John North, Dayton Better Business Bureau. CONTRIBUTED

Holiday debt blues? Here’s help getting on track

With the holidays behind you, the new year is a great time to get your finances back on track if you’ve slipped a bit. By dedicating yourself to using credit responsibly and sticking to a sensible plan, then you can effectively pay down your debt.

According to debt.org, total U.S. consumer debt is at $11.4 trillion, which includes mortgages, auto loans, credit cards and student loans. On average, each household with a credit card carries more than $15,000 in credit card debt.

Better Business Bureau offers advice to help you get back on top of your financial situation:

• Don’t go deeper in debt by continuing to use credit cards. Put your credit cards away and pay with cash or a debit card.

• Set up a budget. Total up regular monthly expenses and develop a plan detailing how much you can pay, insuring income exceeds expenses each month.

• Look for ways to save every day. Reduce expenses by skipping daily coffee runs, using coupons or brown-bagging it. Use the extra money to pay your debt or build savings.

• Prioritize debt repayments. Review outstanding credit card balances and interest rates. Tackle high-interest rate balances first by paying more than the minimum payment monthly until the balance is paid. Consider transferring high-interest balances to a lower interest rate credit card.

• Work with creditors. Request creditors reduce interest rates or create new payment schedules.

• Make extra payments when you can. Use unexpected cash, such as a gift, raise or tax refund, to make extra payments.

• Plan now for next year. Start putting away a little extra cash for next year’s holiday season. Consider opening a holiday account with your financial institution.

If you’re unable to get your financial situation under control, a credit counseling agency can help teach you how to manage your money and assist in negotiating payments with creditors. They can also put you in a debt management plan, which allows you to make one payment to the agency, which then pays your creditors. You can contact BBB for a list of trustworthy credit counseling agencies or reports on ones you’re considering. Visit www.bbb.org or call (937) 222-5825 or (800) 776-5301.

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John North is president of the Dayton Better Business Bureau.

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