There was no single, unexpected event that threw you into debt. You weren't in a car accident that left you with $300,000 in medical bills. You didn't lose your job. You're 35 years old, married with two kids, and you're employed full time.
Instead, debt built up slowly. It didn't feel dire at first, but now you're in over your head. You're unsure how you got there, but you're interested in any potential options to get yourself out.
Situations like this are common, and they often come with warning signs. Five things to watch out for include:
1. Paying just the minimum on maxed out credit cards.
When the card is full to the limit and all you can afford is the minimum payment, you can't dig yourself out. The interest rates are quite high and keep you from making headway, even as you pay every month.
2. Pulling money out of a retirement account.
You created a retirement account of you and your spouse, and you paid into it for a decade. If you're now pulling money out, you're spending more than you can really afford.
3. Consistently being late when you pay the bills.
Sure, you may be late on the bills occasionally when it just slips your mind. It's a problem, though, when you're late every month. It's also problematic when the reason you're late is that you can't afford to pay, not that you forgot.
4. Borrowing money from family members and friends.
Friends and family members may be happy to help in extreme situations, but you didn't have an extreme situation. You're just spending too much. Having to take out these "loans" can put a lot of stress on your relationships, and it also shows that you need to tone down the spending.
5. Taking out payday loans.
Payday loans are attractive. You get money quickly. It sounds like a good deal. However, they're full of potential problems. For one thing, if you do pay them off with your next paycheck, you're just behind on the next set of bills. If you don't pay them off, the absurd interest rates kick in. What sounded like a small loan becomes a huge financial drain.
Did you see any of these signs as your debt grew? They could have tipped you off in advance, showing you that you had to change your spending habits to avoid a financial catastrophe.
The good news, since you've already run into financial trouble, is that you do have legal options. These may include Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which liquidates your nonessential assets, or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which gives you an affordable repayment plan. Make sure you really understand the options you have and what steps to take.