Create an accurate assessment of your debt situation.
Make a list, chart or whatever you’re most comfortable with, of all your debts. Be sure and include the amounts, interest rates, and expiration dates (especially on any no-interest for ## days type loans). Be sure and note any old accounts that you’ve got “laying around”, such as that department store credit account that you opened to get the 15% discount. You can now get a free credit report online. You should make sure that you’ve got a credit report and FICO score from each of the 3 national credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. The FTC advises monitoring your CREDIT REPORT activity ON ALL 3 BUREAUS. Under a new Federal law, you have the right to receive a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies. AnnualCreditReport.com allows you to request a free credit file disclosure (ie. Credit Report) once every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies. This free credit report won’t include your credit score, but it does give you a consolidated list of your debts, a record of requests for your credit history, and a summary of your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Once you’ve gotten your free credit report, you also need to get your Credit Score. You can get your Credit Score, along with daily 3 bureau credit monitoring and other great services from FreeCreditScore.com.
Make a budget and stick to it!
Making a budget helps keep from increasing your debt, while you’re trying to pay it down. Be specific and detailed in your budgeting. Except for emergencies, you should only be spending what is accounted for in your budget. Some people have found it helpful to keep a 30 day log of their spending. Carry a little notebook, or some index cards with you, and write down everything you spend each day. You’ll probably be amazed at how much money you spend on things you want, and don’t really need. The smallest things, such as that $3 cup of coffee every day, can slowly eat away at your finances. This will help keep you from getting further in debt. Your budget should define how much money you’ll send to each of your creditors monthly and how much you need for bills, and how much is left for discretionary spending. Try limiting your discretionary spending to things you can buy with “pocket cash”. This may be hardest thing you’ve ever done, but you won’t get further in debt if you only spend what you have.
Pay off the debts one by one.
Maintain minimum payments to the rest of the debts, but pick the debt with the highest interest rate, and send extra payments to pay it off. There is a proven psychological benefit to being able to take a debt off of your list.