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Extreme Debt Calls for Extreme Measures

  • Mary Hunt Debt-Proof Living
  • 2006 16 Jun
Extreme Debt Calls for Extreme Measures

Debt has become the American way. So has denial. And super-high debt levels paired with serious denial is becoming almost ubiquitous. While not all debt situations reach critical levels, when they do, the response must be equally severe.

Kevin, 24, has $19,000 credit-card debt, drives a highly-financed $45,000 fancy high-performance car ($480 monthly payments) and still lives at home because he cannot afford to move out. He can barely afford to eat because in addition to his debt, he pays $2,400 a year for car insurance and $3,000 on gasoline—all on less than $20,000 annual net income.

Not only is he miserable under this extreme load of debt, Kevin is making sure his future will be even more of the same as each month he continues to add to this miserable debt. At the rate he’s going, he will be single, 40 and still living with his parents trying to just survive from one paycheck to the next. Extreme debt.

Kevin needs to sell the car and buy a bicycle or a bus pass and get serious about his life. His Rapid-Debt Repayment Plan says that with no new debt and $787 monthly debt payments he can be debt-free in 27 months. He must also sell all of his toys and expensive gadgets, pack his lunch every day, and stop spending on anything that is not absolutely essential including poker, $50 haircuts and new clothes. Only when he’s out of debt with sufficient reserves will he be in a position to get out on his own. Extreme measures.

The Lewis family bought the home of their dreams four years ago. In order to get the big model, the great floor plan and upgrades on all amenities, they opted for creative financing. Their highly leveraged, variable rate mortgage, together with private mortgage insurance (PMI) and a home equity line of credit they picked up two years later, eat up nearly 60 percent of their net two-paycheck household income. Add on childcare, car payments, credit-card debt and life essentials like food and clothing and they are digging the equivalent of a financial grave. Extreme debt.

The Lewis’ must sit down, take one big collective deep breath and get serious about their lives. What is really important? Is it square footage, granite counters and fancy appliances or is it spending time with the kids, the freedom to take the weekend off and enjoy their lives? This house they live in may be a showplace, but it is stealing their joy and it may well be putting their family at risk. No house feels as good as a debilitating mortgage feels bad.

This family needs to plant a For Sale sign in the front yard today, if not sooner. They cannot afford this home. Period. It’s time to pare down and pack up because it’s time for a radical downsize. Extreme measures.

Dan and Libby were doing just fine with their two incomes. They had a nicely funded Contingency Fund, their only debt was their mortgage. Then Libby got pregnant. When the baby was born she quit her job and that’s when they made a terrible mistake. They did not change their lifestyle and the way they spend money. Only now they had half the income.

They ripped through their Contingency Fund in short order. When baby number two showed up just eleven months later, things became critical. Dan could no longer justify working overtime when he was needed so badly at home.

Every month they barely get by. Where once they had no credit-card debt, now they juggle several balances. They’ve tapped the equity in their home and to make things even worse, both Dan and Libby have student loans that hang over them like a big black cloud of doom. Extreme debt.

These folks need to increase their income and soon. As difficult as it might be to even consider, Libby needs to find a job. And so that they do not incur childcare expenses, she needs to find a job where she can work nights and weekends when Dan is able to be with the kids.

It’s not easy to be a mother all day and an outside employee at night. It’s difficult, but possible. In this case it is absolutely necessary. Extreme measures.

Recently I met Patty, 61. Everything was going great until her husband suddenly lost his job and their health insurance. Patty arranged to enroll in her employer’s plan during the next open season which would commence just four weeks hence. And that’s when she got very ill.

Because she incurred big medical bills before she could enroll, she had no health insurance at all. Patty, a loan officer with a good job, and her husband went from being financially sound to critical in a matter of weeks. Extreme medical debt.

As soon as Patty was back on her feet, she took on a side job. A paper route. Seven days a week she walks the route delivering to the front door of 110 customers. She receives $327 net per month—all of which goes straight to the debt.

Patty picks up the papers every morning at 3 a.m. and walks her route, carefully placing a newspaper at the front door of each of her customers.

Patty lives in Montana where the weather is often severe. So far her coldest morning has been -24 F. "It’s not that bad," said Patty. "I’m getting a lot of exercise and I’m thankful for the additional income."

Essential measures.

"Debt-Proof Living" was founded in 1992 by Mary Hunt. What began as a newsletter to encourage and empower people to break free from the bondage of consumer debt has grown into a huge community of ordinary people who have achieved remarkable success in their quest to effectively manage their money and stay out of debt. Today, "Debt-Proof Living" is read by close to 100,000 cheapskates. Click here to subscribe.