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Getting help with debt
If you're in too deep, don't be afraid to reach out for assistance from someone you trust, says this debt expert.
Out of the red and into the black

Spotlight: Gerri Detweiler

Gerri Detweiler began helping consumers cope with credit card debt in the late 1980s. That was back when the national consumer debt level was about one-sixth of today's $937-plus billion, according to data from the Federal Reserve.

At a glance

Debt is one of the biggest expenses many people face, Detweiler says. That's why she recommends that paying off debt should trump savings and investing efforts. She reasons that paying off high-interest debt ultimately offers a better return to consumers than retaining high-interest debt while parking savings in a money market account or perhaps even investing in the stock market.

Detweiler's bottom-line logic is likely rooted in her early financial training. In college she aspired to be an international banker, but ended up on the other side of the industry when she took what she thought would be an interim job at the consumer advocacy group Bankcard Holders of America. Now she is a personal finance author, credit expert and consumer educator who doesn't believe in one-size-fits-all financial solutions. Instead, she believes that the best debt-tackling strategy is the one to which you can stick.

She recently spoke to Bankrate about what consumers can do to dig themselves out of debt.

Investing in debt
Mounting debt is a growing problem for consumers in our country. But does paying off debt take top priority over stashing any money away in savings?

Certainly you're going to get the most bang for your buck by paying down high-rate debt. Particularly if you've got credit card debt and your interest rates are not very low, you're probably better off paying all you can toward that debt and using your credit cards as emergency backup.

There are caveats; it's good to get into a savings habit even while you're fighting debt. If you have never been a saver, it may be something as small as emptying your pockets of change at the end of each day into a jar and then putting the accumulated money into a bank account.

If you haven't participated in a retirement plan at work, you may set aside a small amount to be taken out of your paycheck each month so that you get in the habit of setting aside that money. But if you have high-rate debt, that's the first place you should focus your financial attention because once that's paid off you'll free up a lot of money that you can then quickly start accumulating in savings or investments.

-- Posted: Feb. 25, 2008
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