The joy of yelling at your friends over the roar of a crowded bar, the dizziness of seeing the world rushing under you from the seat of an airplane, the strangely awkward feeling of wearing pants that aren’t stretchy – the summer 2021 has brought many experiences that we have given up in the last year and a half of the pandemic.
But this push to recreate a world that looked something like “normal” may have brought back another familiar feeling: the anxiety of going into debt.
If your summer “revenge” spending has resulted in a return on your investment in the form of lingering debt, make a plan to pay it off. Next, think about how to keep yourself from getting into more debt as you navigate the progress and setbacks on the path to normalcy.
TAKE OVER YOUR DEBT – AND FIND YOUR PATH OF REPAYMENT
Whether you’re coming back to spending most of your time at home or killing time in an airport terminal before a flight, find the time to settle your debts and choose a repayment strategy.
First, understand exactly how much you owe and to whom. If you don’t know all the details, Certified Financial Planner Pamela Rodriguez in Sacramento, Calif. Suggests removing your credit reports, which you can do for free.
“Getting your credit report out is probably the fastest way to find out what you owe because you can’t hide from your credit report,” says Rodriguez.
Using a spreadsheet, pencil and paper, or a debt repayment app, list your debts. Include the balance, interest rate, and minimum monthly payment for each. Make sure you factor in all forms of debt like buy now, pay off loans later.
Next, take a look at your income and expenses to see how much money you can invest to get into debt and where you can reduce your expenses. If you’re spending more at restaurants than six months ago, for example, try cutting that down to free up money to pay off debt.
Then choose a strategy to pay it off. Here are some common tactics:
DEBT SNOWBALL: With the debt snowball, you first channel your debt repayment energy to the smallest balance while making minimum payments on the rest. Once the smaller debt is eliminated, roll the amount you paid onto the next smaller debt. As you clear your debts, the payment amount continues to grow like a snowball until you are debt free.
DEBT AVALANCHE: With this method, you pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first. Then, as with the debt snowball method, once this is paid off, you transfer the payment to your debt with the next highest interest rate.
BALANCE TRANSFER CREDIT CARD: If your credit score is high enough to qualify for it, a credit card with a 0% APR promotional period can help you pay off debt faster and cheaper than keeping it on the original credit card. Make sure to clear the balance before the end of the 0% promotional period to avoid paying interest.
Whichever payment path you choose, it’s important to pick one and commit. Procrastinating between a few different options can cost you time and money as debt continues to accumulate interest.
“People are overloaded with decisions when looking to pay off their debt,” says Thomas Nitzsche, financial educator at the nonprofit credit counseling agency Money Management International. “Just accept that you’re going to have to do something and find a way to get over that emotional barrier. “
If you can’t see a way to pay more than the monthly minimum on your debt, consider calling a nonprofit credit counseling agency for free help with budgeting and debt.
KNOW YOUR SPENDING HABITS AND TRIGGERS
If your summer debt was the result of spending revenge, look for the triggers that caused you to spend too much money to avoid falling back into debt in the future. For many, this may have been an opportunity to experience something they were deprived of in the first year of the pandemic. While travel and dining out are safer for people with the vaccine, these activities can drain your budget. Rodriguez suggests finding more affordable ways to enjoy the activities you’re looking for.
“If you can think of the one thing you’ve been deprived of, find a smaller scale,” Rodriguez says. “So a smaller scale trip would be a local adventure, and it’s so much more financially manageable.”
The way forward in the pandemic seems likely to have a number of starts and stops, with concomitant opportunities to spend or save money. Take advantage of the times when you can cut spending and spend more money on debt. Having manageable debt – or no debt at all – gives you more options whenever the world is ready to fully reopen.
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