Dealing with Debt – Credit Cards, Student Loans, Consolidation, & Counseling

Debt is a four-letter word. Yep, literally and figuratively. There are times in life when the forceful use of a four-letter word can be just what’s needed to turn a situation around for the better. But used too often, it can be toxic. The exact same thing goes for debt. Debt can be a powerful and positive tool for certain opportunities, such as: home ownership, having a car, furthering your education, smoothing out access to cash flow between paychecks and even building a solid credit score. But used improperly, debt can make you so stressed the only thing running through your head are f**r letter words. The below resources are intended to keep you out of the later camp!


The Total Money Makeover: a proven plan for financial fitness by Dave Ramsey. If you are starting out your MoneyZen journey from a bit of a shaky financial position… no worries! This classic book by Dave Ramsey will give you some straight talk (with a side of tough love) about how to get yourself out of a financial pothole and back on to the path to financial wellbeing. This book has helped millions of people get out of debt when they felt there was no possible way that could ever happen.

Pay It Down: from debt to wealth on $10 a day by Jean Chatzky. Written back in 2006, the advice in this book remains timeless. Before you think about consolidating your debt (either with a zero percent credit card or by using a for-profit credit consolidation company, neither of which I’m a big fan of) please, please, please read this book. You may be surprised at how simple (not EASY, but simple) it is to get rid of your debt by following the steps in this classic book without entering the “gotcha” world of the alternative options. For more Jean Chatzky, listen to my interview of Jean here, and Jean’s interview of me on her podcast here.

Student Loans

For information on federal student loan forgiveness, read this article from the US Dept. of Education. It highlights the various ways in which the government can help if you are having troubles paying back your federal student loans. If your loans are private read this piece and this piece by the National Consumer Law Center which explains the key differences to be aware of when trying to get help paying back private loans vs. government loans. For greater clarity on what the difference is between federal and private student loans – and why understanding that distinction is so absolutely vital, read this piece.

Non-Profit Credit Counseling

If you are feeling like you are in over-your-head with debt and reading a book just isn’t going to cut it, I always recommend that the first organization you contact is the NFCC (see below). However before that, start by reading this article on Choosing a Credit Counselor from the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Education Unit so you can understand the rocky terrain of the (often predatory) debt settlement world. Sadly, there are a lot of unsavory entities who are delighted to help you get out of debt through their for-profit debt consolidation programs.

The National Foundation For Credit Counselling (“NFCC”) is THE gold standard when it comes to trust-worthy non-profit organizations that can help you get out of debt. When you visit this site you can learn why this option may be far superior in your situation than declaring bankruptcy (and I always recommend non-profit credit counselling over for-profit debt consolidation). As you follow the prompts, you’ll be connected to one of the NFCC’s non-profit partners located in your area so you can get started – with the help of kind and non-judgmental help – eliminating the crushing burden and stress of too much debt.