Whenever the topic of finance is discussed, it is important to note that everyone's situation is different and that financial advice should be tailored to an individual's particular circumstances with the help of a professional advisor.
Everyday our mailboxes are flooded with advertisements, catalogues, and "pre-approved" credit card offers hoping to deplete our savings and draw us deeper into debt. In the latest Survey of Consumer Finances conducted by the Federal Reserve, concern has been expressed that the rising level of debt may become "excessively burdensome to families." Similarly, the American Bankruptcy Institute reports personal bankruptcies are at an all-time high and in 2005, more than 2 million were declared.
Debt is a scary place to be; it is emotionally and financially threatening. It limits our ability to meet daily expenses, invest for the future, and creates a long chain of financial difficulties. The strains put on our relationships due to these financial pressures make it imperative that we find ways to effectively deal with debt. Like all problems, it will dangerously compound if we ignore it, so we must confront it head on to positively change the condition of our lives.
Permanently resolving our debt situation involves three things: gaining an awareness of the different types of debt, understanding the psychology and circumstances that led to the current situation, and devising an effective debt reduction, savings, and wealth acquisition plan.
Put simply, debt falls into two categories: investment debt and consumer debt
Investment debt is an obligation that one takes on in order to free up funds, generate cash flow, and build wealth. It is the leverage of other people's money (OPM) to purchase assets that substantially increase in value or produce income. A few examples of investment debt include mortgages for rental properties, business loans, and stock margin loans. The best forms of investment debt produce positive cash flow. When debt produces positive cash flow, it generates more money to invest and does not reduce your existing income.
Consumer debt is a financial commitment used to purchase items that have no substantial resale value or depreciate after they are bought. Examples of consumer debt include: automobile loans, personal loans, personal lines of credit, credit card debt, and more. It can be wise to buy an item using consumer credit, if the after-tax return on your investments is greater than the interest rate on your debt. With this approach, you have more money available to invest at a higher rate of return. This is a riskier strategy and should only be employed by sophisticated investors. It is also important to note that one person's consumer debt is another's investment debt. The money one expends servicing debt goes to help another build their wealth. Over time, your goal should be to turn the tables.
The Psychology of Debt
To change your financial condition, you must understand the factors that have led you into debt and position yourself so that you will never return to similar circumstances. Common expenditures leading to excessive debt include automobile purchases, education expenses, vacations, gambling, medical expenses, unsuccessful business ventures, and the frequent purchases of consumer goods and services.
In general, we must become better planners and begin to stop thinking of debt as the first solution to our problems. If our debt situation stems from overspending, we must address the emotional state that drives us to live beyond our means. If it is due to unsuccessful business ventures, we must learn to move our enterprise forward through stock offerings, or creative means like partnerships and the bartering of services. If it is from necessary expenditures or emergencies then we must develop the discipline to create special savings accounts and cash reserves. Once we change the way we think about debt, we are prepared to implement life-changing solutions. The most expedient way to deal with debt is through a two-tier approach of budgeting and investing.