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Create a plan to deal with medical debt

Options for Higher Education

Back-to-School Strategies for Staying Out of Debt

Will Changes in Credit Reporting Affect You?

What to do if your medical bills are turned over to collections

What to do if your spouse can't pay his or her bills

What to do when a family member ruins your credit

Homeownership is possible

What you need to know about the IRS and collection agencies

Will being turned down for a store credit card hurt my credit?

Beware of credit repair

Debt Management versus Debt Settlement

How to get ahead of late fees

Is There a Service That Helps You Not Pay Bills

Is a Debt Owed

Patience is the key to furnishing a new home

How to split expenses with your partner

Will my boyfriend's bad credit affect me?

Tax filing options to consider

What to do if your account is turned over to collections

Celebrating Valentine's Day on a budget

Personal Credit and Starting a Business

Finding Money to Reduce Your Debt and Improve Your Credit

Simple Keys to Personal Finance

Be vigilant to avoid telephone and internet scams

Debt Settlement

Understanding credit utilization

Setting New Year's goals that you can keep

The pros and cons of skipping a payment

Strategies for Financially Surviving the Holidays

Creating a fun and memorable holiday on a budget

Keep an open line of communication with parents about their finances.

Make a Choice to Get Ahead Financially

What to do when a relative asks you for money

Should You Buy a Home Now or Wait?

The difference between debt settlement and debt management

Tax Refund Delays for some in 2017

The negative impact of paying a payment 30 days late

Stressed by Finances

How to navigate two significant financial decisions: starting a family and buying a home

How to advise someone close to you who is coming into a significant amount of money

Make a Conscious Decision on How to Spend Your Money

Tips for Back-to-School Shopping

How do you know if you have a good credit score?

Americans spend more money eating out than on groceries

Having Good Credit Saves You Money

Developing good money habits with your first job

How to save for a home

How to Know if you are Ready for Home Ownership

When is the right time to buy a home?

You can improve your credit to buy a home

Plan a Memorable Vacation Without Incurring Debt

The Hidden Costs of Payday Loans

Be Wary of Credit Repair Services

Use Caution when playing the credit card game

What does it mean to say bankruptcy gives you a clean slate?

How your credit is affected by various debt options

Be wary of predatory small business loans

What to do if you fall behind on mortgage payments

Financing a College Education

Money, Credit and Relationships

Should you be concerned with your date's credit scores?

Best options for a small, short-term loan

How to help a relative who is always borrowing money from you

Setting New Year's goals that you can keep

Making the holidays memorable for families on a tight budget.

Skipping a Payment over the Holidays

What to do if you are overwhelmed by medical bills

Make your financial intention a financial goal you can achieve

Should Consumers Use the New EMV Cards?

What to do when a collector calls you

The difference between paying bills and managing your money

My wife and I have gone through some tough financial times, which eventually led us to file for bankruptcy.  Following this experience, I don’t ever want to use credit again, but my wife

What do I need to know to pay ahead on my mortgage?

What to do if you get an unsolicited credit card in the mail

What to do when moving in to share expenses doesn't work out

Finding Money to Reduce Your Debt and Improve Your Credit

Q. We set a goal to improve our credit in 2017.  We have some small debts we need to repay, including a few credit cards. We have a tight budget, and we aren’t sure how to come up with the extra money we need to reach our goal. What’s the best way to find the money we need?

A. Deciding what you want is a good start. Now you need to come up with a strategy that can help you reach your goal of improving your credit. The single, most effective tool you have to improve your credit is to pay all of your bills on time every month, with full payments.  If you’re already in the habit of doing this, then the next best thing you can do to improve your credit is to pay down your debt.

When you’re working with a tight budget, you may need to get creative to come up with extra money.  But once most people get started, they build momentum, and finding additional funds can be a rewarding challenge. 

If you’re anticipating a tax refund, this may be a good way to jumpstart your plans. Keep in mind that the IRS has changed the way they handle refunds, and that you will not be able to access your refund until mid to late February. Even if your refund comes a little later than usual this year, you can earmark it for repaying a specific debt.

In the meantime, don’t be wooed by companies offering tax refund loans. The money isn’t going anywhere, so be patient. You don’t need to pay fees on money that the IRS will return to you without a fee. Incurring additional debt is not the way to reduce to improve your credit.

Once you know the size of your refund, consider how you can allocate these funds. How many small bills can you pay off?  Which debt has the highest interest rate? If you are paying late fees on any accounts, what will it take to bring them current so you can stop paying late fees?  By paying down your debt, you can reduce your monthly payments and bring more money back into your budget.

You don’t necessarily have to use every dollar of your refund toward repaying debt. In fact, it might be wise to set aside a small amount of your refund for something fun. Just decide ahead of time what you will spend and what you will use toward repaying your debt. 

Of course, a tax refund isn’t the only way to repay debt. I challenge you to track your spending and then look for ways you can cut back on small expenses, funneling this money toward your goals. One of the biggest mistakes that people make is believing that small amounts of money here and there can’t make a difference.

They can. 

How fast do you want to improve your credit?  Are you willing to take a part-time job?  Is it possible to earn overtime at work?  Apply extra income to pay off debts faster. Do you have items that you no longer use that you could sell?  By selling unused stuff, you will be cleaning out your home while getting ahead.

With a little ingenuity and persistence, you will be amazed by how fast you can reduce your debt and improve your credit. The key is to get started and then build momentum, celebrating the small successes along the way. Little by little, dollar by dollar, you can reach your goals in the year ahead.

Bonnie Spain is the executive director of the American Center for Credit Education and Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Black Hills. For more information, email acce@acce-online.com.

The material in this transmission is provided for personal, non-commercial, educational, and informational purposes only. ACCE makes no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of this transmission and assumes no responsibility for errors, inaccuracies, omissions, or any inconsistency herein. You should consult a professional where appropriate.