Dear saver:An old proverb goes like this: “The best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago.


Dear saver:An old proverb goes like this: “The best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago. The second best time is today.” That not only holds true for tree planting, but for making changes in how you deal with credit card debt as well.

Too often, consumers who are dealing with significant levels of debt feel overwhelmed by their situation, unsure if they can ever get control again.

Regret and guilt are common feelings, too. “How could I have let his happen? Will anything I do make a difference now?”

To paraphrase another wise saying, “A long journey starts with a single step.” What seems impossible can become manageable when you break things down to make small but effective changes in your financial life.

Here are some practical steps to shake off that debt paralysis and get started on our journey to a debt-free life today:

• Think this is happening to you? Start by reviewing your financial situation, with help from a trusted source, if you need it and set reducing debt as a goal.

• Look for ways to free up more money to pay down your debt. Track your spending and write out your monthly expenses. Create a spending plan, otherwise known as a budget, which includes your debt reduction goal. Prioritize your expenses now and see if you can cut back on some of the less important items. Involve the whole family in make changes.

• Identify how you are using credit and make changes. Don’t use credit to supplement your income. Establish an emergency fund. People who have a rainy-day fund are less likely to rely on credit when the unexpected happens. Don’t carry your credit card when you shop. You’ll be less likely to make impulse purchases.

• Make more than the minimum credit card payment. Credit card statements now tell you now long it will take to pay off your balance if you only make the minimum. That can be a real eye opener. Even an extra $10 can reduce pay off time by months.

Create your own debt repayment program. Try to pay a set amount each month on your credit cards and stick to it. As one card gets paid off, put that payment onto the next card with the highest balance or highest interest. Keep going until you are putting the entire payment on the last remaining card.

Look for automatic and easy ways to pay. Once you’ve identified how much you can pay each month, consider setting up online bill paying or direct account withdrawal to make the payments automatic.

Work with your creditors. If you encounter any problems repaying your debts, contact the creditor immediately and explain the situation. Creditors often will work with you to come up with an alternate payment arrangement for a short period of time.

Seek help from a credit counselor. If you have been unable to resolve your finances on your own, consider working with a nonprofit credit counseling agency that is a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, NFCC, to create a plan you can live with, one that helps you budget your money and repay your debt. A certified counselor can customize a spending plan that fits your lifestyle. There is a way out. To find it, contact an NFCC member agency by calling the NFCC referral line, (800) 388-2227 or going to www.nfcc.org or for the Kansas Web site, www.nfcc.org.kscccs.org.

Susan M. Jackson is the Harvey County Extension agent, family and consumer sciences and community development.