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The Pinch: Paying off credit debt requires a sound plan

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Have your spending habits changed because of the economic downturn? In a recent survey, Georgia Credit Union Affiliates found that 85 percent of Georgians report significantly reducing their spending habits within the last year.

The downturn has caused many consumers to be more prudent with their money and spending, said Phyllis Cochran, president and CEO of Augusta VAH Federal Credit Union.

“Before, I don’t think people gave thought to simple things like interest rates, having money in their share (savings) account, paying off credit debt and getting themselves in a position that was more financially healthy and stable. I think we’re seeing more of that today,” Cochran said.

Many of her credit union customers have tried to pay off their loans sooner to reduce their interest payments, and credit-card balances are down.

“That tells me that people are being mindful as to how much they go out and purchase,” she said.

Here are answers to five frequently asked financial questions, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling:

Q: What is the best way to build or rebuild credit?

A: Start slowly, because applying for too much credit at once can send the wrong signal to lenders. Gas cards and department store cards can be easier to obtain, but they may come with a higher interest rate than a general purpose card. Also, consider getting a co-signer on a loan, becoming an authorized user on another person’s account, or obtaining a secured credit card.

Q: Is it possible to save when on a tight budget?

A: To find money for savings, reduce each spending category by $10 per month. Having 10 percent automatically deducted from the paycheck is also an effective way to fund a savings account.

Q: With multiple debts, which should be paid first?

A: When paying off a large amount of debt, it’s important to select a plan that’s in line with your personality. Numbers people are aware of the negative impact of high interest rates, so they will benefit by paying the card with the highest APR. People who need instant gratification are more likely to remain motivated by paying off a small debt balance first, then moving to the next smallest balance.

Q: Can a prepaid debit card be used like a debit card attached to a checking account?

A: Prepaid cards branded with the American Express, Discover, MasterCard or Visa logos can be used anywhere these cards are accepted, just like debit cards attached to bank accounts.

$2,350 IN COUPONS

Today’s Augusta Chronicle has $2,350 in coupons. This includes $10 at Toys R Us, $10 at Firestone, $30 at Belk, $400 at Ashley Furniture and $1,900 at Rooms To Go.

The Toys R Us insert has a coupon to save $10 on all Pampers (88 count or higher) or Huggies (100 count or higher) diapers. It expires Sept. 8.


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