Make 2009 the Year of Financial Freedom

If you’re anything like most Americans, money is at the root of your New Year’s resolution. Most of us bid goodbye to 2008 with our wallets a bit thinner and our spending a bit humbler. Maybe you’ve pledged to cut back on expenses, get out of debt, or start saving for a house or your kids’ college education. Here at DebtStoppers, we’ve got the tools to make 2009 the year you reach those goals.

To help jumpstart your resolution, I thought I would devote a few posts to some finance basics. Over the next week or two, we’ll look at why it’s so important to pay off your debts, how much you should be saving and where to find the money, what to do if you’re in danger of losing your home and more.

For today, let’s start with credit cards—more specifically, credit card debt. I have it, you have it—in fact, the average American carries nearly $10,000 of it. It was a huge factor in last year’s economic meltdown and it’s also the reason most of us struggle to pay our bills.

But don’t take a pair of scissors to your wallet just yet. Credit cards aren’t exactly evil. Well, maybe they are, but they’re somewhat of a necessary evil. If you didn’t use one at all, you wouldn’t be able to build up a credit history. And without a history, lenders wouldn’t trust you enough to loan you the money to buy a car or house or to pay for a college education.

The problem arises, however, when we use credit for everyday purchases. Because plastic doesn’t require cash upfront, it’s tempting to spend a little extra at the grocery store or on gifts for the kids. And it’s hard to say no to credit when the car or heating unit needs repair. Why wait until you get the money, right?

But unlike cash, check or debit, credit comes with strings attached. Creditors aren’t giving you a waiting period to pay out of the kindness of their hearts. For the “favor” of loaning you money, they want something in return—interest. So that $1,000 flat-screen TV you just put on your card? At 25% interest annually, it will actually cost $1,250 (well, probably more because most interest rates are not flat, but compounding—but that’s another story).

Most cardholders get caught up in a vicious cycle. You want to stop spending more than you make, but you’re paying so much in interest that you can’t afford to make necessary purchases without your card—therefore you continue to rack up debt.

So what can you do to break free? Start paying down your debt—it will be much easier to wean yourself off the plastic if you do. I can’t guarantee the process will be painless, but it can be done. And it will save you money and stress in the long run.

Best yet, you don’t have to do it alone. We can walk you through it. You’ve already discovered this blog—keep reading for a wealth of tips and advice. Consider signing up for a free debt analysis with one of our debt relief attorneys. Or get a crash course in money matters at our free community workshops, Jan. 15 in Chicago or Jan. 22 in Atlanta (you’ll also be eligible to win a laptop or GPS system). This can be the year you free yourself from debt. Let’s get the ball rolling.

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