Financial Adulthood

"If I only knew then what I know now, what would I have done differently?" This is a question that every early adult should ask herself when moving from economic instability to financial adulthood. If you've had trouble managing your debt as a result of poor choices or unfavorable circumstances it can be difficult to know exactly where to begin in order to make a change. Whether you're struggling to pay back your student loan debt or looking for a way to repair damaged credit, these four simple steps will point you in the right direction.

Step 1. Don’t Ignore Your Debt!

“Out of sight…Out of mind” are not words to live by when it comes to debt. Ignoring your debt will not make it go away. In fact, neglecting to address your financial and credit issues only exacerbates the problem. A better approach is to simply list all of your debts so that you have a clear and realistic picture of your financial situation. Next, determine how much you can afford to repay each month until you have paid off all that you owe. By developing a repayment strategy you put yourself in control. Stick to your plan and pay your bills on time! Late payments are harmful to your credit.

Step 2. Obtain your credit report.

In order to repair your credit, you must know exactly what is in need of repair. The best way to find out is to request a copy of your credit report directly from the credit bureau. According to the FACT Act, all U.S. citizens are entitled to one free copy of their credit report each year. This report will list your debts and payment history. This one simple step is the perfect place to start to repair some of the damage done during those young, wild, and free college years. There are three major credit reporting agencies that can provide your free annual credit report; TransUnion, Experian, and Equfax. Take the time to carefully review your credit report. Look for information that may be inaccurate or flat-out false. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, can help simplify the process. You have the right to challenge and request to have any erroneous or unverifiable information removed. This may seem intimidating initially, but you CAN do it!

Step 3. Credit Cards.

The stereotypical starving college student barely has money for food, let alone the means to keep up with the latest fashion, tech, and pop-culture trends. Some do without. Others have just “gotta have it!” A department store card here, a credit card there and before you know it you’re up to your neck in credit card debt. A smart move, if you have both credit card and student loan debt, is to go after the credit card debt first. The interest rate on your credit cards is likely much higher than the rates on your student loans. If this is true for you, tackle the credit card debt, and protect your credit from the nasty effects of high balances and missed or late payments, by paying off the most expensive cards first. What this means is, work to pay off the balance on the cards with the highest interest rates first while maintaining the minimum monthly payments on the others. Then tackle the next highest interest rate, and so on until your credit card debt is wiped out! It’s that simple.

Step 4. Develop a Budget

The fact is that many people face financial hardship and even crisis at some point. Your situation doesn’t have to go from bad to worse. Take control of your finances by getting real with yourself about your spending. Make a true assessment of how much money you have coming in and going out every month. List your income from all sources. List your “fixed” expenses such as rent or mortgage, food, transportation. List your variable expenses such as clothing, entertainment, and recreation. Analyze your spending habits, prioritize your spending, and create some financial goals. Once you determine your priorities, be disciplined so that your spending reflects what you truly value.

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