Many people want to find a fast way to get their debt under control. But quick fixes such as selling settlement payments don't address the long-term issues. Here are three things you need to do:
1. Address the real problem. When we feel threatened and fearful, we tend to react first and think second. That's not a great scenario for making sound financial decisions. As I suggest for cash-strapped retirees, maybe the solution isn't a reverse mortgage but rethinking the long-term viability of staying in a home that may be too expensive.
2. Don't move the problem around. Raiding one pot—be it a structured settlement or your 401(k)—to pay a debt in another pot is simply transferring your problem, not solving it. When you deplete 401(k) savings to pay off credit card debt, you have applied a Band-Aid to the debt but opened a new wound: Your retirement savings are depleted.
3. Adjust your attitude toward spending. The only way you will ever permanently take control of your financial life is to dig deep and fix the root problem. For example, if you have credit card debt, there's a very good chance that what needs to change is your spending. There's a reason so many people who declare bankruptcy once end up back in bankruptcy court again: They continue to live beyond their means. I guarantee that if you make the commitment to changing your behavior so you can live without financial stress, you will have a vastly richer life.
Suze Orman's most recent book is her 2009 Action Plan: Keeping Your Money Safe & Sound (Spiegel & Grau).