Holiday stresses may be without number, but your debt is easily quantified. These days, sizeable debt loads pose an even greater danger than usual: layoffs are mounting and bonuses are shrinking, but creditors will continue to expect their payments
Ideally, experts say, your total monthly long-term debt payments – including your mortgage and credit card payments – should not exceed 36 percent of your gross monthly income. That’s one factor your mortgage advisor considers when assessing the creditworthiness of a potential borrower.
But it’s not the only way to assess whether your debt load is too heavy. Here are five red flags that you may be in over your head
You have fewer dollars on tap: Your discretionary income — what you have left after paying bills — drops. That’s likely to be the case if you occasionally dip into savings to cover shortfalls in your checking account, or must take a loan against your retirement funds. It comes down to this: Are you able to save? Are you saving for that future wedding, your next car, your kids’ education? If not, something’s not right.
You max out: You max out your credit cards soon after paying off longstanding balances. In today’s low-interest-rate environment, it’s often smart to transfer your balance from a high-interest credit card to one with a lower rate. But it’s not smart to celebrate being debt-free by charging your way into hock all over again.
You stick to the minimum: You make only minimum payments on your debt. These days your credit card statements show you how much interest you’ll pay over time when making the minimum required payment, versus how much interest you’d pay if you get to a zero balance in three years. Have a look – the figures are astonishing.
You’re unprepared for the unexpected: You can’t maintain an emergency fund. An emergency fund – three months to six months of expenses (more if you are worried you might be laid off) – is intended to bail you out when your roof falls in, your car breaks down or you face some other unexpected, costly situation. Debt payments should not get in the way of keeping an emergency fund.
You toss and turn: Your comfort level is a less tangible but no less important sign that you’re too deep in debt. Put simply, can you sleep at night or do you stay up worrying about what you owe?
Note every time you charge up a storm or knowingly forfeit your savings in favor of a more immediate pleasure. Count how many times you make a purchase and just assume you’ll find a way to pay for it. And start asking yourself why you’re really buying something.
Then record everything you spend for a month. Clothes and food are the big shockers, so add them up and see if curbing your spending here might mean larger repayments to credit card debts.
Too, convert from credit to cash. You’re less likely to hand over $130 in cash than to charge the same amount.
Last, commit to paying off your debt systematically. Allocate a fixed amount each month to the task, and have it withdrawn automatically from your checking account, if possible. Your priority should be to pay off your high-interest rate debt first, while continuing to make at least the minimum payments on your other bills.
Tammy Engel is your local Mortgage Advisor, and works for your best interest in purchase, refinance, and reverse mortgage. Contact her at 661/822-REAL for personal, attentive service with your lending scenarios.