Credit Hell: How to Dig out of Debt

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Each year, millions of Americans sink further into debt and the sad truth is that most Americans have been conditioned to believe that debt is a normal part of life. If credit problems are adversely affecting your life, there are ways to improve your financial situation, and Credit Hell: How to Dig Out of Debt can show you how.

Written by Howard S. Dvorkin--a nationally known expert in the debt counseling field--Credit Hell walks you through the "getting-out-of-debt" process ...

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Each year, millions of Americans sink further into debt and the sad truth is that most Americans have been conditioned to believe that debt is a normal part of life. If credit problems are adversely affecting your life, there are ways to improve your financial situation, and Credit Hell: How to Dig Out of Debt can show you how.

Written by Howard S. Dvorkin--a nationally known expert in the debt counseling field--Credit Hell walks you through the "getting-out-of-debt" process from assessing the state of your finances and developing a budget, to negotiating with your creditors, consolidating your debts, and rebuilding your finances after your money troubles are over. Filled with in-depth insights and practical advice, this user-friendly guide:

  • Shows you how to deal with important debts like your mortgage, car loans, and taxes owed to the IRS
  • Discusses why having a good credit history and a high credit score is important; how to order your credit report from each of the three national credit reporting agencies; and what you can do to improve your score and correct problems in your credit records
  • Educates you about important laws that can protect you when applying for credit, using credit, or if a debt collector is hounding you
  • Explains when filing for bankruptcy is your best option and provides you with an overview of the process

If you want to dig yourself out of debt and stay out of debt in the future, pick up Credit Hell and discover the best way to regain control of your financial life.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471737537
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 2/25/2005
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.06 (w) x 8.92 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

HOWARD S. DVORKIN is the founder of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services, Inc., a leader in the debt-counseling arena. He is a certified public accountant, a certified credit counselor, and a noted financial expert on consumer credit, personal financial planning, and tax strategies. As an expert who examines consumer credit trends, causes and effects of financial overextension, Dvorkin has contributed to numerous print publications and broadcast outlets including CNN, CBS Evening News, The Early Show, FOX News, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, USA Today, Money magazine, Consumer Reports, the American Banker, and virtually every newspaper in the country. Dvorkin earned his master's degree in business administration from the University of Miami and his bachelor of science degree in accounting from American University in Washington, D.C.

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Read an Excerpt

Credit Hell

By Howard S. Dvorkin

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-471-73753-4

Chapter One

Assessing the State of Your Finances

Ed and Shana are totally stressed out because they can't keep up with their credit card payments. Their problems began after one of their daughters became seriously ill and they had to use their cards to help pay her medical bills. They knew that money would be tight until they got the card balances paid off, but then Shana's hours at work were reduced and, with less monthly income, they began to fall behind on their debts. Ed and Shana's lives have become a struggle and they worry constantly, especially now that debt collectors are calling to demand that they pay what they owe. They have never been in such a bad situation before and the stress it has generated is causing tension in Ed and Shana's marriage. Ed has become withdrawn and depressed. Ed and Shana feel as though their lives are ruined.

If you are living in Credit Hell like Ed and Shana, there is a way out, but it will take hard work, self-discipline, and some sacrifice. Furthermore, it won't happen overnight. After all, if your financial troubles are the result of over spending, they probably developed over a period of months if not years, so it's naive to think that there are any quick fixes. Be assured, however, that if you follow the advice in Credit Hell: How to Dig Out of Debt, little by little over time, your finances will improve.

You don't have to be drowningin debt to benefit from this book. For example, if you can pay your bills but you can only afford to pay the minimum due on your credit cards, the advice in this book can help you get out of debt faster so that you will have more disposable income each month enabling you to build up your savings faster. That way, if you are hit by unexpected expenses like Ed and Shana were, you won't have to run up your credit cards to pay for them.

It All Begins with a Budget

The get-out-of-debt process starts with the development of a budget. Then you can use it to prepare a practical plan of action that will get you to where you want to be-living within your means. Although you may resist the idea of living on a budget, the truth is, it's an essential money management tool and it will be difficult, if not impossible for you to get out of debt without one.

To start, figure out how you spend your money now by tracking your spending for a month. For the next month, write down how much you spend and what you spend it on, including anything that you purchase with a credit card, a debit card, a check, or cash, as well as any bills that you pay online or have automatically debited from your account, the money you give to your children, and other miscellaneous expenditures. Also, save all of your ATM and other receipts. No expense is too small to record in your notebook because small expenses will eventually add up to big ones. For example, in a year's time the $0.75 cents you spend for a newspaper each weekday, the $3 you spend every morning on your way to work for a latte, and the $5 you spend each work day for lunch will add up to a whopping $2,275!!!! And what will you have to show for all of that money? Ask your spouse or partner to track his or her expenses for a month, too. Your budget will not work properly unless you understand how all of the money in your household is being spent.


Record your expenses in a notebook that is small enough to fit in your purse or pocket so that you can carry it with you whenever you leave the house and can record information about the amount you spend right away.

The process of tracking your spending will help you become aware of exactly what you do with your money each month. That is a good thing because if you are like many consumers, you may not give much thought to it. You spend a dollar here, five dollars there, and then as the end of the month draws near, you wonder why you don't have much money left. As a result, you may use your credit cards and get cash advances to make ends meet.

Tally Your Spending Totals

After you have tracked your spending for a month, sit down with your notebook, check register, ATM receipts, and any other spending records you may have and then use all of that information to fill in the blanks under the Current Payments heading on the Budgeting Worksheet in Appendix A of this book.

You will notice that the expenses on that worksheet are divided into three categories: fixed expenses, variable expenses, and periodic expenses. Fixed expenses are expenses that stay the same from month to month-your rent or mortgage payments, your car payments, and other loan payments, for example. Variable expenses are expenses that change from month to month-the amount of money you spend on clothes, entertainment, meals, dry cleaning, and so on. Periodic expenses are expenses that you do not pay each month. They may include your insurance payments, property taxes, and your child's school tuition, among other things. Although you don't have to pay periodic expenses every month, you should be saving for them on a monthly basis so that when they come due, you have the money you need to pay them. Therefore, for budgeting purposes, you need to translate each of your periodic expenses into monthly amounts. To do that, divide the annual amount for each periodic expense by 12 and then record that dollar figure on the appropriate line of your worksheet under the Current Payments heading.

When you record your monthly expenses on the worksheet, be sure to include any debt payments you should be making but may not able to make because of lack of money. If you don't account for these expenses on your budgeting worksheet, you will understate your total expenses and you won't have an accurate picture of how much it costs your family to live each month. This will defeat the purpose of this exercise.


If you don't have exact amounts for your income and expenses, you may have to estimate those numbers. In this situation, I suggest that you understate your income and overstate your expenses when you complete the worksheet.

Once you have recorded all of your expenses on the worksheet and have recorded totals for each category of expense on the appropriate lines of the worksheet, add them all up. The number you end up with represents the total amount of money you are currently spending each month.

Compare Your Total Monthly Income to Your Total Expenses

Next, record your total net monthly income on the worksheet under the Current Income heading. When you are coming up with that number, take into account the monthly take-home pay of everyone contributing to the household expenses, which is your gross income less all deductions, including taxes, and any other source of regular reliable income you may receive, including child support or alimony payments, government benefits such as Social Security benefits, veterans benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments, and so on.

When you have all of your expense and income information recorded, subtract your total monthly spending from your total monthly income. If the number you end up with is positive, then your income is greater than your expenses, which is good news. However, if the number is negative, then you are spending more than you take in each month. That is bad news.

If the news is good: Expenses are lower than income. If your monthly spending is less than your monthly income, you've got a budget surplus, which is a good thing. However, you may have a surplus because you are only paying the minimum due on your credit cards each month or because you are not making monthly contributions to your savings account or retirement plan. If you are paying just the minimum due on your credit cards, begin using some of your monthly surplus to pay off your credit card debts (and any other high interest debt you may have) more quickly. Your goal should be to get rid of that debt as soon as you can because the longer you take, the more interest you will pay to your creditors. The more interest you pay, the more your credit purchases will cost you. You should also review your budget worksheet to pinpoint expenses you can reduce or even eliminate and identity things you can do to live more frugally. Then, apply whatever money you save to your credit card debts, starting with the highest interest debt first. Meanwhile, until you have your credit card debts paid off, try not to use those credit cards.

Ideally, your surplus (either before or after you cut or eliminate expenses in your budget) will be big enough that you can pay off your credit card debts and, at the same time, save money or increase the rate at which you are saving. Financial experts advise that you keep a minimum of six months of living expenses in a savings account as a financial safety net. Then, if you are hit with an unexpected expense-essential home repairs, medical bills, car repairs, or other expense-or if you or your spouse or partner lose your job, you can use those funds to help pay your family 's living expenses and debts. Without that safety net, you may run up debt on your credit cards to help pay for things. Because of the very high interest you pay for credit card debt, this is not a desirable thing. Once you have a minimum of six months of living expenses in your savings account, continue to build your savings so that you will have the money you need to help fund your children's educations and your retirement, and to help pay for a new home, a new car, new furniture, a vacation, or something else that is important to you.


Financial experts advise that you allocate at least 10 percent of your monthly income to savings. If you can't afford to save that much right now, try to save at least 5 percent. The important thing is to begin saving something each month, even if you can only afford to save a small amount, so that saving becomes a financial habit. Over time, as your financial situation improves, you can increase the amount you are saving. However, contributing to savings comes with one caveat. If you have a lot of debt and that debt comes with high interest rates, it may be better to get the high interest debt paid off or significantly reduced at the expense of building up your savings.

If you can't afford to pay off your credit card debts faster and boost your savings at the same time, focus on paying off your credit card debts first. Once you pay off the credit card with the highest rate of interest, apply the money you were paying on that debt plus whatever else you can afford to paying off the credit card with the next highest interest rate, and so on. There is an exception to this advice, however. The exception applies if you think that your job (or your spouse or partner's job) may be in jeopardy. In that case, unless you already have enough in savings to cover six to nine months of expenses, concentrate on building up that account as quickly as you can, and then focus on paying off your credit card debts.

If the news is bad: Monthly expenses exceed your income. Since you are reading this book, I imagine that after comparing your monthly expenses and income most of you will discover that your expenses exceed your income. In other words, each month, you are probably making up the difference between your income and your expenses by using your credit cards, getting cash advances, by not paying some of your bills at all, and/or by doing without. As a result, you may be getting deeper and deeper into debt each month.

You should work toward achieving two goals when you have a monthly budget shortfall. Your first and most immediate goal should be to reduce your spending by enough that your monthly income will cover all of your monthly financial obligations-your family's living expenses and debts. Once you have achieved that goal, your next goal should be to reduce your spending even more so you can begin saving each month. Exhibit 1.1, Spending Guidelines, indicates how financial experts generally agree you should allocate your dollars. If your spending in any one of the expense categories exceeds what you are currently spending, you may need to focus on reducing your spending in that area. The section titled Tips for Reducing Your Spending, later in this chapter, provides specific advice for how to live on less.

If you are deeply in debt, you may not be able to work toward achieving both goals right away. If that's the case, focus first on reducing your spending so you can live on your income, and then later, as things improve, you can work toward the second goal.

It's also possible that you will have to increase your household income in order to achieve your first goal. That may require that you and your spouse or partner get second jobs, do freelance work, or even find better paying full-time positions. You may also want to consider asking your older children to work part time so that they can help pay some of their own expenses, assuming that their school performance won't be jeopardized.

Make budget cutting a family affair. Share your budget worksheet with your entire family, including your children. Ask everyone for suggestions on how to reduce the family's spending and then each month review with them the progress the family has made reducing its spending. Involving your children in the process is a good way to teach them to be responsible money managers as adults.


Getting your children involved in your family's finances at an early age will lead to important benefits for them later in life when they are managing their own money. Don't be afraid to talk about money during your family meal times. Such conversations provide you with an opportunity to teach your children important life lessons that should pay substantial dividends throughout their lives.

Maria and Jorge just can't seem to make a dent in their credit card debts and they worry that they are spending so much money paying on those debts that they will never be able to save enough to buy a bigger home and to help their children go to college. As a result, Maria went to the library and found a book about budgeting and she and Jorge decided to put the book's information into action. Following the book's directions, they figured out where their money was going each month. They were surprised by what they learned. For example, Maria and Jorge found out that their weekday restaurant lunches were costing them close to $300/month and that the monthly cost of Maria's daily latte amounted to $60. Those two expenses alone amounted to $4,320 each year-money that they could use to pay off their credit card debts.

After they identified expenses that they could reduce, Maria and Jorge met with their 12- and 16-year-old children. In their judgment, the children were old enough to become actively involved in helping manage their family's finances. Also, Maria and Jorge felt that involving them in discussions about money would help prepare their children to manage their own finances as adults. During the family meeting, Maria and Jorge shared their family's monthly expense and income information with their children, discussed why they wanted to pay off their credit card debts more quickly, and shared with them the things they intended to do to help achieve that goal. Maria and Jorge also asked their children for suggestions about things they could do to live on less. The 12-year-old offered to start babysitting in order to earn her own spending money and was excited about becoming more financially independent. The 16-year-old offered to get a weekend job to help pay for his own gas and car insurance. Maria said that she would post a copy of their family budget on the refrigerator and everyone agreed to meet at the end of each month to discuss how well they were doing meeting their financial goals. Everyone felt good about the challenges ahead and liked the idea that they were all pulling together.


Excerpted from Credit Hell by Howard S. Dvorkin Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Chapter ONE: Assessing the State of Your Finances.

Chapter TWO: What to Do about Your Debts.

Chapter THREE: Debts That Deserve Special Attention.

Chapter FOUR: Using Credit Responsibly.

Chapter FIVE: Credit Reporting Agencies, Credit Reports, and Credit Scores.

Chapter SIX: Rebuilding Your Credit History and Your Financial Future.

Chapter SEVEN: Your Money Rights.

Appendix A: Budgeting Worksheet.

Appendix B: Your Household Budget.

Appendix C: Helpful Resources.

Appendix D: About Consolidated Credit Counseling Services, Inc.




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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2005

    Thank Heaven for Credit Hell:...

    Credit Hell: ... put into lay terms everything I needed to know about debt, managing credit and most importantly, the value of maintaining good. Armed with solid information, I no longer feel overwhelmed when dealing with my budget and creditors. I am thankful that this book is available - and at a very reasonable price! Christine Hansen

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2005

    Tremendous help!

    Tremendous help! This book was a godsend. I used the tactics and have finally gotten out of ¿credit hell¿. This book really taught me how to handle my finance so I will never have financial problems again. Chapter 5. Credit Reporting Agencies, Credit Reports & Credit Scores is information every person should have.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2005

    The Best Self Help Book Written on Finances

    This is the best self help book ever written on personal finances. Clearly the author has an outstanding knowledge of the subject matter, however his ability to break it down in a manner even novices can understand is what makes this book helpful. Use of the tips throughout the book can give any reader a firm understanding of what to do when you have personal financial challenges.

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