The No. 1 question people ask me is: "How can I get out of debt?"
Perhaps my answers to the following questions from one of my online discussions this year will help if you're dealing with debt:
Q: We were able to consolidate some student loans last June - the government-backed ones - at a cheap rate. The private loans, more than $20,000, are still at about 14 percent interest. Lenders only want to sell us a home equity loan to consolidate. I don't want to do that. I refinanced two years ago at a really good rate. The student loan debt is in my husband's name; the mortgage is in my name. We married two years ago and I'm in no hurry to put the home in his name. I love him but I bought it before he was in the family. Also, why tie him up with the mortgage debt of $200,000 to consolidate $20,000? Any advice on how to get those private loans at a lower rate? Lenders are no help.
A: Um, you don't want to tie your husband up in the mortgage of the house you both live in because he wasn't in the "family" when you bought it? Isn't he family now?
Anyway, I agree I wouldn't refinance to pay off the student loan. The lenders are no help because they aren't your friends. Why would they want to help you? They are getting 14 percent interest. Good deal for them.
So instead of trying to find more borrowed money to pay off borrowed money, try something revolutionary. Pay the loans off with real money. Cut where you can so that you and your husband can aggressively pay off the student loans.
Q: I need some guidance on what to do with an upcoming $21,000 bonus. I can put up to half in my 401(k). We have saved $370,000 in our retirement accounts, and another eight months of living expenses in a money market account. We have no credit card debt, but $10,000 remains on our mortgage, $13,000 in car loans (at 5.25 percent). We make the final payment for college for our oldest child in two weeks, and our youngest child has free tuition for all four years. Any advice?
A: Pay off the mortgage and take $2,000 out of savings to finish paying off the car with the rest of the bonus money. Then stand in front of your house and yell, "WE ARE DEBT FREE!" Inspire others!
Q: I understand your aversion to debt, but I have had good luck taking advantage of extended financing offers with zero percent interest on purchases from computers to furniture to appliances. It is an easy way to manage cash flow and meet needs (broken computer and dying oven). Just be sure one is disciplined about making payments during the "free" period.
A: Ah, and therein lies the problem. Most people are not disciplined. I, too, have in the past taken advantage of such offers and paid off the goods well before the time when the interest rate kicked in. But then I thought: What if I lost my job or got disabled? The best intentions, right? If I wait to pay for what I want, I don't have to worry that I won't have the money at a later date. Remember, nothing is promised in the future - even your paycheck.