When it comes to financial priorities, most Canadians say that becoming ‘debt-free’ is at the top of their list – but in the last year, almost half believe they didn’t come any closer to achieving that goal.
According to a poll of 1,000 Canadians by Manulife Bank of Canada, most Canadians didn’t take advantage of the low interest rates to make an extra mortgage payment. About 29% said their debt increased in the past year, and another 17% saw no change in their debt levels.
If you fall into the above group, here are some tips for devising a debt management plan:
1. Figure out how much debt you have.
While it may be painful, the only way to lower your debt level is to know where it stands. Make a list of all the debt you owe – including credit cards, car loans, lines of credit, mortgage debt and student loans.
2. Track and analyze your spending.
For some people, it’s easy to pinpoint how they got into debt. For others, it’s not as clear. Bring a notebook out with you for a week and jot down everything you buy – from coffees to clothing purchases. If you’re more of a virtual banker, comb through your bank and credit card statements from the past month or two to see where your money is going. Experts say most households waste up to 15% of their take-home income. Find out where that waste is, and determine ways to put it towards your debt.
3. Come up with a plan.
Keeping your current habits in mind set an achievable spending and debt reduction plan. Prioritize your debt, with credit card debt as the most urgent to pay off, and car loans, mortgage debt and then student loans rounding out the bottom of the priority list. If possible, see if consolidating your debt – either to one low-interest credit card, or a home equity line of credit – is an option. I have had many clients lately using their home equity to consolidate debt. Mortgage rates are very low right now, for example the 3% range when compared to a credit card that may have an interest rate of 18%.
4. Create debt-free habits.
Once your debt is paid off, it’s important to start saving. A credit card should not be used if you don’t have the money to pay it off at the end of the month. Instead, you should aim to have a significant “cash cushion” to pull from when unforeseen expenses arise.