Here's a winning game plan if your financial life is out of control.
By Suze Orman
Photo: Marc Royce
Create new truths. Recast your current problems into proactive goals. Rather than saying, "My checking account is a wreck," change it to "I will learn how to track my spending and balance my checkbook." Shift your intentions from victim to victor.
Take free money. No matter how in debt you are, if your employer offers a matching contribution on a 401(k) or other retirement vehicle, you must sign up and contribute enough to get the maximum company match each year. Think of it as a bonus.
Find $50 a month for savings. No excuses! As I explained to the woman in the second question, when we stop and analyze whether a purchase is necessary before we reach the cash register, it's amazing how often the answer is no. Commit to that exercise every time you pull out your credit card and I'm sure you will free up $50 or more a month to deposit into savings. And I want you to make this decision easier by setting up an automatic monthly transfer from your checking account to your savings. Online banks such as emigrantdirect.com, ingdirect.com, and igobanking.com offer competitive yields.
Tackle the house of cards. Pull out your credit card statements and find the interest rate you pay on each card. If any of them tops 15 percent and you know your credit score is at least 700 or so, call customer service and ask for the rate to be dropped to under 10 percent. Trust me, the success rate on this simple move is astounding. If your score isn't good enough to get a rate reduction, look into transferring to a card with a low or no introductory rate. Another option is to focus on making extra payments each month on the card with the highest rate (not the highest balance). Paying even $20 more than the minimum due each month will speed up your repayment schedule. Do each of these steps, one at a time, and no Prince Charming will be necessary.
Suze Orman's latest book is Women & Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny (Spiegel & Grau).