Life and debt


Life and debt


Sunday, January 12, 2020

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THE bank is calling. You are hiding. Your pressure is up. The calls won't stop. The utility bills are due.

Frankly, you know not what to do.

There are two things in this life, it is said, that are sure — death and taxes. Death, however, seems as sure as being in debt.

Centuries ago, the legendary playwright Shakespeare wrote: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be, for loan oft loses itself and its friend.”

Shakespeare's words long warned of the danger implicit in borrowing and lending money. This reality, though, has seemingly become a necessary evil, as one can hardly envision life without debt in a world where credit, the sine qua non in the field of transacting business, reigns supreme.

In the valley of the shadow of debt

Excessive debt is crippling. it occasions health issues, as it exacerbates them. Insomnia, headaches, stomach upset, hypertension, and feelings of depression are living ghosts tied to debt.

People waste productive lives in sleep, debilitated by the chokehold of debts. Debts kill. What is more, some give in to debts and take their lives, as is the fate of a wife in south-eastern India. Unable to service loans equivalent to US$840 secured for her child's medical treatment, she committed suicide.

Heavy debts are a sure poison for marriages and relationships. One researcher, Jeffrey Dew, sees increasing indebtedness as a morbid tunnel to fights and less-happy relationships. Little wonder disagreements about money figure as the leading cause of divorce in the US and many parts of the world. Is there escape out of this valley of the shadow of debt?

Rising from debt

Digging oneself from debt's hollow doesn't happen overnight — it takes time, discipline and hard work, but it is something you do for a peaceful life.

Consider these as you endeavour to wrench yourself from debt's hold or even as you contemplate going into debt:

1. Accept the reality

The sooner you do, the quicker you realise that debt is the enemy, not yourself or partner. Set a time, therefore, to talk openly and in a spirit of calm about the matter. Cease to dwell in the past and guard against future mistakes.

2. Determine your budget

Record cash inflow and outflow for the month, taking into account incidentals such as insurance, clothing or tax. Try your best to stick to what you have planned.

3. Keep communication open with creditors

Lenders hate silence. Present them your payment plan of action. Ask for an extension or a reduced rate of interest. Some creditors may take a reduced figure once you can pay the lower amount up front and in full. Try not to be arrogant.

4. Nothing beats a written agreement

This, between friends, can prevent misunderstandings. With an institution, you would need to examine carefully the wording of the loan or bill, as some creditors have been found to be deceptive.

5. Go from high to low

Determine the order in which you will clear debts. You could tackle debts with the highest interest rate first. Some may want to do away with smaller balances first, for getting fewer bills monthly may boost morale. Bear in mind, too, that a high interest rate loan may be refinanced by another institution at a lower rate or different terms. Explore your options.

6. Earn more

Working overtime on an extra shift, doing odd jobs, or creatively turning a hobby into a home business are options to consider. Take care, though, not to crowd out the more important things in life.

7. Spend less

Purchase on a needs basis. Sometimes waiting to purchase shows you that you really do not need the item.

8. Pay on the go

There is nothing wrong with the old-fashioned “pay as you go” motto. Be wary of credit cards and high interest rates. Remember, a debit card allows you to spend what you have and not what you don't. That may be a preferred alternative.

9. Adjust your life

Be willing to scale down. People try hard to keep up pretences. Relocate, if possible, to reduce rent, and make a concerted effort not to waste on utilities. Pack lunch and cut back on eating out. Capitalise on bargains. Use public transportation, or drive a less expensive model vehicle. Cut vacations or cut down on them.

Handling debts is really handling life, and to reduce them takes sacrifice. Being buried in debt is like being in a mudslide so grave you wonder where to start. but whatever mobility you exert aids the digging-out process — one that may be slow, arduous and sticky, yet, with time and effort, the feeling will be yours to breathe the to-be-sought-after words: “I am truly free. I am debt-free”.

Warrick Lattibeaudiere (PhD), a minister of religion for the past 22 years, lectures full-time in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Technology, Jamaica.

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