Americans have had a decades-long love/hate relationship with debt. Year after year, we resolve to be more careful with our money and live within our means, and still, the average amount of personal debt keeps growing. At last count, that average had reached $38,000, and that doesn’t count mortgages. There’s also been a sharp uptick in debt held by older Americans, which is threatening the retirement security of an entire generation.
The statistics paint a pretty grim picture for today’s teens and twenty-somethings as they head off into a world that seems intent on swallowing every dollar they earn. The good news is that debt doesn’t have to be a life sentence. For those that are still in the early stages of the debt cycle, here are some tips to make sure that you put an end to it before it follows you for life.
If you’re young and in debt, there’s a pretty good chance that there are two major culprits: student loans and credit cards. That’s not especially good news, as student loans feature interest rates that keep going up and revolving credit sources like credit cards are notorious for high interest rates and fees. There is, however, one way that you can improve your situation on those fronts. If you are facing high interest rates on outstanding student loans and credit card balances, your first step to solving the problem is to explore consolidating the debt. The best way to consolidate credit card debt and student loan debt into a single balance will vary based on your specific situation (credit score, assets, etc.), but you will almost always end up with a lower interest rate than you started with, which should ease your overall debt burden.
After you’ve taken steps to consolidate your debt, the next thing you need to focus on is on controlling your spending. Failing to do this will guarantee you end up right back where you started in short order. To get your spending under control, it’s a good idea to create a budget and do everything in your power to stick with it. You don’t have to go it alone, though. Today, there are dozens of money management apps available with some pretty handy features to help keep your spending in check. The latest apps, like Cleo, even contain an AI-powered financial assistant that can help you choose when and how to spend your money. Just ask if you can afford something, and you’ll get an answer right on the spot.
Even when you’re operating with a tight budget, the real key to staying debt-free over the long term is finding a way to carve out some amount – no matter how small – each month to put away as savings. As difficult as that might sound, it’s almost always possible for anyone to accomplish. Even if you’re only able to squirrel away ten dollars at a time, it won’t take as long as you think to put together a pretty solid emergency fund, and even begin to build an investment portfolio. That offers the possibility of creating another source of income for you to rely on over the long term. Also, the sooner you start, the better, since statistics show that the majority of the ultra-wealthy start saving as teenagers – so you’ve probably got some catching up to do.
Being in debt is no laughing matter. It may seem like just a part of the modern reality we’re all facing, but the consequences can snowball pretty fast if you’re not careful (or even have an unexpected financial emergency). As Americans, we’re not doing as well as we should when it comes to maintaining a debt-free lifestyle. If you’re still young, though, you have the easiest path out of debt, and you don’t have to be another struggling statistic. So for once, listen to your elders and use these tips to change your finances for the better. You’ll be glad you did.