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Avoid the debt trap

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Debt trap: avoid being lulled into thinking debt is a necessary part of personal finances (Photograph by Pixabay)

Here are some not-so-fun facts for you to noodle on: Almost eight in ten Americans live paycheque to paycheque. And according to a study by Ramsey Solutions, just over half of Americans have had difficulty paying their bills in the past three months, and one in three have no savings to speak of.

Now, I don’t know about you, but all of this gets me thinking: if we live in the most advanced society in history, why does it seem like we have less time and less money than ever before?

Well, I have a theory about what’s causing this mess. And spoiler alert: the financial advice you’ve trusted your whole life is the main culprit.

You see, a lot of us were not really taught financial literacy in school or at home. Our main teacher was cultural messaging mixed with a whole lot of monkey see, monkey do. And what did we learn from our parents and ads from credit card companies? That we need other people’s money to achieve what we want in life.

So, when it came time for college, we took on boatloads of student loans as an “investment” in the future – never mind the coming decades of debt and stress.

Then we were told a good credit score was crucial for financial success as an adult, so we opened a credit card or two … or ten. Pretty soon, we “needed” nicer wheels and tacked on a car loan to the tab. And at Thanksgiving, Uncle Terry would not let up about how renting is “throwing away” money, so we decided to get a mortgage for Christmas. Why not?

This is how debt becomes normal in our lives and eventually begins to rob us of financial margin and ultimately freedom. And to make matters worse, the financial systems we trusted benefit from our money struggles – meaning they are more than happy to keep us dependent on debt and asking for more.

Take the credit score, for example. Most of us have been led to believe that a good credit score is a sign you’re doing well financially. But in reality, a high credit score just means you’re crushing it with debt management, not money management. Think about this:

• Why do we want a credit score? To go into debt

• Why do we want to go into debt? For a higher credit score

• Why do we want a higher credit score? To have more access to debt

• Why do we want more access to debt? For a higher credit score

The only way to achieve and maintain a high credit score is to go into debt, stay in debt, and continually pay your debt accounts “perfectly”, without adding too much debt or paying too much off too soon.

Are you getting the theme here? It’s all about debt. The credit score is just an ingenious way for lenders to profit by luring you deeper into debt while convincing you you’re doing great with money.

In fact, according to a FinHealth Spend Report, in 2020 alone, credit card companies made $106 billion from interest. Starting to make sense why they want you hooked on your plastic and obsessed with your credit score?

So, if what we’ve been taught about money is a load of – pardon my French – bologna, then what should we be doing with money?

Well, after falling for all the traps, I finally figured out that financial success is about what you have in the bank, not what you owe to the bank.

And that when you’re ready to take control of your money and get rid of debt for good, you’ll find margin, peace and joy.

I know paying off debt can feel impossible, but data shows that most people can do it in under two years using the proven method I personally used to get out of debt – the debt snowball.

Hear me say this: you’ll never win with money if you hang on to your debt. So, do you want to keep letting debt rob you of freedom and wealth? Or will you do the hard work to take control of the money that’s rightfully yours?

If you’re still on the fence, here’s one last question: what could you do if you did not have any debt payments?

Answer: anything you wanted!

George Kamel

George Kamel is a personal finance expert, certified financial coach through Ramsey Financial Coach Master Training, and nationally syndicated columnist. George has served at Ramsey Solutions since 2013, where he speaks, writes and teaches on personal finance, investing, budgeting, insurance and how to avoid consumer traps

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Published February 10, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated February 10, 2024 at 7:23 am)

Avoid the debt trap

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