Expert tips to fight off the credit card blues on Blue Monday
Josh K. Elliott, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, January 15, 2018 9:25AM EST
Last Updated Monday, January 15, 2018 10:24AM EST
You can’t change the weather or the calendar, but there are ways to manage the financial blues with these expert tips for tackling post-holiday credit card debt on today’s so-called “Blue Monday.”
Canadians spent an average of approximately $1,500 on Christmas this year, personal finance expert Rubina Ahmed-Haq says. And for those who paid for those expenses on credit, the bills are about to come due.
But Ahmed-Haq says those bills don’t have to ruin the start of 2018, so long as you take a sober look at what you owe and follow her three simple tips for erasing that debt as soon as possible.
1. Figure out what you owe
Ahmed-Haq says the first step to paying off your debt is to determine exactly what you owe in the first place. That not only means accounting for credit card, line of credit and personal loan debts, but also for any December bills you haven’t paid off yet. She says those bills can be easy to overlook in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, but now’s the time to face reality and address them.
“Write down everything you owe,” she told CTV’s Your Morning on Monday. “Calculate all that and then start to tackle it.”
2. Figure out how to pay it off
Ahmed-Haq says it’s important to pay off the highest-interest debts first, then to pay down as much as possible on your smaller debts too, so you avoid racking up interest. Utility bills should also be paid off as soon as possible to avoid high late fees.
She strongly recommends using a line of credit to pay off other bills because the interest rate is typically lower. “Consolidating debt is a really good idea,” she said. “But don’t think you’ve washed your hands of the credit card debt.”
For those carrying somewhere around $1,500 in debt, Ahmed-Haq suggests setting up a payment strategy to spread the payments out, but still get it all paid off by Mother’s Day.
“Right before the summer comes you’re going to feel a lot better about your financial situation,” she said. Ahmed-Haq says getting debt paid off before summer is particularly important because it tends to be an expensive season.
3. Find a credit counsellor
For those who find themselves in dire straits, Ahmed-Haq says it’s wise to enlist the help of a credit counsellor. She suggests choosing one from the federal government’s list of trusted counsellors and asking them for help with escaping your debt as soon as possible.
“They can look at your situation holistically,” Ahmed-Haq said.
The only downside to enlisting a credit counsellor, she says, is they “might make you really cut down on your lifestyle.”
But, whether you hire a debt counsellor or not, Ahmed-Haq says it’s a good idea to write down everything you spend for the next three months, so you can get a good sense of the little expenses that are costing you big time.
Credit Canada CEO Laurie Campbell says enlisting an advisor to help with your debt can be hugely beneficial for both your wallet and your mental health.
“The problem with money is that people often don’t reach out,” she told CTV News Channel on Monday. “They try to deal with it on their own and that causes actually more stress.”
She says approximately one in five Canadians have more debt than savings, which can put lead to a “snowball effect” that only buries people deeper in debt, especially when it comes to high credit card interest rates.
“The minimum payment’s going to mean that they never, ever get to pay some of this debt off, and they’re paying three times for the items that they purchased on those credit cards,” she said.
That problem only worsens if you fail to get out of debt after Christmas, she said. “If you continue to overspend like that, chances are that you’re really not getting ahead financially because you’re going into the next Christmas trying to pay off the Christmas before.”
Campbell says the best plan for managing this year’s Blue Monday is to set yourself up for a “green” Monday next year, with a plan that will keep you out of debt in the first place.
“Get rid of that high interest credit card debt,” she said. “put a plan in place. Include all family members.”