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How Do You Know If Your Debt is Good or Bad Debt?

Aug 25, 2007
Easy. Bad debts cause stress. You sleep poorly because of them. They cause fights and foster guilt. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell was once asked to define obscenity. Hard-pressed to come up with a definition, Powell uttered the famous line, "I know it when I see it." The same could be said for bad debt: You know it when you see it, and it certainly can be obscene.

Bad debt seems impossible to pay back. You create bad debt when you charge things you don't need or when you borrow for things that you consume quickly, such as clothes, meals, or vacations. The things quickly disappear, but the debt has a nasty habit of sticking around, seemingly forever. Bad debts can become very bad debts because of interest and penalties.

For example, if you buy a CD player for $200 and don't pay it off by the end of the year, and your credit card company charges a usurious 20 percent APR (20 percent per year), you owe $220 by the end of the year. If you do this with five items, you owe $1100, and that's a lot of money.

You can create bad debt when you agree to pay these crazy interest rates that some creditors charge, because the debt seems to grow exponentially. Credit cards are the prime culprit, but they are by no means the only one. High interest can also come with personal loans, business loans, or unpaid taxes.

You probably purchased this book because you have a lot of these bad debts, debts you are having a difficult time handling and that cause you anxiety. They are the debts you avoid thinking about, the phone calls you don't answer, and the bills stuck in a pile. Avoidance dances with guilt only to be tapped on the shoulder by your new suitor, fear.

You know what the bad debt dance looks like, anyone reading this book does: New bills are coming in before you've cleared out those from last month. You're surprised to find that the phone bill is still unpaid. Somehow the dentist was never sent his check. You know what past-due notices look like.

Your Visa and MasterCard bills include late payment penalties. The hardware store sends a letter telling you you're past due and requests that you send a check at once. There is more month left at the end of your money, and payday seems far away. Worst of all, these things don't surprise you anymore.

Avoidance is a common coping mechanism to deal with a budget that doesn't balance. The problem is, it can create even more problems than you already have: Your property could be repossessed. The finance company can come take your car. The electronics store can come take its TV back.

You could get sued. If that happens, your wages could be garnished, or your bank account could be levied upon. Imagine your surprise when you go to get that $1,000 out of your checking account to pay your mortgage and you find that it has been seized by one of your creditors.

A lien can be placed on your real estate. Failure to pay a bill now means that a creditor can get a judgment against you and force you to pay it later when you sell your house, only then you will pay it with 10 percent interest per year.

Loss of services. You could lose your insurance or your utility services if you avoid paying those bills. Yet, as much as you have been avoiding the problem, the truth is that your debts are neither crushing nor hopeless.

They are simply a problem -- one for which there is a solution. But no one ever eliminated a problem until he or she recognized and admitted that there was a problem.

You began to do that the moment you bought this book. As you read it, you will need to begin to formulate a debt-reduction plan that will work for you. As you do, you need to determine which debts are necessary and which are not.
About the Author
Adrien Brody ( http://debt-online.net ) is a business writer specializing in finance and credit products and has written authoritative articles on the finance industry.
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