National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Debt: Get Out and Stay Out

BY PHIL LENAHAN

July 16-22, 2006 Issue | Posted 7/17/06 at 9:00 AM

 

My wife and I have struggled with debt constantly for the last 10 years. Just as it seems we are making progress on reducing the credit card balances, a major expense occurs that we have to charge. We are getting weary of being in this bondage. Can you show us how to get off of this seesaw?

You’ve asked a great question and it’s an issue that plagues many people today. Scripture reminds us in Proverbs 22:7 that “the borrower is the slave of the lender.” Given your use of the never-ending seesaw metaphor, I sense you feel that bondage.

In order to pay down your debts, you’ll want to create an overall plan that will ensure your success. I suggest you use what I call the Accelerator Repayment Plan. It’s really very simple. Here are its four steps.

— Make a commitment to go no further into debt. If you can’t muster the discipline to avoid purchases that you can’t pay off immediately, cut up your credit cards.

— Make sure that you have a $2,000 emergency fund. It’s important that you establish an initial fund even before you begin paying down your debts. Otherwise, you’ll find that Murphy’s law strikes, and you’ll be confronted with “surprise” expenses that will force you to add to your existing credit-card balances. I’m reminded of a game I once played at a national pizza chain. I call it the Gopher Game. A gopher pops out of a hole and you are supposed to hit it with the mallet. When you do, another gopher pops out of another hole. Trying to pay down your debts without an emergency fund is a lot like that.

— Develop a realistic budget that includes a monthly amount dedicated to debt repayments. Your budget should balance after taking this monthly payment into account. As you’re developing this plan to determine how much you can allocate to debt repayment, use the Accelerator Repayment Plan calculator at VeritasFinancialMinistries.com to consider different scenarios. As long as you know how much you owe and the average interest rate, you can play “what if” scenarios to see how long it would take to be debt free at different payment levels.

— The Accelerator Repayment Plan requires that you prioritize your debts for repayment. My preference, and the one that saves the most money, is to list your debts in order based on interest rate, with the highest rate debt listed first. Some people prefer to list the smallest debt first. They receive encouragement when the smaller credit card balances and monthly statements go away relatively quickly. Choose the method that will work best at motivating you.

Once you’re debt-free, think of the freedom of having the excess funds available each month for other purposes. You can pay your mortgage off early, save for retirement, start a college fund — and even have some fun.

God love you!

Phil Lenahan is founder

and president of Veritas Financial Ministries

and author of 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free (OSV).