Q: I confess…we have a ton of debt, and I’m a little bit scared to see what the grand total even is. Some is medical bills, some is credit cards, some is school. How do I get it all together in one place so I can make a plan to get rid of it? And side question – do you know of any way to get assistance with medical and/or school bills?

Been there, done that. I spent a ton of time refusing to add it all up, because I was scared of what the total was. I knew in the back of my mind what each one was, and I knew it was going to be big. So, I avoided it.

Not a good plan.

In order to get it under control, the first step is to Assess. 

You’ve got to get all your statements together in one place. And I mean everything. All the credit cards. The car payments. The house payment. Medical bills. School loans. Everything.

Having a copy of your credit report is also a good idea, because it will show you all the accounts you have open. It also shows you if you have any unpaid medical bills.

If you have an idea that you are missing something, you probably are. Call any medical facilities that you’ve used in the last few years and ask them if you have any outstanding debt.

Next, pull out a calculator and a piece of paper and write it all out.

You can use a computer if that works better for you – make a spreadsheet and whatnot. But for me, writing it out was helpful. It helped make it all real for me. It helped me get a handle on what was going on.

After I got it all laid out in front of me, I removed the mortgage. My reasoning for doing that was that it was more of a inevitable debt. We bought the house, knowing it was going to take 30 yrs to pay off (if we simply followed the payment schedule and didn’t make any bonus payments). If what you owe on your house is small, you might want to include it – but ours was over $80k and was not a priority to pay off.

From there you can organize them by interest rate. Or balance. Or urgency. Whatever makes sense to you.

This is the important part. You have to do this so it makes sense to you. There are tons of financial people out there who say “do it this way” or “do it that way” – and while those methods clearly worked for them, it may not work for you – because that’s just not how your brain functions or processes things.

For me, interest rates are irrelevant. I mean, they are important – but to think I’m paying this much more on this card – it doesn’t mean anything to me. To my husband, though – it’s the most important thing.

When the credit card counseling company started helping me, the biggest payment went to the card with the highest interest rate. Which makes sense, because that is the one that was making the most money off of me. It also happened to be the card with the highest balance, so it was slow going.

For an action-oriented person, slow going is hard. It makes sticking with things next to impossible. I had to do something.

Anytime I had some extra money, instead of adding it to that big card, I sent it to the card that had the smallest balance. The big card was handled, but because it was taking so long, it felt like nothing was happening. With the double hits on the small cards, I had them paid off in no time. And then the money that was going to them was moved over to that card with the biggest balance.

Paying off the highest interest rate was a priority, but feeling like I was making a dent in it was equally important to me. You have to do what works for you.

Now, to your side question…

There are a couple things you can do. You can talk to the hospital. Explain your situation to them. And be completely honest about it. Don’t worry about being embarrassed, because they have literally heard it all. And anyway, you have nothing to be embarrassed about. Everyone is or has been in debt to some degree in their life. And if they are judge-y about it, ask to talk to someone higher up than they are.

The number one key to this part of the process is transparency without getting angry or expecting anything. Don’t demand. Don’t get angry if they can’t help you.

If the person you speak to can’t help you, ask who is in charge. But not in a mean way – this all has to be done with the most humble attitude. (Even if you are totally faking it).

Many times hospitals can reduce your bills or they can completely write off portions of the bill. But they will NOT be doing that for anyone that shows up with attitude.

If that doesn’t work, you might consider doing a crowdfunding thing. Like asking people you know to help out. If you now 100 people, and they each give you $5 – that’s $500.

Don’t feel like this is something you can’t or shouldn’t do – because really, we should all be taking care of each other like this. And besides, you’d help other people out, right? (Say yes, because after dealing with your own debt, you’re going to be much more forgiving and understanding of people who get into this situation).