CORRECTION: The original version of this column contained an error. Debt Wise is a product offered by Equifax.
Title: "Debt Free for Life: The Finish Rich Plan for Financial Freedom"
Author: David Bach
Publisher: Crown Business, 2010; 288 pages; $19.99
If you’re interested in personal finance, and you don’t know who David Bach is — well, given his run as the author of eight best-selling books on how to "Finish Rich," (his brand’s name and promise) it’s just highly unlikely that you’re both interested in money matters and ignorant of Mr. Bach.
He’s published bestsellers on how smart women, couples and even older people can "finish rich." Bach is on NBC’s Today Show weekly, and makes regular appearances on Oprah, coaching consumers to improve their financial lives.
If there’s one thing Bach knows how to do, it’s to keep his content flowing with the winds of changing consumer sentiment. When buying a home was the hot thing to do, he wrote a book on how to become an "automatic millionaire" via homeownership (the premise of which is debatable, in hindsight, but may turn out to be less bizarre over the long run — that remains to be seen).
When everything green was très chic, he published a book on how to live a greener life and save the ecology while you further your personal economy. Then last year came a Bach book on how to restart your financial growth after the recession.
And now that the era of Conspicuous Frugality is in full swing, for all those New Year’s resolvers for whom financial fixes were at the top of their lists, Bach has just released "Debt Free For Life: The Finish Rich Plan for Financial Freedom."
In "Debt Free for Life," Bach presents his own flavor of a debt elimination plan. As with all endeavors around physical and fiscal fitness, "Debt Free for Life" isn’t giving readers much new information about the nuts and bolts of getting out of debt.
It’s filled with heard-em-before (but substantively sound) platitudes, like, "the stuff you buy costs much more if you pay credit card interest for 10 years on it," and "get honest with yourself about what you owe," and "stop spending what you don’t have" (I’m paraphrasing, not quoting, but just barely.)
However, the book does provide a structured plan that some might find useful, both in the book and online via a (for-fee) online Debt Wise program, which was developed by credit bureau Equifax.
I have to make a little detour here, to express a bit of concern about how wise it is to charge or create a payment plan for something that’s supposed to help you stop charging and buying stuff on payment plans. But that’s just me.
"Debt Free for Life" reads, unfortunately, a bit like a long-form, written commercial for Debt Wise, which is free for a month but then costs users $14.95 per month. The way it works is that you enter all your debts, and Debt Wise creates a payment plan, gives you the motivational goal of a target date by which you’ll be debt-free if you follow the program, and allows you to monitor your credit score on a quarterly basis.
Buyer beware: It is a fairly simple endeavor to set up your own debt payment plan and track your progress, gratis. You can even do it online for free through sites like Mint.com, which will both give you the plan and also link directly to all your credit cards and track both your spending and your debt elimination progress automatically. And it’s free. But I said that already.
(Your credit score may not change much quarterly, but if you simply order a report from one bureau every four months from the government-mandated site AnnualCreditReport.com, you can monitor it almost quarterly for free.)
"Debt Free for Life" does offer some of the same tools as Debt Wise does, though. Most important, Bach provides the formula for replicating the Debt Wise "Fast Pay" plan in a strategy he calls Done on Last Payment (DOLP).
The idea is extremely similar to the plans espoused by nearly every money expert, where you pay the minimum payment on all your cards every month, but double or triple up — dumping as much disposable income as possible — on the card with the highest interest rate or highest balance or, in Bach’s version, highest "DOLP" number — a ratio of balance owed to minimum payment.
While the plans that promote paying the highest rate or balance card off first are designed to save you the most money in interest payments, Bach’s DOLP plan emphasizes building psychological momentum by helping readers eliminate the credit card bill they can pay off with the fewest payments.
Every time a card is paid off, the cash that was going toward that monthly payment is added to the account with the next-lowest DOLP number, in Bach’s program. As I see it, any of these programs will work well for a motivated debt-eliminator.
With that said, if you find yourself starting 2011 mired in debt, desperate to get out and clueless as to how to proceed, "Debt Free for Life" deserves a read. It offers basic coaching on the steps it takes to stop spending, organize and get clear on what and who you owe, make and execute a plan for getting all your debt paid off (he offers tips, not just on credit cards, but also on getting rid of student loans and what role bankruptcy and credit counseling can — and cannot — play in helping readers crush their debt).
If you’re the type who enjoys the structure and accountability of Weight Watchers vs. just getting off the couch and doing some push-aways from the dinner table, you might like the coaching provided by "Debt Free for Life." But I’d suggest forgoing the $14.95/month "Debt Wise" program, using one of the many similar, free programs you can find online and devoting that cash toward, well, eliminating debt instead!