We are taught many things throughout our lives: math, chemistry, English, philosophy, physics, and so on.
Yet, we are rarely taught crucial practical life lessons such as how to manage our finances, how to select the right type of insurance, or how to calculate our taxes until we are abruptly confronted with these things as adults entering the workforce.
Debt is no exception—it’s so easy to avoid sticking to a budget in favor of buying anything your heart desires, even if you don’t have the money to pay for it.
Debt has a way of accumulating at a startling rate until it becomes an overwhelming burden that keeps you awake at night.
Here are some of the easiest debt traps to fall into and how to avoid them.
1. Credit Card Debt
The cycle of seemingly endless credit card debt is grounded in the distorted perception of how these “magical” cards work.
Many people regard credit cards as though they are actual money that they can rely on in case of an emergency, or for purchases they can’t afford.
Others justify their credit card expenditures because they are “collecting points” to use for travel, only to realize later that it takes a LOT of spending to amount to anything substantial.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with occasionally using your credit card, but not if you are spending beyond your means and unable to significantly pay down the balance every month.
High-interest rates that accrue day after day can seriously destroy your budget, and if you have multiple credit cards, your debt can quickly spiral out of control. Instead, you should only be using your credit card if you know that you can—and will—pay it off at the end of the month.
It’s never too late to change your behavior. First and foremost, STOP using your credit cards, even if that means locking them in a home safe or hiding them somewhere clever, like behind a photo in a picture frame or the pages of a favorite book.
Whatever your tactic, putting your credit cards in a place that’s difficult to access will be less tempting than carrying them around in your wallet.
Once you stop racking up your credit cards, you should create a budget with a payment plan and stick to it.
2. Evaluate Major Purchases and Avoid the Rent-to-Own Trap
Anytime you take out a loan for anything that’s not part of a substantial long-term investment, ask yourself if it’s worth it.
If you owe a lot of high-interest debt, then a consolidation loan can be the difference between sinking deeper into debt and being able to enjoy your life still while intelligently paying it off.
Remember that every time a loaning institution gives you money, you will pay more money back than they gave you.
But when you are looking towards a longer-term purchase such as a mortgage, home renovations that add value to your property, a car loan, or a student loan that lands you a high-paying career, then the negatives of paying back that loan are outweighed by all the benefit you’ll get from the improvements in your lifestyle.
Renting-to-own is another debt trap.
Many chain and department stores will allow you to buy appliances, furniture, and even computers through a weekly rental payment plan.
The two major flaws in this type of loan are:
a) When you add up the amount of the weekly payments, you will always be paying ways more than the market value of whatever you’re renting.
b) If you miss a payment, chances are the store will be unforgiving and take the merchandise back, no matter how much money you’ve already paid into it.
In the age of eBay and Craigslist, quality furniture, electronics, and appliances can often be bought at a fraction of their retail price.
If you don’t have the money to buy something outright, consider purchasing it used before signing up for a rent-to-own item.
Related: How to Make an Extra $500 a Month
3. Payday Loans
Payday loans are one of those debt traps that sneak up on you.
These small loans are designed to “help you out” financially until your next paycheck, at which point you are supposed to repay the loan.
However, because the interest is so high and they are already spending ahead of what they earn, many individuals cannot pay back the loan in full when it is time for repayment.
This can put the loan in default, with you needing to take out another loan to repay the original one.
This soon becomes a never-ending cycle of debt.
The best way to avoid this is to put an extra $50 or $100 per paycheck into a separate savings account that you can withdraw from if you need extra money before payday.
That way, you are in control.
4. Paying Late or Not at All
This tip is simple, important, and yet is so often overlooked.
If you avoid making minimum payments or make them late, this means you are reducing your credit score and losing money over time.
Add your payment due dates to your calendar with a reminder so that you don’t forget.
At the very least, you should make the minimum payment.
If you don’t trust yourself to remember to pay on time, consider using an automatic payment system (although the drawback is that funds may be withdrawn a bit earlier than you are anticipating, like the night before).
Regardless, setting a debt payment plan is a critical part of this, as it ensures that you are spending only within your means with a structured schedule that dictates regular payments.
5. Paying Only the Minimum Amount Due
Although only making your minimum payments is sometimes a necessity when money is tight, it can be severely damaging to your finances in the long run.
Owing a substantial amount of debt for a long time can also make it difficult to get approved for future loans.
While student loans in your youth shouldn’t make a later home loan untenable, frequently this is the case.
Minimum payments also have far higher interest rates, meaning that by the time you are done paying you will have spent much larger amounts than if you had more substantial payments over a shorter amount of time.
If you are already financially strapped and cannot increase your loan payments, we suggest two courses of action.
First, rework your budget to find more available funds, then figure out which loan you could pay off the fastest. Reduce all other loans to minimum payments while you tackle it, and then, rework your loans again and pay off the next easiest one.
Repeat this cycle until you have just one loan that you are paying back regularly.
While many people struggle with debt, it doesn’t mean that you have to.
Being mindful about spending your hard-earned money and avoiding these common debt traps will help to set you and your family up for long-term financial security and happiness.
Schedule a free consultation today for a risk-free debt assessment. The only thing you have to lose is your debt.