When you’re managing your debt payments it’s easy to ignore the fact that you have too much debt. The purpose of debt – from a sales standpoint – is to spread the payment out over many years so that what isn’t affordable suddenly is. It’s all about the payment!
With all of the focus on monthly payment, the total amount owed – which is the number that really matters – can sort of disappear. After all, when it comes to debt and expenses, we don’t like big, ugly numbers. Small numbers are so much less disturbing.
Here are five signs that you may be carrying too much debt.
1. You don’t bother to total up how much you owe
Most of us know that we have debt, and usually about how much. When you’re getting in over your head there’s often a reluctance to spend much time dwelling on it. Specific numbers provide frightening confirmation of what we suspect – and prefer to avoid.
One of the best indications that you have too much debt is when you’re reluctant to find out just how much you have. You know that you owe on Credit Cards X, Y and Z, but you try not to pay too much attention to how much you owe on each. And you never bother to add up all the balances either.
Your attention centers instead on the monthly payments for each account, because they look much more reasonable than the combined balances on all accounts.
2. There’s little or no money for savings
Cars and appliances break down or need to be replaced, homes need to be repaired and medical episodes and auto accidents require co-payments. There has to be money sitting somewhere in reserve to pay for those.
If you typically don’t have savings to cover contingencies, there’s a very good chance that the cause is either excess spending or too much debt. The two are closely related, so it’s probably some of both.
Credit card bills and other loan payments are a quiet drain on monthly income. Not only do they leave little room for a regular savings plan, but they can also force you to reduce retirement plan contributions.
A sure sign that you have too much debt is when you come to view your credit lines as your emergency savings.
3. Debt payments – excluding mortgage – are one of your top two expenses
Add up all of your monthly debt payments – student loans, auto loans, credit cards, installment loans – every loan except your mortgage. How does that total monthly payment look compared to other expense categories in your budget? If it’s one of the top two expenses in your budget, you almost certainly have too much debt.
In most households, the monthly house payment will be the largest single expense. In second place might be groceries (if you have a family), health insurance or even combined utility payments (especially if you live in an area with severe weather).
If debt payments are second only to your house payment – or if they’re your number one budget outlay – you’re carrying way too much debt. In that situation, you won’t be able to make any financial progress until your debt is brought under control.
4. You can’t buy extras without using a credit card
Because of the combination of high monthly credit card bills and the lack of savings, there’s never quite enough money to pay for extras. A weekend away, a trip to the dentist, or even a night on the town are covered by a credit card.
Although it may be normal, it’s not acceptable if you want to win with money.
5. You’re shopping for a consolidation loan
For the most part, consolidation loans are about lowering the monthly payment. You’ll still owe the same amount as you did before the consolidation, it’ll just look neater in a single package. And it’s a strong indication that you have too much debt.
It’s not that a lower payment doesn’t have merit. The problem is that the lower payment makes debt easier to live with, rather than making it go away. And the lower payment could also clear the way for more borrowing. After all, if you’re comfortable with the new consolidated payment, it’s often easy to slip back into bad habits.
Note: Matt consolidated his credit cards and auto loans using Lending Club, and he recommends it, but only if you’re going to pay it off as fast as possible and are committed to taking on zero additional debt.
Getting out when you have too much debt
If you’re experiencing one or more of these situation there’s no alternative to taking action against your debt. It’s always better to deal with it while you still have control of the situation – before it reaches the crisis stage.
Here are some tips:
- pay close attention to your outstanding balances – that’s your real debt situation, not monthly payments
- do whatever it takes to stop using credit immediately
- cut back on non-essential spending
- sell as many possessions as you can
- increase your income with overtime, a part-time job or some type of side gig
- get some money in the bank (from steps 3, 4 and 5) so you won’t rely on credit
- start the Debt Snowball of paying off your debts from the smallest to the largest.
It’ll take time and a good bit of effort, but soon enough you’ll get to the point where you won’t mind looking at your loan balances any more.
And that’s good news!