This post comes from Howard Dvorkin, CPA, who is an author, personal finance expert and chairman of partner site Debt.com.
I’ve spent the past quarter of a century counseling Americans on how to get out of debt. I’ve learned as many lessons as I’ve taught, but none is more depressing than this: If you’re broke at 60, that’s 100 times worse than being broke at 30 — but not for the reason you think.
Obviously, if you’re in debt when you’re 30 years old, you have decades not only to break even, but also to save for retirement. At double that age, you have only a few years. Here’s what isn’t so obvious: Broke 60-year-olds often give up. They see a mountain they can’t climb, so they don’t even try.
Nothing depresses me more than watching good people quit, especially when they don’t need to. I understand it, however. It’s partly the fault of financial experts just like me.
We write books (I’ve written two) and go on TV and get quoted in newspapers and magazines saying things like this, from my friends at CNBC: “For most Americans, $1.7 million is the magic retirement number.”
An average 60-year-old with an average credit card debt of $5,000 sees that and thinks, “I’m doomed. I’ll never retire, and even if I work till I drop, I’ll never have enough money to visit my grandchildren or take that bucket-list vacation.”
The problem is that it doesn’t take into account all the professional help you can get. I won’t lie, you probably won’t retire to a palatial estate and travel the world, but you don’t need to work 80-hour weeks until you’re 80, either.
Here’s where to start:
If you work for a large or midsized company, it’s quite likely your HR department has pondered your retirement more than you have.
Why would employees at your workplace spend their time fretting about what happens after you leave? Because they know that offering a solid retirement plan is an excellent recruitment tool. Don’t believe me? There’s an association called Society for Human Resource Management, and it implores its members to “make your organization retirement-ready.”
So make an appointment and ask what you can do. Many workplaces offer more than 401(k) plans. You might benefit from a health savings account or adjustments to your health insurance or life insurance options. Regardless, it’s free to ask. Trust me, as a business owner myself, I know my HR department loves it when employees ask for help — because they want to help. That’s why they went into this field in the first place.
When I tell people they can get a free debt analysis from a certified credit counselor, the response I often hear is, “What’s the catch?” When I say there isn’t one, they reply, “No, really, what’s the catch?”
Credit counseling agencies are among the most underappreciated and underutilized assets in this country. They’re monitored by the federal government regulations and give out all kinds of solid, personalized advice. These pros can help you draw up a realistic budget and find money you didn’t know you had.
Another lesson learned many years ago was this: Otherwise intelligent Americans came to me for financial guidance, but when I asked what they earned and spent each month, they often couldn’t tell me. You can’t conquer your debt demons without knowing what they are and where they live.
DMP, debt settlement and bankruptcy
Through credit counseling, you’ll learn about options that have helped millions of Americans get out of debt and, more importantly, stay out. Each has its pros and cons, but when you find the right solution for your particular situation, those disadvantages are buried beneath an avalanche of advantages.
Debt management: One of these programs might reduce overall credit card payments by 30% or even 50%. Your credit score won’t suffer much, if at all, and you’ll be making only one payment if your credit card issuers agree to the program (which most do). The downside? It can take a couple of years to complete these programs.
Debt settlement: This kind of program sounds like a perfect solution to all your problems, because you pay less than you owe on your debts. However, your credit score will take a hit and it comes with tax implications.
Bankruptcy: This option is a term we’re all familiar with, even if very few of us know how it really works. It’s often considered the nuclear option, since it hits your credit score hard for years and actually requires going to court. However, I’ve seen bankruptcy save people from a lifetime of debt, and, within a few years, they’re not only wealthier, they’re happier.
What to do next
If you don’t feel comfortable calling a credit counseling agency right now, then use expert resources like Money Talks News, Debt.com, and a host of others to learn everything you can about how debt really works.
If you do decide to call for help, there are couple of things that can help you find the right professional:
- Check with the Better Business Bureau and make sure the agency has an A-plus rating. That assures you’ll get great customer service.
- Check online reviews to see what past clients have said about the agency’s success rate.
See? You’re not alone. You have experts by your side. All you need to do is ask.
Do you have experience getting out from under debt? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.
Find the right financial adviser
Finding a financial adviser you can trust doesn't have to be hard. A great place to start is with SmartAsset's free financial adviser matching tool, which connects you with up to three qualified financial advisers in five minutes. Each adviser is vetted by SmartAsset and is legally required to act in your best interests.
If you're ready to be matched with local advisers who will help you reach your financial goals, get started now.