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Editorial: Try these tips to get your way out of debt

In today's challenging economic times, everyone can use some help in stretching their hard-earned dollars.

The following is some timely advice from the financial counselors at The Village Family Service Center that offer consumers a formula to financial success:

n Review your credit report. Much of your financial future depends on the contents of your credit report. Therefore, your first step should be to obtain your report, review it for accuracy and dispute any errors. Since you can access your credit report free of charge, there is no reason to neglect this important piece of your financial life. Consumers are allowed one free report from each of the three major bureaus once every 12 months. Access your report from

n Obtain your credit score. The three digits that comprise your credit score are a major dictator of whether or not the lender will extend credit, and at what interest rate. It is likely that you'll have to pay to purchase your score, but it will be money well-spent.

n Reduce debt. If you've dug a deep financial hole, stop digging. Piling new debt on top of old is a red flag that you are living beyond your means. Lock up the credit cards until they're paid in full, and meanwhile, reach out for help from a legitimate credit counseling agency sooner rather than later.

n Commit to save. Americans are great spenders and lousy savers. Without a well-funded savings account, you are on a very slippery slope, one that becomes treacherous with the next unplanned expense. Put 10 percent of each take-home check into a savings account.

n Get financially organized. Create your own personal financial center where you can instantly put your hands on your family's financial records.

n Avoid incurring late fees. Pay your bills the day you receive them. This way you'll never risk the creditor receiving your payment after the due date. Delaying could result in you being charged a late fee, a ding to your credit report and a lower credit score.

n Avoid paying overdraft fees. A receipt stuffed into your car visor isn't simply being unorganized. It can cost you. Get into the habit of recording each transaction into your check register on the spot. Also take the time to balance your checkbook each week, and reconcile your bank statement each month.

n Track your spending for 30 days. Have everyone in the household who spends money participate in this exercise. Write down every cent that is spent, as it's the small, miscellaneous expenses that often wreck the best of plans. At the end of the month, come together to review the spending.

n Create a spending plan you can live with. Once you've tracked your spending, you can then make conscious decisions as to how you want to allocate the money. Continue tracking with the new plan in place. Keep doing so until you find a plan that is right for your family.

n Take advantage of free money. Contribute the maximum amount to your retirement plan at work, or at the very least, meet the matched amount or you're throwing away free money. Also inquire about the availability of Flexible Spending Accounts or Health Savings Accounts.

n Investigate refinancing your mortgage. Even though rates of late have been rising, they are still very low, potentially saving you significant money over the life of your loan. Do not extend the term of your loan, however, in order to get a lower monthly payment unless this is absolutely necessary to stay afloat.