utilization. Doing this helps you raise your credit score, which helps you get better terms (e.g., lower interest rates) for future borrowing.  

Make timely payments: Pay your credit card bill on time every month to avoid late fees and damage to your credit score. Aim to pay off your balance in full to avoid accruing interest charges whenever possible.

Pay more than the minimum payment: If you can’t pay off your balance in full each month, be sure to make more than the minimum payment. Double it, if possible.  This will help you pay off your debt faster and save you money on interest.

Beware of fees: Credit cards often have fees associated with them, such as annual fees, late fees, and foreign transaction fees. Read your credit card agreement carefully to understand all the fees involved before applying for it.

Utilize rewards programs: Many credit cards offer rewards programs, such as cash back, points, or travel miles. Choose a card that offers rewards that align with your spending habits. Some people focus more on the rewards over their responsible usage of their cards. Be careful to not get too preoccupied with the rewards over your reasonable usage of your card.

Secure your card: Protect your credit card from theft or fraud by keeping your PIN and CVV number confidential. Shred old paper statements and keep your card in a secure place when not in use.

Monitor your credit report: Regularly review your credit report for any errors or fraudulent activity. Dispute any inaccuracies promptly. Remember, the only government authorized website is annualcreditreport.com. You can now check your credit reports weekly for free.

Budget your spending: Create a realistic budget to track your income and expenses. Use your credit card only for purchases you can afford to pay off in full each month. You don’t want to treat credit like it is an added source of income. 

Avoid overspending: Don’t use your credit card to finance wants instead of needs. Stick to your budget and avoid impulse purchases that you cannot afford. Walk or look away from the item you want for at least 15 minutes and think about longer term, bigger financial goals you may have like a vacation, car or a house.

Consider a secured credit card: If you have a limited credit history or poor credit, consider a secured credit card. You’ll deposit a security deposit, which acts as your credit limit. Use the card responsibly to build your credit score.

Seek financial advice: If you have questions about credit cards or managing your finances, consult a credit counseling agency like Parachute for personalized guidance.

Remember, credit cards are a tool, not a source of income. Use them responsibly to maintain your financial well-being over time and to gain long term financial stability and avoid debt traps.

If you’re dealing with high interest debt payments as well, see what you can save with Parachute’s Debt Management Plan https://parachutecreditcounseling.org/dmp-calculator/

Would you like to meet one-on-one with one of our Financial Counselors to talk specifically about your budget? Check out our Financial Coaching Session https://parachutecreditcounseling.org/services/credit-budget-counseling/#financial-coaching  or call 716-712-2060.

Latest News: January 2024 Financial Update

Governor Hochul introduces legislation to protect New Yorkers from “bad actors” and medical debt;

New report highlights significant issues with student loan repayment after an unprecedented 3 year period

Parachute Credit Counseling Offers FREE Assistance and Counseling

Parachute Credit Counseling, formerly known as Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo (CCCS), is the Western New York region’s premier organization providing our community with the best strategies to master their credit. Today they announce a number of notable financial news items emerging this month. Along with these new items, Parachute reminds residents that beginning the new year with a financial “check up” is an invaluable service to their families and themselves.

Call 716-712-2060 or visit https://parachutecreditcounseling.org/  for more information.

The State of Student Loans

On October 1st, Americans resumed paying their student loans, after a 3 and a half year break in payments. Financial experts predicted issues with payments after such a long period, stating that about 20% of student loan borrowers had risk factors that indicated they could struggle when payments resume. These issues have been worse than predicted, confirmed when the Department of Education announced in December that nearly 9 million borrowers–roughly 40% of the 22 million borrowers who had bills due in October–missed their first student loan payment.

Outstanding student loan debt presently exceeds outstanding auto loan debt and credit card debt.

Earlier this month, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)—the federal government agency that ensures that consumers are treated fairly by banks, lenders, and other financial companiesissued a report  on the agency’s monitoring activities of federal student loan servicers since the restart of required payments. Per the CFPB, many borrowers are making their first payment ever on their student loan, and many are also navigating their loan repayment options, including options that allow borrowers to make lower payments based on a percentage of their income. The report discusses challenges faced by borrowers with respect to contacting their servicer, enrolling in alternative repayment options, and billing statement errors. According to borrowers, there have been many problems navigating loan repayment since restarting on October 1st.

The CFPB pledges to work on this situation and to continue to carefully watch loan servicers and work with federal and state agencies to hold accountable those that violate laws protecting borrowers. The CFPB also has resources for student loan borrowers needing more information. Borrowers can also visit the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid website for more information on restarting student loan payments. In addition, consumers can submit complaints about financial products or services by visiting the CFPB’s website or by calling (855) 411-CFPB (2372).

Parachute Credit Counseling recommends that borrowers contact their office to enroll in their free Student Loan Counseling program, available to all residents of the eight counties of Western New York. Parachute’s Certified Financial Counselors will help WNY residents consolidate their student loans and review other potential relief options and changes to existing programs available to help borrowers reduce or eliminate their debt as well as assist them in making payment plans. Call 716-712-2060 or visit https://parachutecreditcounseling.org/  for more information on our Student Loan Counseling Program and other financial counseling services we provide.

Proposed Consumer Protection Legislation

Governor Hochul has proposed a few pieces of new legislation designed to protect New York residents from unfair and negative business practices and from the all too common issue of medical debt.

Governor Hochul introduces consumer protection legislation

“Buy Now Pay Later” loans have become popular as a low-cost alternative to traditional credit products to pay for everyday and big-ticket purchases, but they remain unregulated and can charge hefty fees. Legislation proposed will require “Buy Now Pay Later” providers to get a license to operate in the state, and to authorize the New York State Department of Financial Services to propose and issue regulations for this rapidly growing industry.

The Governor has additionally called for increased protection measures that strengthen the state’s ability to enforce consumer protections and to penalize “bad actors”.

Governor Hochul introduces legislation to protect New Yorkers from medical debt

Medical debt is a critical issue for many, including over 700,000 New York residents who currently have medical debt in collections. Those with medical debt often forego necessary medical care and historically minimize important social determinants of health, including food, heat, and rent. Overall, this threatens the health and financial stability of New Yorkers. The proposed legislation will limit hospitals’ ability to sue patients earning less than 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level ($120,000 for a family of four), helping to eliminate medical debt lawsuits filed against low-income New Yorkers. Per the Governor’s office, the legislation would also “expand hospital financial assistance programs for low-income New Yorkers, limit the size of monthly payments and interest charged for medical debt and implement other protections to improve access to financial assistance and mitigate the deleterious effects of medical debt on New Yorkers.”

Regional Bankruptcy Update

Bankruptcy rates up by 2.7%: first year-over-year increase for Buffalo since 2018

The Buffalo News recently reported a rise in bankruptcy filings, based on data from the federal bankruptcy court. According to financial experts at Parachute Credit Counseling, they have been seeing people with higher levels of debt which, coupled with higher interest rates, stagnant wages, and inflation can cause financial stress and instability. Bankruptcy can be attributed to some of these issues.

Parachute Financial Counselors assure the WNY community that, despite some environmental concerns, there are simple, proven techniques to facilitate economic security. Now is the time for borrowers to seek unbiased counseling. Parachute counselors will provide expert strategies for attaining financial stability including any financial assistance needed, from budgeting help to credit education, to buying a home. Call 716-712-2060 or visit https://parachutecreditcounseling.org/  for information on financial counseling services.

Ways to Reduce Debt

Reducing debt can be a challenging task, but it is definitely achievable with the right mindset and strategies. Here are some effective ways to reduce debt:

Create a budget and track your spending: The first step to reducing debt is to understand your spending habits. Create a detailed budget that includes all of your income and expenses. Track your spending for a month or two to see where your money is going. This will help you identify areas where you have budget leaks and can cut back, if even on a temporary basis. 

Pay more than the minimum payment: Paying more than the minimum payment on your credit cards can significantly reduce the amount of interest you pay over time. Even an extra $25 or $50 per month consistently can make a big difference, especially on high interest credit cards.

Prioritize high-interest debts: When paying off multiple debts, it’s important to prioritize those with the highest interest rates. This is because you’ll pay more in interest on these debts over time. There are two main strategies for paying off high-interest debt: the debt avalanche method and the debt snowball method. The debt avalanche method involves concentrating on paying off your highest-interest debt first, followed by the debt with the next highest interest rate and so on. This method may help you reduce the high interest charges. The debt snowball method is where you gradually pay off your debts, smallest to largest and gain momentum while doing so. As one debt is paid off, you add those funds to your payment of the next highest debt and so on. It snowballs!

Increase your income: One of the most effective ways to reduce debt is to increase your income. This could involve getting a second job, taking on freelance work, or starting a side hustle.

Reduce your expenses: There are many ways to reduce your expenses, such as cooking at home instead of eating out, canceling unnecessary or unused subscriptions, finding cheaper ways for entertainment, and reducing habitual habits like coffee/snacks and personal care practices like getting your nails done. Even changing these habits in the short term (6-9 months) can help. 

Avoid taking on new debt: The best way to reduce debt is to avoid taking on new debt in the first place. This means using your credit cards responsibly and only making purchases that you can afford to pay off in full each month.

Negotiate with your creditors: If you’re having trouble making your debt payments, don’t be afraid to contact your creditors and try to negotiate a lower interest rate or monthly payment.

Consolidate your debt: If you have multiple debts with different interest rates, you may be able to consolidate them into a single loan with a lower interest rate. This can simplify your debt repayment and save you money on interest.

Seek professional help: If you’re struggling to manage your debt on your own, consider seeking professional help from a credit counselor at an agency like Parachute. We can help you create a debt management plan and provide you with additional guidance on how to reduce your debt. A debt management plan is a structured payment plan to repay your debts in full in five years or less, by lowering interest rates, minimum payments and stopping fees.

Stay motivated: Reducing debt takes time and effort, so it’s important to stay motivated. Set realistic goals and celebrate your progress along the way. Keep your eyes on your future goals and think about how good you will feel when your debt is reduced or gone!

Remember, reducing debt is definitely a journey, not a race. Be patient with yourself and the process and work to keep your focus on your end goal. 

If you’re dealing with high interest debt payments as well, see what you can save with Parachute’s Debt Management Plan https://parachutecreditcounseling.org/dmp-calculator/

Would you like to meet one-on-one with one of our Financial Counselors to talk specifically about your budget? Check out our Financial Coaching Session https://parachutecreditcounseling.org/services/credit-budget-counseling/#financial-coaching  or call 716-712-2060.

Women and Money

Women may face unique challenges with money due to a number of factors. Such factors can make it more difficult for women to achieve their financial goals and obtain financial security. These factors include: 

  • Pay gap: Women still earn less than men for doing the same work. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, currently women earn 82 cents for every dollar that men earn.
  • Lack of retirement savings: Women are more likely than men to be single and not have a partner’s income to help them save for retirement. They are also more likely to take extended time away from work to care for children or ill or older family members. This can impact their overall savings rate, their retirement savings rate and Social Security contributions.
  • Debt: Women are more likely than men to carry debt, particularly student loan debt. Consider this also in light of the pay gap (see above). This can make it difficult for them to save for other financial goals, such as retirement or a home.
  • Lack of financial literacy: Women may be less encouraged to gain a basic understanding of financial concepts, such as investing or budgeting. This can make it difficult for them to make sound financial decisions.
  • Societal pressures: Women may feel pressure to confirm to societal expectations and may use larger portions of their income on clothing, accessories, dry cleaning, shoes, beauty routines (e.g., hair and nails) and more. 
  • Women live longer: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the life expectancy for women in 2023 is 80.2 years, while the life expectancy for men is 73.3 years. This means that women can expect to live 6.9 years longer than men. This means they need their savings to be larger or last longer.
  • Living single, longer: More women are living single longer than men. In 2019, 34% of women ages 18 and older were living without a spouse, up from 28% in 1990. Meanwhile, 29% of men ages 18 and older were living without a spouse, up from 24% in 1990.
  • Under-presentation of women in finance professions: According to a 2022 report by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), women make up 26.8% of the workforce in the U.S. investment industry. This is still significantly lower than the 49.7% of women in the overall workforce. One factor is the lack of female role models in the industry.

These challenges can make it difficult for women to achieve financial security. However, there are a number of things that women can do to overcome these challenges, such as:

  • Negotiate their salaries: Women can and should negotiate their salaries and seek out career coaching and/or mentoring to help with such processes. They should also be aware of the pay gap and consider this as they make job and career decisions.
  • Start saving early: Women should start saving for retirement as early as possible, even small amounts are helpful. They should also take advantage of tax-advantaged retirement savings plans, such as 401(k)s and IRAs.
  • Pay down debt: Women should focus on paying down debt, especially high-interest debt, such as credit card debt. This will free up more money to set aside funds to save and even invest.
  • Automate savings: Make savings as consistent and easy as possible by having a set amount taken out of each paycheck for emergency funds and future financial goals, such as buying a home.
  • Encourage finance careers: More girls and young women can be encouraged to study finance. More female-friendly workplaces can be created in the industry.
  • Get educated: Women should educate themselves about financial concepts, such as budgeting and investing. There are *many* resources available to help women learn about money, such as books, magazines, podcasts, websites, and financial counseling services such as Parachute! Spending at least 1 hour a week learning basic money matters is really helpful!

If you’re dealing with high interest debt payments as well, see what you can save with Parachute’s Debt Management Plan https://parachutecreditcounseling.org/dmp-calculator/

Would you like to meet one-on-one with one of our Financial Counselors to talk specifically about your budget? Check out our Financial Coaching Session https://parachutecreditcounseling.org/services/credit-budget-counseling/#financial-coaching  or call 716-712-2060.

National Financial Freedom Day: A Day to Celebrate Financial Independence

National Financial Freedom Day is observed on July 1st every year. The holiday aims to raise awareness about financial freedom, which is the ability to afford the kind of life you desire without having to worry about financial constraints. There are many things you can do to achieve financial freedom, such as:

  • Pay off debt. This is one of the most important steps you can take to improve your financial situation. The less debt you have, the more money you will have available to save and invest.
  • Build an emergency fund. This is a savings account that you can use to cover unexpected expenses, such as a unexpected car expense or medical bill. Having an emergency fund will help you avoid going into debt when unexpected expenses arise.
  • Invest for the future. Once you have paid off debt and built an emergency fund, you can start investing your money. Investing can help you grow your wealth over time and reach your financial goals. There are many different ways to invest, so you can choose an option that is right for you. Some popular investment options include stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.

Achieving financial freedom takes time and effort, but it is possible. By following these tips, you can take steps to improve your financial situation and achieve financial independence:

  • Create a budget and stick to it. This will help you track your spending and make sure you are not overspending.
  • Live below your means. This means spending less money than you earn.
  • Save money regularly. Even if you can only save a small amount each month, it will add up over time.
  • Invest your money wisely. Do your research and choose investments that are right for you.
  • Be patient. It takes time to achieve financial freedom. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results immediately.

National Financial Freedom Day is a day to celebrate your progress and to recommit to your financial goals. We at Parachute are here to help you do just that! Give us a call at 716-712-2060 to schedule an appointment to speak with one of our skilled counselors who can help you determine steps you can take to achieve financial freedom and live the life you desire!