On Oct. 9, a line of well-dressed, manicured women filed into the New York City Metropolitan Pavilion. With more than 1,000 attendees grabbing appetizers and drinks, this girly event decked out in pink and neon decor was dedicated to a very unhip subject: personal finance. One of the key messages concerned the importance of reducing credit card debt.
The event, LearnVest Live, was the first large-scale happening thrown by LearnVest, an organization dedicated to helping women lead financially successful lives. Founder Alexa von Tobel was inspired to start the company upon realizing how lost she was when it came to her own finances. She had graduated from Harvard College and landed a job on Wall Street, but there was so much more to learn.
For example, can reducing credit card debt affect someone's credit history? What, exactly, goes into the makings of a credit score? How can debt be used to advantage? To find the answers and share the knowledge with others -- particularly women -- von Tobel launched LearnVest.
The LearnVest message stresses the importance of reducing credit card debt as a critical step towards gaining financial security and living a richer life. Here are some of the best tips from LearnVest Live to help you get started.
Reduce credit card debt as quickly as possible.
Research which of your credit cards has the highest APR (Annual Percentage Rate) -- you can find this on your statements -- and pay down the debt on that charge card first while paying the minimums on the rest. Then, winnow your stack of credit cards by consolidating the accounts. Von Tobel urges people to meet with a financial advisor to decide how to get a grasp on reducing credit card debt while devising a sound financial plan for the future.
Organize your bills.
Marge Hannum, Chase Card Services head of consumer practices, suggests aligning the due dates for all your bills. Just by making a few phone calls, you can choose when to pay your bills each month. To prevent late fees while reducing credit card debt, set up email alerts to arrive a week before D-day and/or record the due dates in your calendar. "Run your finances like you run your social life," von Tobel adds.
Don't forget to save.
LearnVest proposes sticking to a 50/20/30 rule: Up to 50 percent of your income should go to essential expenses such as rent, transportation, and groceries; at least 20 percent should be directed toward financial priorities such as a savings account, retirement fund, and reducing credit card debt; and a maximum 30 percent should be relegated to the "fun stuff." To ensure that the money makes it to your savings account, both Hannum and Stephany Kirkpatrick, LearnVest's director of financial planning, recommend automating your finances so that some portion of your paycheck is deposited directly into your savings account. (Try arranging this through the company's human resources department.) If you're a freelancer and don't have a steady income, put all of your take-home into a savings account and budget very carefully to avoid overspending.
Discuss debt with your partner.
As your lives intertwine, your partner's financial history will affect your life, Kirkpatrick explains. Although your partner's debt remains under his or her name and your credit scores never merge, the amount of debt your partner adds to the equation can affect financial outcomes, such as qualifying for a mortgage. If you're engaged or married and your partner has more debt than you, Kirkpatrick suggests reducing credit card debt together. "There's a lot to be said for team work," she points out.
Invest in yourself.
Not all debt is bad debt. For example, student loans will help in the long run by making you more attractive to future employers, von Tobel explains. Joanna Coles, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, admits she was "in an unhealthy amount of debt in my twenties." During that time she used her overdraft to fund whatever she wanted to do. Now Coles advises others to direct their financial resources toward experiences that will catalyze personal growth. "You're investing in yourself," Coles says, "not buying stuff that goes out-of-date really quickly."