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Wrong Ways to Pay Off Debt

11 bad financial moves that could put you deeper in the hole

Pay Down Your Debt Challenge Icon

En español  |  None of us wants to have big debts hanging over our heads. There are smart ways to get them under controltight budgeting, for instance — but also a huge number of bad choices that may just dig you in deeper.

So don't make any of the following 11 mistakes if you're trying to get rid of your mortgage, car loan or credit card balances once and for all.

1. Gambling

According to a 2011 survey from the American Gaming Association, 58 percent of all casino visitors are 50 or older. It's one thing to hit the slot machines or blackjack tables for some brief, leisurely fun. But if you're deep in debt, don't count on striking it rich in Las Vegas or Atlantic City.

The odds are against you, whether you bet small or large. After the momentary thrill of the wager is gone, you'll still be in debt, probably even more.

2. Misusing a home equity loan

If you've racked up high-rate credit card debt, you may be tempted to tap the equity in your home to pay it down. But perhaps your debt problem is a result of overspending and you haven't changed your spendaholic ways — you'll just run up your credit cards again. Or maybe you've lost a job and you're still out of work. In these instances, a home equity loan won't fix the underlying issue. And if it becomes unaffordable, you could be putting your home at risk of foreclosure.

3. Borrowing from a family member

If a relative offers to lend you money to pay off debt, don't be quick to accept. What happens if — for some unforeseen reason — you can't repay on time? Your relationship with that person could go sour in a hurry. Could you live with that? It's simply not worth risking a relationship.

4. Playing ostrich

When you're behind on your debts, you may try to relieve your stress by leaving bills unopened or avoiding collection calls. But putting your head in the sand isn't going to make those debts go away. Your creditors won't forget about them. Hiding from your debt problems is never a realistic solution.

5. Getting a payday loan

Payday loans carry notoriously high interest rates, often in excess of 400 percent annually. You would do better to look for funds almost anywhere else. Older Americans on a tight budget should be particularly wary of online lenders offering so-called Social Security payday loans. You get quick cash — usually about $300 to $500 — in exchange for agreeing to turn over some or all of your benefits check when it arrives. Don't be fooled.

AARP Money Expert: 10 Worst Ways to Get Out of Debt

Avoid illegal activity of any kind, no matter how much you want to get out of debt. — Photo by Julian Hibbard/Getty Images

6. Taking a credit card cash advance

Cash advances are another very high-cost way to borrow. The interest rate is often more than 10 percentage points higher than your standard rate. And you typically have to pay fees of 3 percent of the transaction. Keep in mind that a cash advance is just another loan you have to repay, so it's in fact adding to your debt.

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