Celebrate National Financial Planning Week — Control Your Finances

TULSA, Okla. – The week of October 4 is National Financial Planning Week. What are you doing to keep your financial plans in check? One of the biggest financial concerns for consumers is controlling their debt.

Everyone runs up a little credit card debt, right? That’s what many people tell themselves to justify carrying heavy loan amounts, but the fact is that undisciplined spending and poor credit management are serious problems that must be addressed. The Oklahoma Society of Certified Public Accountants offers five signs that show your debt and spending are out of control, and provides advice on what to do if they are.

Avoid paying for everything with credit cards.

Once upon a time, cash was king for buying groceries, paying for gas or picking up a quick lunch, but if you now whip out the credit card for virtually all your regular daily purchases, you are probably either in financial trouble or on the verge of it. CPAs advise that while plastic is easy to use, the credit card balances you are building will come back to haunt you. If you are already carrying a balance on your card, your new purchases will likely just hike up the amount of interest you’ll be charged each month. Keep that in mind when you’re making a purchase, and it may help change your habits. And if you’re relying on credit because you just don’t have the cash, it’s time to take a realistic look at your budget and consider necessary changes.

Avoid adding new accounts.

What happens if you can’t pay your credit card or other bills? Some people solve this problem by opening up new accounts and using balance transfers or cash advances to make required payments on their existing debt. They might also add a new account if their old cards have reached their credit limits. This financial sleight-of-hand solves the immediate problem, but it also digs you deeper into debt. If you’re in this position, it’s a sure sign that you need to get a handle on your debt and alter your spending habits.

Keep your debt from getting bigger.

Here’s a sad fact: Even if you don’t keep spending, your outstanding credit card balances may keep growing if you make only the minimum payment every month. That’s because the interest rate you owe on your outstanding debt is lumped in with your balance. You then have to pay interest not only on your past purchases but also on that added interest.

Are you missing payments?

Remember that it’s always a good idea to contact your creditors when you can’t make a payment and ask about temporary reduced payment plans, payment moratoriums or other options. This step could help you prevent a bad credit rating or cancelled account.

Don’t avoid your bills.

If you have a stack of unpaid bills that just keeps growing and you’re screening calls so you don’t have to talk to angry bill collectors, you won’t be able to sidestep the problem forever. CPAs recommend instead that you get a realistic sense of where you stand financially and that you begin contacting creditors, cutting spending or taking other necessary steps to get your financial life back on track.

Use financial literacy recourses.

Want more information on debt management? The CPA profession’s 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy campaign offers a wide range of resources relating to common financial planning issues, including debt problems. Tools on the site include a calculator that determines the benefits of accelerating your debt payoff and a glossary of credit management terms.

Of course, you can’t beat the value of the personal advice you receive when you consult your local CPA. A CPA can help you decide the best plan for you to make the getting out of debt process easier.

If you want more help, attend “Do It Herself: A Journey to Financial Freedom,” where CPAs will lead the sessions on controlling debt, budgeting, saving for retirement and more. Co-hosted by the Oklahoma Society of CPAs Tulsa Chapter and State Farm Insurance Companies, the conference will be October 22 in Tulsa. Cost is only $15 for the whole day and includes lunch and materials. Visitwww.KnowWhatCounts.org to register.

Updated 10-06-2010

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