9 Things You Shouldn't Do When You're In Debt

A man is drowning in bills

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When you’re in debt, certain habits will only make it harder to pay off your debt for good. Or worse, these things could drive you deeper into debt. If you’re not making progress paying off you debt, exploring your current financial habits could explain why.

1. Keep Making Credit Card Charges

Continuing to use your credit card while you’re in debt will obviously cancel out any progress you’ve made toward paying off your debt. And if you’re not paying more towards your debt than you're spending, the amount you owe is actually growing instead of shrinking. Cancel your credit cards, cut them up, or freeze them, literally in a block of ice if you can’t control your credit card habits.

Some credit card issuers have a "freeze" feature that allows you to temporarily turn off credit card purchases either by logging into your online account or by using an app.

2. Open Up New Credit Cards

Unless you’re taking advantage of a zero percent balance transfer promotion to consolidate high interest rate balances, don’t open any new credit cards while you’re trying to get out of debt. Another credit card means another minimum payment to factor in every month. Not only that, increasing your number of credit cards and credit card balances makes it tougher to reduce your overall debt. Save any new credit card applications for after you've paid off debt.

3. Ignore Your Credit Card Bills

Pretending your credit card balances don't exist doesn't make them go away. While you’re turning your back on your credit cards, there’s a financial storm brewing. Minimum payments are adding up, your balances are growing, and your credit is getting worse every month. Open up all your credit card statements, even if you've set up autopay, so you're aware of how your payments are impacting your balance.

4. Pay Only the Minimum

Making the minimum payment is the one of the worst thing you can do while you’re in debt, second only to skipping payments all together. You'll have to pay much more than the minimum to finally pay off all your credit cards.

There is one exception to this rule and that’s when you’re making a lump sum payment to one credit card while paying the minimum on all the others. Both the Snowball and Avalanche debt payoff strategies encourage focusing your efforts on one credit card while making minimum payments on the others.

5. Spend Money Frivolously

Sometimes the stress of being in debt can make it hard to spend wisely. However, this is also one of the most important times to pay careful attention to how you’re spending money. Every dollar you waste on something unimportant is a dollar that could have been used to reduce your debt. Use a budget to plan your spending and track your expenses to catch places that you’re spending money unnecessarily.

6. Skip Saving

You may think you can’t afford to save money if you’re in debt, but you honestly can’t afford not to save money if you’re in debt. Having access to savings keeps you from having to go deeper in debt to cover an unexpected expense like a car repair or major medical bill. Just like you need to pay both your mortgage and your electric bill each month, you need to put money towards debt and savings.

7. Pay a Debt Relief Company Without Researching

There are dozens of companies out there who’d like you to believe they can do something for your debt that you can’t. With the exception of some non-profit credit counseling agencies, most debt relief companies aren’t worth the trouble or the monthly fee. Before you enroll in their services, shop around, know the pros and cons, and investigate whether you could avoid the fee and pay your debt on your own.

8. Try to Pay off Debt Without a Plan

If you decide to tackle your own debt – and you can do this! – put together a solid debt plan. You’ll need to know all your debts, the status of these accounts (whether they’re current or past due), and how much you owe. You’ll also have to figure out what you can afford to put towards your debt each month. The more you can pay, the better. From there, choose a debt and start attacking it with everything you’ve got.

9. Rule Out Part-Time Work

Or overtime, a side business, or any other money-making endeavor that will help you get more money to pay off debt. There are dozens of success stories of people who dug their way out of tens of thousands dollars of debt. A common theme in these stories is that these people were willing to work harder to generate extra money for paying off their debt. That may have meant renting out an extra room, moving in with parents to save money, picking up a money-making hobby, sell valuables, or have a yard sale.

While you're working to pay off credit card debt, it's important to avoid spending habits and mistakes that would drive you deeper into debt.