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Top 10 causes of debt

Hundreds of readers have written to me asking for advice on dealing with debt and how to avoid debt in the future.

So here goes: Your top 10 causes of debt!

1. Reduced income/same expenses. Too often we delay bringing expenses in line with a reduction in income for a host of good reasons and let debt fill the gap. The sooner you adjust to your new reality, whether it be temporary or permanent, the better off you'll be.

2. Divorce. More than half of us do it, some more than once. I can think of few things more expensive and likely to put you in debt. For those of you who have never done it and would like to get some idea of the impact, sell all your assets and get the money in $50 bills. Go to a hotel on a busy street, and you and your spouse open two windows and see who can throw the most money out the fastest. It can be breathtaking.

Causes of debt
Between Bankrate readers and my former clients at Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Southern New England, I have a unique source of data. Yes, it is unscientific, but it is reality as experienced by a growing number of Americans.
Top 10 causes of debt
  1. Reduced income/same expenses.
  2. Divorce.
  3. Poor money management.
  4. Underemployment.
  5. Gambling.
  6. Medical expenses.
  7. Saving too little or not at all.
  8. No money-communication skills.
  9. Banking on a windfall.
  10. Financial illiteracy.

3. Poor money management. A monthly spending plan is essential. Without one you have no idea where your money is going. You may be spending hundreds of dollars unnecessarily each month and end up having to charge purchases on which you should have spent that money. Planning is no more difficult than writing down your expenses and income and reconciling the two. You will be surprised at how powerful you'll feel when you are making thoughtful decisions about where and when to spend your money.

4. Underemployment. A close cousin to No. 1, people who experience underemployment may continue to think of it as only temporary or if they are coming off unemployment feel a false sense of relief. Yes, you deserve a break, but this is not the time. Get those expenses in line with your current income. Down the road if you increase your income due to more hours, a second job, or a better job, then is the time to start adding in some of the previous spending before you became underemployed.

5. Gambling. Call it America's new entertainment. There is a guaranteed exchange of money from you to "the house." It can be addictive, hard to stop and loans are freely available.

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