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Oprah's "Debt Diet"

April 14, 2006 05:54 PM EST | Debt Consolidation | Email to Friend

Friday, February 17, 2006 marked the first of a multi-part series for The Oprah Winfrey Show, where Oprah challenged Americans to get out of debt. Oprah teamed up with three of the nations top financial experts to create a step-by-step action plan to show her viewers how to get out of debt. Oprah featured Jean Chatzky, Glinda Bridgforth, David Bach as her top financial experts.

Oprah compared Americas over-spending habits to our similar over-eating habits. She showed how compulsive spending is much like compulsive eating and how America doesn’t just have a high rate of obesity in our body, but obesity in our debt.

Oprah featured three families that were suffering from their high debt. First, there was the Widlund’s, who had the lowest annual income at over $75,000 and $81,000 in debt! Then there was the Eggleston’s, making about $92,000 a year and with $115,000 in debt. And the Bradley’s topped it off with over $100,000 a year income and $170,000 in debt.

The Four Steps of the Debt Diet,WITH some Special "Secret Sauce" added... Enjoy!

Debt Diet Step 1: How much debt do you really have?
Calculate how much debt you really have so you can begin paying it down.

Often times many people do not even know how much debt they really have. This is an important step to getting your debt under control.

It's a good idea to run a three-in-one credit report. A three-in-one credit report is a combined credit report from each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TranUnion). Whether you regularly get monthly statements or not, running this kind of credit report will show you any old debts that you still may owe, along with anything that may be being reported to the bureaus for which you may not be responsible.

Our Special "Secret Sauce" for Step 1 of the Debt Diet: What "kind" is just as important as how much...

Knowing your "Point A", your "current reality" or where you're starting from IS the best place to start. If you were driving to New York, how would you know where to go if you didn't know where you were starting from?

But knowing how much debt you have is only one side of the coin.The other side of the coin is knowing what kind of debt you have.

Knowing how much of each type of debt you have will make a HUGE difference in understanding which options are available to you, AND how each option will impact you.

TAKE ACTION!
Organize your debt into these categories:

• Secured Debt - This includes any debt secured by a title or asset, like a house, car, motorcycle, boat, RV, etc. This may also include dirt bikes, quads, jewelry, or furniture.
• "Qualified" Unsecured Debt - This includes all unsecured debt (debt NOT secured by a title or asset) that may qualify for debt management programs such as credit counseling, debt negotiation / settlement or other debt management programs.

Qualified unsecured debt includes credit cards, personal loans, credit unions, hospital & medical bills, collection accounts, and deficiency balances.

Some examples of unsecured debt that is not qualified for debt management programs are payday loans, cash advances, MAC tools, Military accounts (Star, Omni, etc.), public utilities, personal loans from family or friends, and student loans.
• Other Unsecured Debt - All unsecured debt ""not included"" above
• Student Loan Debt - Self explanatory.
• Tax Debt - Any debts owed to the IRS or State TAX authority.

Once you know how much of each kind of debt you have, document it and keep it handy. If your situation changes, update your info and keep it current.

Debt Diet Step 2: Track your spending and find extra money to pay down the debt

Cut back on daily extras and find savings where you least expect them.

Track Your Spending:
This is a multi-part step. The first part is to track your spending. Track each and every penny that you spend, whether it's food, coffee, gum, bills, etc., track it and write it down for review.

This alone can be very powerful. It can show you just how much of your money is eaten up on the little things. This is what one of Oprah Experts refer to as the “Latté Factor®.” Say you buy a latté every day… after all, it's just $5, right? But added to the soda each day, a snack from the vending machine at work, some gum and maybe some candy, too it really starts to add up! Just $10 a day can double the minimum payment on a $10,000 credit card! That’s up to $3,600 a year!

Trim the Fat:
The next part to this step is “trimming the fat.” Look at where you are spending your money. It's time to make sacrifices. Try using a budget calculator to find some extra cash to pay down your debts. From cutting back to basic cable or not eating out as much to downsizing your big-screen T.V. and giving up the extra car, cutting back on these extra expenses can really cut back on your total debt!

Our Special "Secret Sauce" for Step 2 of the Debt Diet:
DID YOU KNOW That Most People Spend 10% More Than They Make?

You probably know how much money you made last month, but do you know how much money you spent? Or do you know how much money you have left to spend this month? If you don't, you're not alone, most people have no idea.

The fact is most of us spend 10% more per month than we make. That comes out to $431 per month based on the average American income. No wonder the average credit card debt is now at $8,500!

So why is it so difficult to track your spending? Today we live in a near "cashless" society. Using debit cards, credit cards, automatic deposits, and wire transfers, we rarely even see our money. It's easier than ever to spend, spend, spend!

We Need A New Way To Manage Our Money

Traditionally, many people managed their money by dividing their cash into several paper envelopes. An envelope for food, entertainment, utilities etc. They then spent their money from these envelopes. They always knew how much money they had left to spend, and how long it had to last. So how can we use such a simple, effective system today, when we don't even see most of our money?

TAKE ACTION!
• Track every penny that you spend for the next 30 days• Create a spending plan and stick to it!

Debt Diet Step 3: Learn to play the credit card game
Get expert advice about how to lower creditor’s interest rates.

This, again, is a two-part step. The first step is attacking your interest rates. Many people who are deep in debt are suffering from high interest rates. Creditors may raise your interest rates if you are ever late on any payments or simply because you have too much debt.

You will want to contact each of your creditors and lower your interest rates. This is not always easy but if you follow some of these simple secrets, you may find that your results are better than you would expect!

Once you have gotten your interest rates lowered, you will want to re-assess how you use the money you have allotted to pay them off. You can also use the extra money from your budget that you uncovered to pay your cards off quicker.

Our Special "Secret Sauce" for Step 3 of the Debt Diet: Know your options.

Making minimum payments is simply not smart. It's purely in the best financial interests of the bank, not you. If you can afford to pay OVER the minimum payment each month, then you can use an accelerated payoff plan (AKA: "roll up" / "roll down") to avoid paying insane amounts of interest and get out of debt faster.

You can use the Dead on Last Payment—or DOLP™— method as mentioned by David Bach or a system that pays off the highest interest rate card first, such as the debt calculator included in the Mvelopes Personal Budgeting System (saving you the most money and getting you debt free faster).

But what other options exist?

• Did you know that credit counseling could significantly reduce your interest rates and get you debt free faster?
• What about debt settlement? Did you know you could be debt free for lot less than what you owe, like 60%? ...And completely eliminate interest?
• Is bankruptcy right for you?

These questions are worth looking into. In fact, they could be worth THOUSANDS of dollars to you, if you know your options and make the right choice. They could mean the difference between freeing yourself from debt in 30 years or in 30 months. Don't you think it would be wise to get some quality answers and truly know your options?

TAKE ACTION!
While learning to play the credit card game and getting expert advice about how to lower creditor’s interest rates is important, we think it's more financially intelligent to take it a step further. There IS more out there and you deserve to know the truth about which options exist for you and how each option would impact you.

REMEMBER: Always beware of anyone offering only one option.Learn about and consider all of your options before choosing what's best for you.

Debt Diet Step 4: Stop spending.
Teach yourself to spend less and save more every day.

This step is everlasting and can take a lot of focus and energy. For many people, they must break life-long habits in order to make this work. Creating your budget will help tremendously. At that point, you only have so much per week, or per month, to spend on any given category (groceries, entertainment, cigarettes, etc). The more to stick to the budget, the more you will begin to get comfortable with it.

Our Special "Secret Sauce" for Step 4 of the Debt Diet:

While you must control your spending in order to overcome debt, it's good to point out that this step holds a SECRET...

Money is a highly emotionally charged subject. Spending is emotional.

So how do we deal with it? How do we control our spending?

The secret is that our deep, emotionally driven need to spend money is actually the key to gaining control. Even better, we can harness these same emotional drives that have caused us to spend out of control to awaken our financial genius.

If you want more... but instead of being able to afford it, you go into more debt, well, that's not very financially smart. You will need to STOP SPENDING and discipline your self to create and stick to a spending plan.

But remember what you want! If you want to spend, that's great! HOW CAN YOU?

More income is usually the answer. It's critical to control spending. At the same time, it becomes the perfect motivator for you to stick to your budget and find ways to "trim the fat" AND to earn more money ...so you can buy the things you want!

Having a clear, motivating goal and purpose is what you need to stick to any plan, especially a spending plan.

TAKE ACTION!
Decide what you really want and why you want it. Get committed! Then sticking to a spending plan will be possible. Along the way, controlling your spending will become freeing, fun and fulfilling.

• Think about what you really want. Define it clearly and specifically. Write it down as your goal.
• Focus on this goal whenever you meet resistance in starting or sticking to your Debt Diet.
• Realize that in order for you to have what you want, you simply must follow the steps of the debt diet.

America's Debt Diet: "What's for Dessert?"

Oprah’s Debt Diet has taken America by storm. Since originally aired, and reinforced with each new part of the series, millions of Americans are taking the steps necessary to begin their path to financial freedom. No matter how you decide you need to go about it, it is critical that those who need help start now!

The techniques taught in the Debt Diet are very powerful and can help a lot of America relieve the pain of their debt. It’s important to keep up these good habits no matter what you do. However, for many families out there, it just is not enough.

Many families have already “trimmed the fat.” Anymore and they would not eat. Many families are not able to get their interest rates lower. Many families have lost income or a spouse’s income and simply can no longer afford to pay for the debt they have already accrued.

• What if these steps are not enough?
• What other options exist?
• How can you gain the advantage in a financial hardship situation?

For people in these situations, the Debt Diet just isn't enough. It may be time to start looking for a better debt solution to help you get free from your debt.

Hopefully, you will take advantage of the special "secret sauce" we've shared with you here to make your debt diet more successful and enjoyable!

Interested in learning more about the Oprah Debt Diet? Jesse Niesen is the COO of STARTOVERTODAY.COM, a Nationwide Financial Solutions Company solving financial, debt, and credit problems for clients nationwide. Through a variety of debt management solutions, STARTOVERTODAY.COM has helped thousands of people resolve over $20,000,000 of unsecured debt since 2002 – without any complaints to the BBB.

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