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A 5 Step Debt Management Plan You Can Start Today

The stress of multiple debt sources can be overwhelming. Here's a 5 step debt management plan that you can start today.

Do you have multiple payment accounts that are hard to juggle? Trying to keep all of your lenders happy can seem impossible. If debts are piling up and you’re feeling desperate, you’re not alone.

According to Gerald Geddes, CPA, founder and owner of Geddes & Company, there is hope. Geddes counsels hundreds of families a year, and since starting his practice in 1990, has learned a thing or two about debt management on the practical level. I caught up with Geddes to get his take on a 5 step debt management plan to take control of your debt, once and for all.

Step 1: Get a handle on how much you owe. Geddes says you can’t start working toward debt management if you don’t know where on the map you’re starting. “Get it all in one place,” he says. “A spreadsheet or a spiral notebook will work.” Or if you’re tech-savvy, use an online tool to assess your starting point.

Step 2: Find the best non-profit credit counselor and start a conversation about debt management. You may be surprised at what a relief it is to have someone knowledgeable show you the options, especially if you’ve gotten to a point of losing hope.

If you’re getting calls from collection agencies, it’s tempting to dodge them, especially if you don’t know how to negotiate. But according to Geddes, that’s the wrong move. “Don’t dodge collection calls,” he says. “The guy on the other end of the phone is trying to make a living, and he’s got a tough job.” Instead, let your credit counselors negotiate for you. They know exactly which questions to ask, and what creditors can do for you. Often, a non-profit credit counselor can get fees waived, rates lowered, and terms extended on your behalf.

Step 3: Simplify. Depending on what you and your credit counselor decide, it may be best to stop juggling multiple payments and move to a once-a-month installment. Your credit counselor, having already negotiated for you, can do the juggling from here on out. That means she’ll make sure every creditor is happy, and you’re not drowning anymore. You’ll still get monthly statements from each lender, so you can stay engaged and aware.

Step 4: Replace temptations with information. The best credit counselors offer copious information about budgets, scams, credit scores and even insurance so that you’re ready when a question or situation comes up. Be sure the debt management team you choose supplies a steady stream of educational material for you to stay aware of trends and tips that may help in avoiding more debt. Then, use that material. Nix the sports page for a daily money blog, for example.

Step 5: Stay Inspired. While your credit counselors go to work for you, your job is to stay within a reasonable budget, and keep yourself inspired for life-after-debt. “We are trained in America to spend like crazy,” says Geddes, laughing. “To that end, you have been a good ‘crazy’ American. When you get to the other side of your debt, you will become a great sane American.” So list your spending triggers and be aware of them.

Staying positive may be hard right now, but you can do it. Post a picture of your motivation in a prominent place like your car’s dashboard or bathroom mirror. “Keep your chin up,” says Geddes. Since a happy financial future can be achieved with a 5 step debt management plan, it’s worth your best effort. It won’t be easy, but it will be so rewarding to write that final check, and breathe a sigh of relief.

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