I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to appear as a guest poster on the ReadyForZero website. They have a pretty neat tool to help you manage and track your journey from having debt to being debt-free, since, after all, there is no such thing as “good debt.”
I asked the lead content strategist on the ReadyForZero team, Ben Feldman, if he would give me some insight that he’s had in seeing some of the success stories from the ReadyForZero participants. I appreciate the time he took and the great insight he provided, so without further ado, let’s crawl inside of Ben’s brain and see what lessons about getting out of debt he has to impart!
What seem to be some of the common themes for people who fall into the debt trap?
There are a lot of different ways people end up in debt. For some, it starts at a young age when they receive their first credit card as a high school or college student and continue to rack up debt over the years. For others, it starts with a particularly challenging circumstance like becoming unemployed or getting a large medical bill. There are also people who take on debt as an investment in their future (student loans) or in their home (mortgages), and these people are usually just as eager to get out of debt. One of the most interesting parts of my job so far has been talking with some of our successful users about their experiences. I’ve found that their stories, in addition to being instructive and inspiring, show the wide range of paths that lead into debt – and out of it.
We all know that you need to spend less than you make in order to succeed. Why is it that we don’t always do what we know we should?
I think humans have a really hard time balancing short-term desires versus long-term benefits. I actually think you do a great job of explaining this when you talk about the monkey brain. It’s always easier to eat dessert instead of vegetables, to put off our To Do’s until tomorrow, and to buy just one more pair of jeans with our credit card. The trick then, is to find ways to fight against this natural bias that favors short-term desires. One of the ways you can do that is by making it fun to strive toward your long-term goals. And that is one of the philosophies that ReadyForZero is built on. When you sign up for ReadyForZero, you see a progress bar that shows how much you have left to pay down. It crystallizes the goal and motivates you to stick with your plan. We also send people reminder e-mails to encourage them to make the payments they scheduled.
When people start the climb to get out of debt, what are some of the common traps which prevent them from succeeding?
People can be really motivated for a few weeks or a few months and then lose momentum. One of the hardest things is to create new habits and then stick with them. At the ReadyForZero blog, we talk about budgeting, saving money, and earning extra income, which all can help accelerate your progress toward paying off your debt. It’s worth mentioning too, that a lot of people are never taught how to budget, so as a society we need to figure out how to make sure everyone has a chance to learn financial management skills, whether it is in high school or elsewhere. And furthermore, many people have incomes that are lower than the minimum amount they need to live on, with little hope of increasing that. This is especially true since the recession, and that’s a serious problem as well.
What are the common characteristics of people who successfully get themselves out of debt?
There are a few things that make a big difference at the beginning: those who share their goal with others and who write down the specific steps they plan to take to reach it are more likely to stick with it. And we’ve also seen that people who allow themselves a few “rewards” here and there (in other words, are strict but not overly strict with themselves) are more likely to stick with their plan and get out of debt eventually.
I know a lot of people who buy everything on rewards cards. Do rewards cards help people get out of debt or create an illusion of saving money?
My sense is that if you already have credit card debt, then getting rid of the credit card should be your number one goal. Especially for people who have trouble resisting the urge to spend, rewards are not a good incentive for getting out of debt. With that said, some people may be able to utilize the rewards effectively without giving into temptation. We actually created a Credit Card Debt resource center that has a lot of information on how to get rid of your credit card debt.
What differentiates the ReadyForZero program from other programs that are out there?
The basic ReadyForZero tool is free, and it’s the only free tool I know of that allows you to link up your accounts, make a plan, and gives you motivational graphs and progress updates to help you stick with it. We also launched ReadyForZero PLUS in 2012, which is a premium feature that allows you to make payments directly through our interface. And just last week we announced automatic payments and biweekly payments – which means you can set up a plan and have it executed automatically. These are features that no one else is has put together in one tool yet.
What is the most inspirational getting out of debt story that you’ve seen as part of your work with ReadyForZero?
There have been many inspiring stories, but one that stands out is Mike’s story. He had accumulated lots of credit card debt after graduating from college (along with student loan debt) and finally decided to pay it off. For 18 months, he cut back on spending and worked a second job on the weekends in order to make extra money. He was working as a bartender and doing some other part-time work. Then, late last year he finally paid off the last of his credit card debt! He’s such a nice guy, and it obviously made a big difference to him that he was able to get out of debt, so that was a really inspiring story for us to hear.
Again, many thanks to Ben Feldman for bringing us his perspective and sharing some of the stories.
If you are interested in reading more about my take on debt (it’s bad), you can always check out these articles:
- Credit Card Debt and Drug Addiction: Are They Related?
- Small Business Debt is Debt Too!
- Personal Finance FAQ Series: Why Should I Pay My Credit Card Each Month?
- Personal Finance FAQ Series: How Can I Get My Debt Under Control?
- My Most Mortifying Money Moment
- Credit Cards Stopped Me From Working for the WWE
Have you tried ReadyForZero? What did you think? Tell us about it in the comments below!