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Breaking the Debt Spiral

Once you accumulate any amount of debt, it’s hard to escape it.

For me, it went like this: I took out loans to relocate so I could go to graduate school. The small stipend I made teaching covered food, but I needed the loan to pay for rent, utilities, transportation, school supplies and clothes. When I graduated, I was excited to have a real job so I could start paying off my loan right away. In fact, I was so excited that I poured all my money back into the loan, leaving me with nothing to pay rent, utilities, transportation and clothes. So I put those things on a credit card. Then the next paycheck came, and again I enthusiastically paid off the credit card balance and the student loan payment, leaving me with nothing to pay for that week of groceries, utilities—you see where I’m headed. The Debt Spiral.

The Debt Spiral is different for everyone, but the escape plan can be largely similar at its core. And here it is: 

1. Track your spending.

You need a budget, but before you can create one, you need to know where you’re spending your money. I was convinced that my Debt Spiral came from bills, but once I tracked my purchases, I realized a lot of it came from little trips “here and there” to my favorite stores.

2. Make a budget.

It’s easier than it seems to make your own budget. You can check out my other article on getting started here, or find an app to help you do the work here.

3. Consolidate your debt.

If you’re someone who has debt in a lot of different places, it can feel even more overwhelming. Getting everything in one place, at one interest rate with only one monthly payment can be huge for how you conquer debt mentally in addition to financially. A personal loan or using home equity are a few common solutions.

4. Talk to someone.

It could be helpful to sit down with someone to make a plan and get your head above water. Our branch associates are here specifically to serve members, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Another option is to confide in a family member or friend you trust, who can hold you accountable. 

5. Set a goal or goals.

The aim is obviously “Get out of debt” but being as specific as you can will help you get there faster. Debt is as much a mental battle as it is a financial one. Start by setting small goals that lead up to a big one. Being able to accomplish many goals helps to build confidence and will keep you motivated. Since $60,000 seems nearly impossible pay off, set a more attainable goal to pay off $10,000 every six months. The more specific you are, the harder you’ll work to achieve what you’ve set for yourself. 

Remember, you’re not alone here. Debt is a reality for most Americans. In our history, the debt racked up in this current time is unprecedented. More than 60% of Americans are living in debt by credit cards alone—not even including loans or mortgages. But when you take charge, there’s a future for you that includes the possibility of being debt free.


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