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Struggling With Credit Card Debt? Here Are Two Books That Can Help

When it comes to credit cards, there are two kinds of people in this world: those who carry credit card balances and those who don’t. In the U.S., those two groups are more or less the same size; half of American households carry revolving credit card debt and half do not.

When a consumer carries credit card debt, it means one thing – the consumer has spent and/or continues to spend more money than he or she earns. For some people, that means an emergency arose that required a credit card purchase, and there is a clear plan to pay off the charges. For many credit card balance carriers, though, the cards are a means to buy things they can’t afford. The cards enable these folks to acquire things without the inconvenience of first saving up the money.

Do you need help managing your finances?

If you are in the latter (non-emergency) group, or if you don’t know exactly what purchases make up your credit card balance, or if your balances continue to grow, or if you don’t know exactly what your balances are, or if you simply have one or more credit card balances but want to get rid of them, you need to educate yourself and ultimately change your financial behavior. Debt is a common impetus to acquire the financial education we lack. But personal finance knowledge does not come with age. It must be learned. One very easy method is to pick up a book written by a credible author who knows what she’s talking about.

For a personal finance self-help book to be effective, it should:

  • Be easy to read.
  • Come with an affordable price tag.
  • Outline actionable steps that make sense and that you can implement immediately.
  • Be connected to real people who can offer real-life support.
  • Open the door to more sophisticated financial management after your current crisis is resolved.

Here are my two top picks.

1. Confessions of a Credit Junkie

Confessions of a Credit JunkieIn Confessions of a Credit Junkie: Everything You Need to Know to Avoid the Mistakes I Made, Harzog relates her personal story of overwhelming debt, what she did to get out of debt, and everything she learned about credit and credit cards in the meantime. She is now a nationally recognized credit expert, often quoted by major news outlets.

I list the Harzog book first because if you’re new to the personal finance crisis market, you might not be ready to take drastic steps to change your behavior. That’s OK. Confessions of a Credit Junkie is an extremely easy read, full of plain language and anecdotes about everyday experiences, written with a sense of humor and a light-hearted tone. Decide for yourself whether you can relate to any of Harzog’s personal experiences and whether it’s appropriate for you to take any steps to change your behavior. The book includes a “credit personality” test that can help you evaluate your own situation.

Harzog doesn’t judge or condemn consumers who abuse credit. She relates her own experiences and shares her hard-won financial expertise with anyone open to receiving help. She does not mince words when it comes to the action plan, though, freely admitting that climbing up from the pit of debt was challenging and uncomfortable. She also goes so far as to discuss points and rewards strategies for consumers who want to make their credit cards work for them (after getting the debt under control, of course).

Harzog maintains a website with an active blog —BeverlyHarzog.com—and is very responsive to readers who contact with her with questions or for support.

2. The 21-Day Financial Fast

The 21 Day Financial FastThe 21-Day Financial Fast: Your Path to Financial Peace and Freedom is for consumers who are ready to embrace a new (and potentially life-altering) experience. The goal for the fast is to avoid all unnecessary spending for 21 days. No restaurants, no night clubs, no new shoes, no new anything unless you have a legitimate and compelling need. Groceries and household bills are allowed, as are planned charitable contributions to your religious organization. While you refrain from spending money on anything but the most basic necessities, you are encouraged to examine your priorities and financial achievements (or lack of) in order to create the financial action plan that will benefit you the most. Consumers at any income level and with nearly any level of financial knowledge can benefit from the financial fast experience. If your financial picture isn’t exactly what you’d like it to be, you will gain something from the fast.

The book has 21 chapters – one for each day of the fast – that cover everything from budgeting basics to the pitfalls of debt to long-term care planning in our golden years.  Singletary draws the reader in with a discussion of the prosperity that anyone can achieve and the benefits of a conservative financial approach. She moves on to strongly-worded cautions about the dangers of credit, debt, greed and poor planning for the future. The warnings are often punctuated by personal memories of Singletary’s late grandmother, a kind-hearted, hard-working saver whose brilliant financial sense made an intense impression on her grandchild. Singletary sets us on the journey to financial freedom with an optimistic view of the peace that comes from having and implementing a solid, responsible financial plan.

It’s an easy read, full of plain language testimonials from people of all ages and backgrounds who have done the fast.

Singletary’s book is accompanied by an active website (rebelmouse.com/financialfast/). When you’re ready to do the fast, sign up to receive daily emails. Each chapter is also accompanied by a YouTube video, and fasters can support one another using the #financialfast tag on Twitter. The author is involved personally in conversations on all of those channels.

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