Call in the Good Guys for Help
Mary had ten credit cards with combined balances of about $48,000—and five cards were charging her more than 20 percent interest. She makes $2,000 in payments each month, but at those high rates, the balances weren't coming down fast enough. I encouraged Mary to contact the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (nfcc.org; 800-388-2227). The NFCC, a nonprofit, is the group anyone with a debt problem should turn to. If you have the income to repay your debts—and Mary does—the NFCC will enroll you in a three- to five-year debt-management plan in which you make your monthly payment to the credit counseling service, which then makes payments on your credit cards, often at a greatly reduced interest rate.
Up Your Retirement Savings
Mary didn't contribute to her company's 401(k), which offers a 4 percent match. Initially my advice to her was to contribute enough to get the match, about $80 each month. But then I threw down a challenge: Contribute $700. Her monthly take-home pay is nearly $8,000, so that's not a wild stretch. Mary didn't see where the $700 would come from, but she doesn't have a strong sense of how she spends her money now. Having money pulled out of your paycheck before it hits your checking account is often the best way to get serious about tracking and trimming monthly spending. And I have a sense that Mary is going to be so proud to see her 401(k) balance growing that the retirement fund will be its own motivation.
After an hour-and-a-half conversation, I knew I had thrown a lot at Mary. Too much? No way. "I can't wait for the new me," she said. "I'm excited." Me, too.
Suze Orman's latest book is The Money Class: How to Stand in Your Truth and Build the Future You Deserve (Spiegel & Grau). To ask Suze a question, go to oprah.com/omagazine_talk.
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