Q: I have tried to make a budget and follow it, but it always seems to fail and my debt keeps growing. How can I make a budget and then stick to it?

A: Making a budget and sticking to it requires honesty, determination, and support. The links provided will take you to detailed worksheets and other information to get you started and help you every step of the way. Additional Tips to Remember:

  • Be honest with yourself: Admit you have a problem and that only you can solve it by creating a budget and sticking to it. To determine whether you have a problem with debt, take the Debt Warning Signs Quiz.
  • Make a complete and honest list of all your debts and expenses using the Assess Your Debt calculators. Create a realistic budget, one that will cover your needs and will enable you to start paying off your debt, and get you on track to begin saving. Set attainable goals and a timeframe to achieve those goals.
  • Stop spending. At first this may be hard, but over time healthier financial habits will become easier. Be honest about things that you absolutely "need" vs. things you "want." Understand that not spending on things you want may be hard, but that it will bring its own rewards as you start feeling positive about getting out of debt. For more information, visit Paying Off Your Debt.
  • Realise it is not easy, and don't get discouraged. It takes determination and requires making some sacrifices. It took time for you to get into debt, and it will take you some time to pay off your debt. If you stick to your plan, you can do it.

Concentrate on all the benefits of a debt-free life, and decide that this time, you are going to achieve your goal. To learn about the fundamentals of debt, review the section on Budgeting Step 1.

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Q: I feel like I am accumulating too much debt but don't know if I am really in trouble or not. How can I tell?

A: If you think you are getting into debt trouble, you probably are. If you are spending more money then you are taking in each month, you are accumulating debt that will quickly add up. And, if you haven't saved for those unexpected occurrences that happen to all of us - like a leaky roof, a health problem, or a car breakdown, you may have incurred large debt. Some common symptoms of debt trouble include paying only the minimum due, paying late, or missing payments altogether.

Additional MasterCard Resources:

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Q: What can I do if I am unable to make even the minimum monthly payments on my credit card bills?

A: As soon as you realise you cannot make even the minimum monthly payment on your bills, contact each lender right away and explain your situation. You may be able to arrange a lower minimum payment, or interest rate, or both. With a lower interest rate, less of your payment goes to interest and more of it goes to reducing your debt. If you arrange a different payment plan, and are able to stick to it, you will avoid late fees and other payment penalties that can add up to more debt.

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Q: I have received new lower rate credit card offers in the mail. Should I look at moving my account to a lower interest rate card?

A: Depending on the offer, and on your particular situation, it may or may not be a good idea to take advantage of a lower-rate credit card offer. A lower interest rate can help you pay off your debt more quickly because less of your payment goes to interest and more of it goes to reducing your debt. Securing a lower set interest rate may help you pay off your debt sooner.

However, it is very important to study the details of the offer: whether the lower rate is permanent or an "introductory" rate that will rise after a specific length of time, such as six months; and whether the lower rate is "variable" or "fixed." Variable rates are often tied to the prime rate, and rising long-term interest rates could lead to an interest rate that is actually higher than the one you already have. You should also check for fees for transferring balances and any other charges that you may incur. Also check the terms and understand how, if you make a payment late or fail to make a payment, the interest rate will automatically go up, and, if so, to what percent.

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Q: What are the biggest mistakes people make when trying to pay off their debt? How can I avoid them?

A: The biggest mistakes people make when trying to pay off their debts are:

  • Thinking that it is going to be too hard and thus not trying
  • Thinking that it is going to be easy and then giving up quickly or making bad choices.

Paying off debt can be one of the most difficult things in one's life, and it may take years to achieve. But it is possible. And the rewards are worth it. Before taking what may appear to be "the easy way out," remember the advice that, "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is." Unscrupulous debt consolidation "specialists" may offer you the moon and leave you in worse financial shape than you were in when you started. Borrowing against your home can cause you to lose your home. And filing for bankruptcy will destroy what's left of your credit rating for the next 10 years. Use the information under Assess Your Debt and Pay Off Your Debt to make a plan that works for you.

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Q: If I feel I need professional help to get out of debt, where can I go and whom can I trust?

A: Once you are determined to get out of debt, a number of professionals are available to help you. A good starting point is the New Zealand Federation of Family Budgeting Service. More information on budgeting advice may be available from your Citizens Advice Bureau. You may also want to contact your lawyer, financial advisor or accountant. Guidelines on how to find good help and avoid fraud are provided in the Getting Help section.

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Q: What is the single most important thing I need to do to get out of debt?

A: 1. Stop spending and start paying off your debt today;

2. Be totally honest with yourself about how you got there in the first place and start changing how you deal with your finances; and

3. Set attainable goals and resolve to do whatever it takes to become debt-free.

If you are honest about your debt problem and determined to solve it, you can do it. Visit Assess Your Debt for detailed worksheets and Pay Off Your Debt for other information to get you started and help you every step of the way.

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Q: I lost my job and don't have any income coming in, what can I do about my bills?

A: Losing a job is traumatic and dealing with your bills can seem impossible or be the last thing you feel like doing. However, acting quickly can mean the difference between being able to manage your bills and getting into debt trouble.

First, stop spending and start saving money where you can. Then, if you cannot pay your bills, contact your creditors. Tell them about your situation and ask whether you can arrange a lower payment, or a lower interest rate, or both to help you stay current on your bills until you have income coming in again.

By contacting your creditors as early as possible, instead of waiting until you miss or are late with payments, you can avoid late fees and penalties that will make your debt situation worse. With a lower interest rate, less of your payment goes to interest and more of it goes to reducing your debt. You also may want to seek the help of a credit or debt-counseling firm and, fortunately, a number of reputable firms are available to help you.

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Q: I have thousands of dollars in medical bills, and feel there is no way I am ever going to be able to pay them. What should I do?

A: It's a good idea to cut your spending in other areas to free up money to pay toward your medical bills. You can also explore all your payment options and programs that may provide assistance.

Important steps to take:

  • Review your bills carefully to ensure they accurately reflect the services you received.
  • If you have health insurance, check each benefit statement to be sure that you are receiving coverage for all the services your plan provides.
  • If you don't have health insurance, talk to your hospital or health care provider about programs that offer free or discounted care. Most hospitals or medical institutions offer these programs. Some have counselors that will help you figure out these programs and help you with the paperwork. Your state or county also may offer programs for residents with incomes below a specified amount.
  • If you are unable to pay your medical bills on the payment terms offered, talk to your health care provider, hospital, or doctor about a payment plan.

If you are unable to pay other regular bills in full, let your creditors know your situation as soon as possible, and ask to work out realistic payment plans so you don't end up incurring additional costs such as late penalties or collection fees.

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Q: I have a lot of home equity, should I use this to pay off some of my debt?

A: Depending on your situation, it may - or may not - be advisable to use the equity in your home to pay off your debt. Taking out a home equity loan or second mortgage can put your home at risk. Learn more about Home Equity Loans to find out if this option might be appropriate for your situation.

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Q: There is no way I'm ever going to pay all my debts. Should I file for bankruptcy?

A: Bankruptcy should be considered only as a last resort. The process is lengthy, complex, and expensive, and it leaves a significant black mark on your credit record for a full 10 years. However, it may be the only way for some deeply in debt to regain financial control. More information can be found under Filing for Bankruptcy and Getting Help.

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