Secret Sauce for Oprah’s Debt Diet

Friday,Guest Posting February 17, 2006 marked the first of a multi-part series for The Oprah Winfrey Show, where Oprah challenged Americans to get out of debt. Oprah teamed up with three of the nations top financial experts to create a step-by-step action plan to show her viewers how to get out of debt. Oprah featured Jean Chatzky, Glinda Bridgforth, David Bach as her top financial experts.

Oprah compared Americas over-spending habits to our similar over-eating habits. She showed how compulsive spending is much like compulsive eating and how America doesn’t just have a high rate of obesity in our body, but obesity in our debt.

Oprah featured three families that were suffering from their high debt. First, there was the Widlund’s, who had the lowest annual income at over $75,000 and $81,000 in debt! Then there was the Eggleston’s, making about $92,000 a year and with $115,000 in debt. And the Bradley’s topped it off with over $100,000 a year income and $170,000 in debt.

The Four Steps of the Debt Diet, WITH some Special “Secret Sauce” added… Enjoy!

Debt Diet Step 1: How much debt do you really have?

Calculate how much debt you really have so you can begin paying it down.

Often times many people do not even know how much debt they really have. This is an important step to getting your debt under control.

It’s a good idea to run a three-in-one credit report. A three-in-one credit report is a combined credit report from each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TranUnion). Whether you regularly get monthly statements or not, running this kind of credit report will show you any old debts that you still may owe, along with anything that may be being reported to the bureaus for which you may not be responsible.

Special “Secret Sauce” for Step 1 of the Debt Diet: What “kind” is just as important as how much…

Knowing your “Point A”, your “current reality” or where you’re starting from IS the best place to start. If you were driving to New York, how would you know where to go if you didn’t know where you were starting from?

…But knowing how much debt you have is only one side of the coin.The other side of the coin is knowing what kind of debt you have.

Knowing how much of each type of debt you have will make a HUGE difference in understanding which options are available to you, AND how each option will impact you.


Organize your debt into these categories:

• Secured Debt – This includes any debt secured by a title or asset, like a house, car, motorcycle, boat, RV, etc. This may also include dirt bikes, quads, jewelry, or furniture.

• “Qualified” Unsecured Debt – This includes all unsecured debt (debt NOT secured by a title or asset) that may qualify for debt management programs such as credit counseling, debt negotiation/settlement or other debt management programs.

Qualified unsecured debt includes credit cards, personal loans, credit unions, hospital & medical bills, collection accounts, and deficiency balances.

Some examples of unsecured debt that is not qualified for debt management programs are payday loans, cash advances, MAC tools, Military accounts (Star, Omni, etc.), public utilities, personal loans from family or friends, and student loans.

• Other Unsecured Debt – All unsecured debt “not included” above

• Student Loan Debt – Self explanatory.

• Tax Debt – Any debts owed to the IRS or State TAX authority.

Once you know how much of each kind of debt you have, document it and keep it handy. If your situation changes, update your info and keep it current.

Debt Diet Step 2: Track your spending and find extra money to pay down the debt.

Cut back on daily extras and find savings where you least expect them.

Track Your Spending:

This is a multi-part step. The first part is to track your spending. Track each and every penny that you spend, whether it’s food, coffee, gum, bills, etc., track it and write it down for review.

This alone can be very powerful. It can show you just how much of your money is eaten up on the little things. This is what one of Oprah Experts refer to as the “Latté Factor®.” Say you buy a latté every day… after all, it’s just $5, right? But added to the soda each day, a snack from the vending machine at work, some gum and maybe some candy, too it really starts to add up! Just $10 a day can double the minimum payment on a $10,000 credit card! That’s up to $3,600 a year!

Trim the Fat:

The next part to this step is “trimming the fat.” Look at where you are spending your money. It’s time to make sacrifices. Try using a budget calculator to find some extra cash to pay down your debts. From cutting back to basic cable or not eating out as much to downsizing your big-screen T.V. and giving up the extra car, cutting back on these extra expenses can really cut back on your total debt!

Special “Secret Sauce” for Step 2 of the Debt Diet: DID YOU KNOW That Most People Spend 10% More Than They Make?

You probably know how much money you made last month, but do you know how much money you spent? Or do you know how much money you have left to spend this month? If you don’t, you’re not alone, most people have no idea.

The fact is most of us spend 10% more per month than we make. That comes out to $431 per month based on the average American income. No wonder the average credit card debt is now at $8,500!

So why is it so difficult to track your spending? Today we live in a near “cashless” society. Using debit cards, credit cards, automatic deposits, and wire transfers, we rarely even see our money. It’s easier than ever to spend, spend, spend!

We Need A New Way To Manage Our Money

Traditionally, many people managed their money by dividing their cash into several paper envelopes. An envelope for food, entertainment, utilities etc. They then spent their money from these envelopes. They always knew how much money they had left to spend, and how long it had to last. So how can we use such a simple, effective system today, when we don’t even see most of our money?


• Track every penny that you spend for the next 30 days

• Create a spending plan and stick to it!

Debt Diet Step 3: Learn to play the credit card game.

Get expert advice about how to lower creditor’s interest rates.

This, again, is a two-part step. The first step is attacking your interest rates. Many people who are deep in debt are suffering from high interest rates. Creditors may raise your interest rates if you are ever late on any payments or simply because you have too much debt.

You will want to contact each of your creditors and lower your interest rates. This is not always easy but if you follow some simple secrets, you may find that your results are better than you would expect!

Once you have gotten your interest rates lowered, you will want to re-assess how you use the money you have allotted to pay them off. You can also use the extra money from your budget that you uncovered to pay your cards off quicker.

Special “Secret Sauce” for Step 3 of the Debt Diet: Know your options.

Making minimum payments is simply not smart. It’s purely in the best financial interests of the bank, not you. If you can afford to pay OVER the minimum payment each month, then you can use an accelerated payoff plan (AKA: “roll up” / “roll down”) to avoid paying insane amounts of interest and get out of debt faster.

You can use the Dead on Last Payment-or DOLP™- method as mentioned by David Bach or a system that pays off the highest interest rate card first, such as the debt calculator included in the Mvelopes Personal Budgeting System (saving you the most money and getting you debt free faster).

But what other options exist?

• Did you know that credit counseling could significantly reduce your interest rates and get you debt free faster?

• What about debt settlement? Did you know you could be debt f

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Ultimate Debt Help Guide – All Your Debt Relief Solution Needs A-Z

Ever hear bad debt relief stories about people needing debt relief help being ripped off? It’s ridiculous that people in need of debt relief get the worst treatment. We’re going to clear the air and debunk the myths about debt reduction programs as well as arm you with the tools and information you need become debt free the right way. It’s time to attend the School of Debt. First things first let’s cover the three available programs and the various names they go by. The first one on the list is Debt Management also referred to as Consumer Credit Counseling, Credit Counseling, CCCS, Consumer Credit Counseling Service, Debt Management Plan or a DMP.

I am constantly hearing horror stories about how people looking for debt relief are being misled and given bad advice about their debt relief options. It is ridiculous that the people who need the most help get treated the worst. Some people would rather suffer in their debt than seek the help they need. This is largely due to companies that are unethical and only interested in taking your money or that they have bought into false information about these programs. We’re going to clear the air and debunk the myths about debt as well as arm you with the information you need become debt free.Why things are the way they are?Words like morels,Guest Posting ethics and honesty no longer carry the weight they once did. Human nature is such that when an opportunity arises to make a quick buck people will do anything to get their slice of the yummy greedy pie. These scam artists are smart too! They know that when people are desperate they make poor decisions. I’m not going to dive too deep into the psychology of it but you need to know what drives and motivates these people if you want to avoid them. In nature it’s the week and the young that are the easiest prey while the strong survive. The same basic concepts apply to the predators and prey of life; if you want to survive in today’s jungle you need you need to be prepared.Knowledge is powerIt’s time to attend the SCHOOL OF DEBT. First things first let’s cover the three available programs and the various names they go by.1. Debt Settlement also referred to as Debt Negotiation or Debt Arbitration.2. Debt Management also referred to as Consumer Credit Counseling, Credit Counseling, CCCS, Consumer Credit Counseling Service, Debt Management Plan or DMP.3. Debt Consolidation Loan – Any loan that consolidates your debt.As you can see there are really only a few methods or programs but numerous name variations. This can be confusing at times. Another commonly used and frequently misunderstood word is “debt consolidation”. Consolidation is not a program type. It is a word that has a very broad meaning. Technically, all three relief programs can be considered a form of consolidation in one way or another. So remove this word from your vocabulary for now. And I’ve purposely left out Bankruptcy as an option because the goal here is to avoid it.Debt Settlement and what you need to knowOut of the three programs Debt Settlement saves you the most money but has a negative impact on your credit rating. It’s a good fit for someone who already has bad credit or cannot qualify for a less aggressive program. Keep in mind that if you have good credit now but can’t pay your bills then you’re credit scores are going to drop anyway so you may want to consider this as an option and worry about your credit rating at a later time. Also, know that you’re good credit isn’t doing anything for you right now. The whole point of having good credit is to prove your ability to payback what you borrow and borrowing more money isn’t an option if you can’t pay your bills. Anyone can enroll in a settlement program so even if you can afford to make your payments it still might be a program to consider due to the fact that it will save you a ton. You just need to determine which is more important for you having a few years of bad credit and eliminating your debt or continue paying the minimum payment for the next 26 years wasting thousands in interest. If you’re the type of person that strongly believes in paying back every penny that you owe I think that’s great and I completely respect your opinion. Personally I see nothing wrong with paying less than you owe to your creditors because they’re the biggest crooks out there. I could write a novel justifying why I believe this but that is another topic for another time. If you want to get a feel for how crooked the banks are then rent “Maxed Out” the documentary. I think everyone should watch it whether in debt or not. When enrolled in a settlement program you stop making payments to your creditors and start making payments into a trust account. The funds that accumulate in this account are then used as leverage to negotiate your balances down with your creditors. You can typically expect to see a savings of 50% of the original balance. You need to know that your creditors are not paid until a settlement is actually accepted. That can take months even years and it really depends on what you can afford to pay towards the program each month. The more you pay the faster the funds accumulate and the faster you get out. Settlement gets a lot of undeserved bad press. Just the other day I was watching “Your Money” on CNN and some guy was ranting about how creditors are not obligated to settle for less than what you owe. This is misleading because your debt gets passed onto a collections company who then settles for a lesser amount. The banks are regulated by the federal government to clear bad debt from their books when it reaches 120 days delinquent. That bad debt is then traded on the secondary market just like stocks. Collection companies buy these bad debts in large pools for as little as 15 cents on the dollar. Being in collections actually works to your advantage because they’ve bought your debts for far less than your original balance enabling them to accept a smaller amount while still making money. I have never once seen or heard of a credit card where the balance could not be reduced through a settlement. Typically you can include any unsecured debt into the program with the exception of student loans, payday advance loans, military credit cards and personal loans from American General, Beneficial and City Bank. Do not enroll in a settlement program if you owe less than $7,000 because once you factor in the cost of the program and any charges incurred there’s no benefit.10 reasons why you should use a debt settlement companyThis is for the people that think they can negotiate their debt without the help of a debt settlement company. I hear this all the time and the fact is you’re going to save more money, time and effort if you use the services of a good debt settlement company. Some people get all worked up about this and I don’t get it at all. Never assume you know something…get the facts. Trust me on this one…you’ll thank me later.

Debt settlement companies have proven strategies and tactics that enable them to negotiate to lower amounts than you would be able to on your own.
Your creditors are not going to settle with you until you have a nice chunk of money to offer them. Debt settlement programs give you a way to save that money by making payments into a trust account. This is great for people that are not good at saving there own money. Not to mention the fact that you’re less likely to spend money you don’t have access to.
The Attorneys that work for you when in a debt settlement program send your creditors legal notifications requesting that all communications are to now be directed through the law firm. This greatly reduces the harassing creditor phone calls.
If a creditor takes you to court you will have proof that you are actively working to repay the debt. It looks a lot better to the judge when you show him proof of the program.
Creditors are less likely to take you to court because they look like bullies when you’re actively working to pay them back.
A debt settlement company is going to constantly be making offers to your creditor starting very low and slightly increasing the amount as you build funds in your trust account assuring that you get the lowest settlement possible.
You will save yourself countless hours of work.
You have a legal paper trail if things are inaccurately reporting on your credit report after you settle. Good luck getting it changed without it.
Good debt settlement companies have established relationship with the banks and can get to the decision makers that have the ability to actually do something. They don’t just call the customer service number on the back of the card (probably a call center in India).
You will save more money!
How to choose the right debt settlement companyI suggest a settlement company that uses a law firm and not an arbitrator when dealing with your creditors. They typically have a higher success and satisfaction rating. A good question to ask is who does the actual negotiating? Try to find a company that does not outsource the negotiation process to some 3rd party company. When shopping for the best company you want to look at the total benefit to you. Don’t just look at what they charge you but also consider their ability to negotiate your debt to a lower amount because it does you no good to use the cheapest company (fee wise) if they stink at the negotiation process or if they outsource it (losing all quality control). For instance, if a particular company is able to save you let’s say an additional 7% due to good negotiating but there fees are higher than the competition by say 3%. It would still be in your best interest to use them due to the total savings realized once the program is done. Around 15% of your total debt is what you should expect to pay for a good debt settlement company. This should be included in your monthly payment and there should be NO upfront fees. Also, don’t pay much attention to what these companies estimate your total savings to be because it’s just that, an estimate and no one knows what your creditors are going to settle for until they actually settle! Always watch out for the slick talking sales associates that don’t have your best interests at heart. Make sure that the company you work with is a member of either T.A.S.C. or the U.S.O.B.A. which are both groups that help make sure that state and federal guidelines are being followed. And forget the BBB (better business bureau) because just about every company in the debt relief industry has an F rating because of the nature of the business. However, I would use the BBB to check the complaint history of a debt settlement company and the law firm they use. Personally I think the number one thing to look for is a quality sales representative that knows what they’re talking about and one that you feel you have built a solid relationship with. A bad Representative can make any company seem bad and vice versa. I like to see a company that has a sharp website which shows me that they are investing in their future and are not just a fly by night company. I would suggest going with a company that has more than just a settlement program as an option. This tells me that they’re less likely to be biased towards any one particular program.Tax Implications and Debt SettlementDebt settlement has become a popular approach to resolving problem debts without having to file bankruptcy. With this approach, creditors agree to accept a portion of what you owe (usually around 50% or less) to settle the account, and the remaining balance is forgiven. This technique will certainly continue to grow in popularity now that the new bankruptcy law makes it tougher to fully discharge debts in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.As with anything, there is no free lunch, and creditors are required to report canceled debts to the IRS on Form 1099 (when the canceled balance is $600 or greater). Therefore, the possibility exists that you may owe taxes on the forgiven portion of the debt. For this reason, many financial writers and debt counselors are strongly critical of debt settlement, to the point where they actually recommend against it just because you might end up owing taxes. But the tax consequences of settling your debts are greatly over-emphasized and this is really just a minor issue at best.First, even if you end up owing taxes on the canceled balances, that’s because you saved a bunch of money off your original debts. The total of what you paid the creditor, plus the taxes, will still be much less than what you owed to begin with. There is still a net savings. So it’s hard to understand why this is viewed as a problem in the first place!Second, the great majority of people who settle their debts are not required to pay taxes on the forgiven part of the balance. That’s because of the “insolvency” rule, described in IRS Publication 908, “Bankruptcy Tax Guide” Don’t let the title fool you. You don’t need to have filed a formal declaration of bankruptcy to take advantage of the insolvency rule.Basically, “insolvent” means that you have a negative net worth – that is, you “owe” more than you “own.” As a consequence, most debtors do not have a tax liability on the canceled debts, simply because most debtors are insolvent! It usually comes down to home equity. If you have enough equity in a home (or other property) to outweigh the total of your liabilities (debts), then you have a positive net worth, and will likely have to pay taxes on the forgiven debt amounts. However, the majorities of people in serious debt trouble have a negative net worth, and are therefore insolvent. The way it works is that you can offset the canceled debt up to the amount by which you were insolvent at the time you did the settlement.Come tax time, be sure to get professional tax advice specific to your situation. Also, be sure to read the section in IRS Publication 908 on “reduction of tax attributes,” which requ

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