April 2014

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Being in debt sucks, you should get out of it. America is HIGH on credit cards, loans and just living way beyond our means in general.  It’s got to stop because it’s simply a vicious cycle of madness, and will only end if you make the personal choice to do it in your own life.

“When you get in debt you become a slave.” -Andrew Jackson

It has been a long time coming for writing a blog on this topic. I write a lot about life-style and ways to accumulate wealth, but there is another side to the wealth coin and that side is DEBT. We all know what it is because at one time or another we have all been in it. For most people I meet, being in debt is a part of everyday American life that 99% of Americans live in day in day out. The other 1% owns all the wealth, and we can’t get to where they are because they are the ones lending the money 🙂 Imagine if we lived in a world where you couldn’t get a credit card or a loan. Think of how different the world would be, how much stress would be lifted off of you or your loved ones. What if you woke up tomorrow and you were magically at $0. How would that change your life? Here in America, we start getting credit card offers weeks before we turn 18 years old, with banks enticing you with instant gratification telling you to buy now and worry later. Sadly it has become a way of life here in the U.S. and I believe it will ultimately lead to our downfall. The powers that be do an incredible job keeping us in a constant state of denial, and for good reason too, because it’s hard to sell you on the idea of being ok with getting in to debt if they actually told you what you were really getting yourself in to.

Let me throw a couple of stats at you real quick on the US debt situation, then we will get in to your shit! * As of April 1, 2014, the official debt of the United States government is $17.6 trillion ($17,578,141,920,036).cols_ventura-39636 This amounts to:

  • $143,543 for every household in the U.S.
  •  103% of the U.S. gross domestic product.
  • 559% of annual federal revenues.
  • $55,372 for every person living in the U.S. (not including Americans Individual’s personal debt which is indicated below.)

U.S. household consumer debt profile:

  • Average credit card debt: $15,191
  • Average mortgage debt: $154,365
  • Average student loan debt: $33,607

James Quin from financialscense.com  writes: “The average hard-working, taxpaying American has been enslaved in debt of such proportions that they will never be able pay it off. Your share of the $17.6 trillion National Debt is now $55,372, and growing by $4,500 per year. Your share of the future unfunded liabilities, created by the people you elected, is approximately $350,000. This crushing burden is in addition to the $13.8 trillion of mortgage, credit card, student loan, and auto loan debt Americans have accumulated in the last three decades of delusion. Forty percent of all credit card users do not pay-off their credit card every month and carry an average balance of $16,000 at an average interest rate of 15%. Good to see the Wall Street banks passing along some of their 0% borrowing windfall to their “customers”. ” So what does this all mean? Well it’s simple, as a country we’re F*&%ed. As an individual, you may have a chance for redemption if you choose to take the hard road and opt out of the vicious cycle, but it won’t be easy. In this blog, I am going to share with you some of the key ideological changes I underwent as well as the actions that I took to get my debt managed, and eventually paid the f%^& off. If you do exactly what I tell you to do in this blog, you will be well on your way to getting out of debt for GOOD! I will explain how to cut your interest rates in 1/2 if not more. Here are the steps.

stop-bleeding-save-your-own-life1. Stop the bleeding – Ok, if you are serious about doing this, it’s time to make some hard decisions. I don’t mean like you need to tighten your belt a bit and cut back a little, I’ll equate this to a obesely overweight person that needs their stomach stapled, and triple by-pass heart surgery to stay alive. This means fire sale time. You go through your house and collect everything of any value that you don’t use. My indicator is: unless it’s a seasonal item like a snowboard, if it hasn’t been used for 6 months, sell it, thrown it out or give it to goodwill for a tax credit. Anything you own two of needs to be reduced to only one, after all, why do you need 2 anyway? This includes big ticket items like cars, motorcycles etc.  Next you need to look through your bank statement and find any subscriptions or monthly reoccurring charges that you don’t use on a regular basis. For example, expensive gym memberships, magazine subscriptions etc. Be vigilant, we are talking about things you don’t absolutely need, if you need your gym membership, I”l tell you how to save on that later on, but for now, just follow the directions. If your a person like my mom who needs to hold on to everything, than you need a close friend to help you through the process like a drug addict needs a sponsor to keep them in check, you can’t be trusted.

reality-check2. Reality Check – Time to get out of denial and face the truth. Gather all the statements of debts you have. College loans, car loans, credit cards, mortgages etc. Then start an excel spreadsheet to lay it all out. I’ve included the one I used that gave me a clear picture of what I owed and the percentage rates I was paying. (StevenEwolf.com Debt Worksheet). Once we have it all laid out on paper we have “THE NUMBER” meaning the price you will have to pay for freedom. For me that number was $160,000 in 2010, and I got it under control without a bankruptcy or credit help bullshit company. It can be done, if I can do it, you can too.

3.Budget time – Here is where you sit down with your loved one, or by yourself if your single and simply find out how much you are making imgres and how much you are spending. To get an idea of this, I strongly suggest you use a budget program like Mint.com. I used mint.com and still use today to mange my income, expenses and investments, it does all that for you in one simple program by collecting all your financial data and putting it in one easy place for you to see and manage. It will give you a snap shop of your current cash vs. debt as well as up to date information about every asset and liability you have. It will also allow you to create a budget based on your income so you can track and see exactly how much you are spending and what you are spending it (or wasting it) on. This can only be done once you figure out what your income is. If you are like me, and never had a constant pay check, this will give you data collected over a period of time to help you balance out your income as you receive it. 

Piggy-Bank-e13684380021284. Savings Strategy – What is savings you ask, well that’s money that you don’t spend, something that is not a familiar practice to my generation. Here is what it needs to look like, I’ll give you an example for an income of $5,000 per month. (I adopted this practice from the book The Richest Man in Babylon & Secrets of the Millionaire Mind  and customized it to fit my needs to get out of debt and build wealth)

*****Note, a tax savings account is necessary if you are a 1099 guy like me, if not don’t worry about, the government steals it from you already every pay period at your W-2 job. So for the sake of this example Red will indicate W-2 Person, and Green will indicate 1099 person.

:::EXAMPLE:::

Total Income $5,000

-20% ($1000) in to separate bank account specifically set aside for taxes.  Capital1 – 360 gives you free Savings and Checking account with no  Capital-One-360-Checking-Special-Offer minimums or ATM fees, that pays you a .75% yearly APR yield (5 times national average). If you follow this link to the right and you will get a $50 referral credit just for signing up through my link! (You see, pays to read my blog!) So do it NOW!

50% of whats left after taxes ($2,000) ($2500) Goes in to you spending budget. This is to be used to pay the mortgage/rent, gas utilities, car payment, food etc.

20% Goes in to savings. ($800) ($1,000) // This is money that you will invest in to something later, but don’t worry about that just yet because you don’t have any money yet, so just save it and if you are in serious debt, all of this money will go to pay off debt starting with high interest credit cards and loans 🙂

10% Goes in to the “emergency/big ticket item fund” ($400) ($500) // This is money for a new car or a trip, something you may want but don’t necessarily need so if shit hits the fan you can use the cash to get you out of a pickle, but the hawaii trip is not gonna happen this year as a result of it. 

10% Goes in to the “Play” fund ($400) ($500) // This is your money to blow on what ever you want. 

10% Goes in to the “Charity/Education Fund” ($400) ($500)

budget-clip-art(3)4. Budget Review – By following the example above you easily get a hold on your own personal spending, not lets cut some more monthly costs. Time to sit down, look at everything you decided to keep: memberships, subscriptions etc. If they don’t fit in to your budget, you need to cut back even more. It is however worth calling all of the entities and seeing if you can reduce the membership costs. I called my gym, they cut my membership rate in half, then I called some magazine I subscribed to, they gave me a year free, then the cable company, then my cell phone provider and so on. By the time I was done calling every single entity that I had a subscription with, I managed to hang on to one or two things I would have had to get rid of by just calling them and asking for a discount. Once you have accomplished getting this all together and knowing that you are at least not going negative every month, we can go to the next step.

credit-card5. The Credit Card Shuffle – Ok let do some plastic surgery. First pull out that debt sheet that you have downloaded from above. Remember the one where you wrote down the total amounts you owe. Ok, now pull out all of your credit cards and start calling each one, here is what you need to find out, and do this exactly like I tell you to here!

1. Call the CC company and find out what you actual rate is on the card.

2. If you have balanced transferred money or have a promotional rate of some kind, find out the rate and when the promotional rate ends and then indicate it on the sheet just like the example I have set out.

3. Ask the customer service agent if they can lower your rate. If they say no, ask them if they can waive this months interest charges as a courtesy. Most companies will do this at least once per year.

4. Ask them if they have any promotions on Balance transfers, don’t do it yet just find out if they do. (It’s usually 0% for 6-12 months or 4.99% for 18 months. They will charge you between 2%-5% to move the money)

5. Repeat this step until you have called every single one of your credit cards and recorded the information on the sheet provided. Now that you have an idea of how badly you are being raped by finance charges, we can start the shuffle. Looking at all of your existing credit left on cards, figure out if it would make sense to transfer balances to cards that have room. Take in to consideration that it will cost you money to move the money, so if the benefits of savings don’t outweigh the costs to move the money or you simply don’t have enough credit left, you will have to choose another option. The main idea is to try to get any credit card balance to 0% or as close to 0% as possible. Some of you may still have good credit if that’s the case, use the following method, if not, read on, there is options for you. If you can swing, pay your highest APR% cards off immediately, meaning any card that only a couple hundred bucks or something on it, just pay it and check that one-off the list.

If you have a good credit score or are a home owner:

1. Ask each CC company to raise your line of credit, explain that you need the credit for business travel.

2. Try to move all of the balances ton ONE card so it’s easily manageable and at the lowest rate. If you have to spread this out over 2 cards, do it, but make sure it makes sense.

3.  If you weren’t able to get the CC companies to extend you more credit, try to get a personal consolidation loan. I used one of their and it drastically helped me get out of debt faster. The best company with the lowest rates is Lending Club. Lending club will beat any other lending_club_logopersonal loan service or big bank on unsecured debt consolidation loans. If you do this, you can get a secured loan for 3 years that can be paid off early with no pre-payment penalty. Otherwise, try a HELOC on your home or a refinance to wrap the debt in the equity if you can do it.  If your debt is only a couple thousand it may be a good idea of doing a “used-car refinance loan” and wrapping some of the debt in to that if you have some equity in a vehicle.

If you have bad credit or have no home. 

1. See what you can do to move balances around to 0%. If the CC companies won’t extend you credit then try the personal loan from Lending Club like I mentioned above. They still have some great rates with people who have below Prime credit scores.

2. Get a copy of your credit report and find out exactly what you have going against you that is affecting your score.

3. If you can’t get more credit to move balances, and you can’t get a personal loan that makes sense it’s time to start playing dirty with your creditors. The following advice is the last option that you will before you have to start looking at bankruptcy as a viable option. (I will not be covering bankruptcy in this blog because if your situation is that bad, you need to get in touch with an attorney and discuss your options.) 

4. Credit card consolidation companies are bullshit. There is nothing that they can do for you that you cannot call your credit card company do yourself. They basically charge you money to “go to bat for you” but what they are really doing is serving as a middle man between you and the CC company and make a little money off of your hard ship. I’ll share my story explaining below at the end of the blog.

6. Sticking to the plan no matter what – The hardest thing that you will encounter when trying to follow these steps is the feeling that there is no end in sight. That you feel so far away from $0 that you want to give up or just say F%^&* it. Understand that it was that exact attitude and lack of discipline and knowledge that got you in to this situation to begin with. In fact, you have probably spent years getting your self in to this situation, so don’t think that this is going to get fixed over night.

What I am proposing here is a long-term and effective strategy to recognize and asses the problem, reconcile the damage done, and then install a system of ideological principles to live by. Taking all of the actions I have laid out here is a start but the ultimate idea here is that you change your mindset, and that you do it long-term because if you use what I gave you here to get out of debt just to do it all over again that we have failed. So, be brave, be sturdy, and most of all, find some gratitude and accomplishment in the fact that you are doing something about it. Just that is a huge step that you should be proud of.

Summary and a Personal Story.  

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Me in Bali living the life of my dreams. You can to!!!!

As I indicated before, this guide isn’t something I thought up last night, this knowledge comes from years of experience going through this myself. I have been through some very scary times, and if I could, I would love to help you avoid some of those pit falls in life. When the market turned in 2008 I went from owning a house, with a brand new BMW paid with cash to $160,000 in debt ducking creditors and conducting a fire sale with any assets I had left to try and cover the losses. I didn’t do it all correctly and I wish I had seen a blog like this one to help me out of that horrible situation. As my good friend Rob Guth says “ask me how I know?” I love the saying because it comes from experience, and it the experience of the good and bad that has allowed me to learn from my mistakes and come back from some dark times with hope and re-energized spirit to not only continue on when things go south, but to always have hope that tomorrow is a new chance an opportunity to turns things around if they not going well, or continue to rise if they are.

I hope that you take what I wrote here to heart because these nuggets of information have cost me years of my life and hundreds of thousands of dollars to obtain. Learn from it, apply it, and execute it in your own life and enjoy years of time and lots of money saved because you were wiser that I was to look. If this blog speaks to you, share it the information with your friends, family and people you care about. If you have questions, comments, concerns, feel free to post in the comments section or contact me via the contact page

I wish you the best of luck!

See you at the top.

Steve W.

Solutions Links as indicated above.

1. Debt Worksheet 

2. Capital 1 360 Free Savings and Checking account with no minimums or ATM fees. 

3. Mint.com

4. Lending Club

5. If you are looking where to go after this, check out my book that will begin to give some great insight on how to go in to business for yourself and build some wealth.