Be cautious of debt repayment companies

A friend of mine – struggling mightily with debt – signed a contract with one of those debt repayment companies. I hate that he fell for the pitch of a firm that preys on people who are stressed about money.

The debt repayment company pays off your debts and puts you on a repayment plan with them, while contractually imposing other requirements and charging you lots of fees.

My friend “Norm” has neither the focus nor the determination to do this on his own. He’d tried – and failed – several times. Money issues contributed to two failed marriages and, in his late 50s, his retirement is in some jeopardy. Fortunately, he has a great defined-benefit pension plan. If not for that, he’d be in whole other world of trouble.

I hate the program that Norm purchased out of frustration as it’s outrageously expensive. Yes, they consolidate your debts (a good thing) and force upon you the dedication that you don’t have otherwise (also a good thing), but what they do is not rocket science. You can do this yourself – if you know how and can muster up the determination and focus.

If Norm had asked me, I could have given him a plan to do exactly the same thing – at no cost, other than his interest payments. I would have LOVED to have helped him.

Related article:  How to reduce your debt

In his excellent book The Total Money Makeover, Dave Ramsay says you have to be ready to take on the guy (or gal) in the mirror if you want to succeed financially.

“Winning at money is 80 per cent behaviour and 20 per cent head knowledge,” he states. “Most of us know what to do, but we just don’t do it. If I can control the guy in the mirror, I can be skinny and rich.”

I’m not skinny, but I know how I could be. Knowing what to do is easy, although doing it is difficult.

“There are no secrets,” Ramsay says, “and, yes, this will be very hard. Hey, if it were easy every moron walking would be wealthy.”

If you’re struggling with debt – and many, many Canadians are – I highly recommend this book. Ramsay has a no-nonsense, entertaining style. He’ll tell you what to do, but then it’s up to you to actually do it.

Related article:  The debt snowball strategy to reduce debt faster

I’ve managed people’s money for two decades and one of the biggest reasons so many struggle with debt is that they’re unwilling to delay gratification. I’m a Boomer and I and my friends understood the benefit of delayed gratification. Generally, we came out of high school and into university or other post-secondary institutions. We worked hard and, while we bought the toys, houses and such, we were willing to wait for these things until we could afford them.

Related article:  Debt has become big business

I and some of my friends achieved financial freedom in our 50s, because of the decisions we made in our 20s, 30s and 40s.

It’s a sign of immaturity to want everything immediately. Big-screen TV, new truck and expensive vacations to Mexico – people just buy and worry later how they’ll pay.

If “Norm” had asked me, I could have put him on the same plan that he’s paying through the nose for. I think he now knows it, too. You see, Norm recently inherited a lot of money, but his contract says that he has to pay off his debts on schedule, and can’t use his new-found money, except at a big penalty.

As Ramsay says, there is no magic formula. This doesn’t require smarts as much as it does common sense. There will be sacrifice, hard work and total focus toward the pursuit of your goal – which is to be debt free so that you can move on to other important goals.

It’s worth it. Imagine the stresses that would be relieved if you were out of debt. You could build a moat around your family so that your loved ones are protected in case of a death, disability or serious illness.

Related article:  Are you protected from financial disaster?

Imagine that your retirement is taken care of, as is the education of your children. Imagine that you had emergency savings so that if you had a sudden job loss, you could survive for longer that the few weeks that would financially cripple most Canadians.

Imagine how enjoyable life would be without the financial stress that keeps you awake at night.

Written by Wayne Rothe

Wayne Rothe, Certified Financial Planner/Branch Manager, Wayne Rothe & Associates Wealth Management, Manulife Securities Investment Services Inc., [email protected], 780-962-1146, Spruce Grove, Alberta. These comments are the author’s and not necessarily those of Manulife Securities. Commissions, trailing commissions, management fees and expenses all may be associated with mutual fund investments. Please read the prospectus before investing. Mutual funds are not guaranteed, their values change frequently and past performance may not be repeated.

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