Book Review
Title: "The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Out of Debt"
Author: Ken Clark
Publisher: Penguin, 2009; 352 pages; $16.95

If years were keywords, perhaps 2009 was "frightened frugality." This year was all about belt-tightening in the face of a very uncertain financial future, for our nation and ourselves, as individual families and people. Now that we’re on what most agree is the other side of the financial apocalypse, albeit just barely, my guess is that 2010 will be the first of perhaps several years of recovery for most Americans.

This year, everyone I knew hoarded their cash because they weren’t sure what would happen next. Next year, most of us who haven’t already done so will be putting an action plan in place to rebuild our finances, from the foundation up.

So what is the foundation of these new and improved personal finances so many of us will be building in 2010? Freedom from debt — especially nasty credit card and other unsecured debt. In the world of credit cards, the 2009 keywords would be "skyrocketing rates" and "crazy-making unilateral terms changes." Accordingly, the 2010 keywords should be "pay it off" — and "The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Out of Debt," by certified financial planner Ken Clark, promises to provide "simple and effective solutions" to help us all pay it off and "(g)et back on firm financial footing."

My knee-jerk antipathy to any book whose purchase is equal to a deep insult to my own intelligence was stopped short by the back cover’s assurance that "you’re no idiot, of course." So, I gave it a chance. And if you’re looking for a systematic, hopeful approach to resolving your own debt, you should too.

"The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Out of Debt" provides a simple, crystal-clear process and plan for, well, getting out of debt. It presents a set-by-step approach that sits right in the realistic, reasonable middle of the two extremes usually espoused by debt-elimination tutorials — hard-core, complicated, time-consuming models that do not take into account the psychology of those who carry a lot of debt and their frustration potential at living on pork and beans to get rid of a few credit cards (on the one hand) and the life-consuming, psychoanalytic approach that focuses more on talk than on the action needed to mow through the bills. …CONTINUED

Lying between these equally ineffective extremes, "The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Out of Debt" provides mostly concrete, actionable how-tos of debt elimination, along with some reality-based tips readers can use to set themselves up for success, including getting an accountability partner who is equally committed to debt freedom, anticipating some frustration at the outset of the process, and other tips on what to expect throughout the process — from yourself, emotionally, and from the process itself.

In Part I, Clark focuses on "How Debt Works," providing a primer on understanding short- and long-term debt, the math of debt, and the psychology of what motivates us to get into and out of debt.

Part II provides a step-by-step debt-reduction plan, from "controlling your cash flow," to organizing your personal debt and approach, to creating a bill-payoff sequence that makes sense.

Part III sets forth some unique strategies for bringing down balances that are specific to different debt types, providing guidance on paying off credit cards, mortgages, student loans and even IRS debt.

Part IV arms readers with material to protect themselves from predatory lenders, creditors and collectors, and Part V provides aftercare for the post-debt reader to help them remain debt-free and avoid passing the spectre of debt on to their loved ones.

There are dozens of books, Web sites and tools out there on debt reduction and elimination. In fact, the sheer numbers of them often foster procrastination and overwhelm in the minds of the traumatized debtor floundering to get direction and take control over their debt.

"The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Out of Debt" eliminates the overwhelm and provides a clear, simple, comprehensive action plan with the requisite cheerleading it will take for the average American debtor to vanquish their bills.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site,


What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

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