Magazine article USA TODAY

Erase Problems While You Still Are Able to. (Debt)

Magazine article USA TODAY

Erase Problems While You Still Are Able to. (Debt)

Article excerpt

With the economy slowing, now is the time to lower excessive household debt. Families currently in decent financial shape may find themselves in a serious state in the event that jobs disappear or other hardships occur. Some economists have said this high personal debt could be the economy's "Achilles' heel" as it softens. Although most debt problems are occurring among households with incomes below $50,000, according to the Federal Reserve, higher-income ones aren't immune.

Reducing debt isn't fun, nor is it always easy. Nevertheless, it is better to cut it now before a soft economy possibly reduces your income with which to pay the debt. The first step is to review your finances to see if you are vulnerable to debt problems. Most certified financial planners recommend that no more than 10-15% of take-home pay go to nonmortgage debt. That is debt paid to student, car, and/or personal loans, credit cards, etc. As a rough rule of thumb, many planners recommend that people aggressively target any debt whose interest rate runs 10% or more.

A note of caution here. Many people have refinanced their home mortgage or have taken out second mortgages, and more families may refinance as interest rates drop. The potential danger with this is that they often roll piled-up credit card debts, car payments, or other nonmortgage purchases into the refinancing--in short, they "mask" their nonmortgage debts inside their mortgage.

Assuming you have excessive debt you would like to reduce, what should you do? Here are several ideas from the Financial Planning Association, Denver, Colo.:

* Make a spending plan to document your income and expenses more precisely. Identify those monthly expenses you can eliminate or reduce in order to minimize the accumulation of additional debt and to free up funds to pay down existing debt. Delay buying a new car or new clothes, for example, or brown-bag lunch instead of eating out. …

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