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Review of:
Debt Free
 
by John Ives

Debt Free is a software program that promises to help you eliminate your debts and build wealth. It is part of the Financial Independence Network, Ltd. (FINL) system, which also includes books, newsletters and audio cassettes to help you learn their philosophy. The system promises to teach you how to eliminate all of your debt, including your mortgage, in 5-7 years and claims to have 250,000 satisfied customers. 

 The system itself is based on common sense. First, cut back on your discretionary spending and stop using credit. Next, use the money you save to pay off your debts early, reducing the amount of interest you ultimately pay. Finally, with the slate clear, invest your money to build wealth. It makes sense. 

 The software has two modes: a debt elimination mode and a wealth-building mode. In the debt elimination mode, you enter all of your debts - mortgages, car payments and credit card debt - including the remaining balance, current monthly payment and interest rate. You also figure out your "accelerator margin," or the amount of your current income that you can apply towards paying off your debts early. The program automatically prioritizes your debts and tells you where to apply this accelerator. 

 The most interesting part of this mode is the "what if" scenarios that you can play. Once you enter your debts, you can see the effect of paying an extra $100, $200 or $300 per month, including how much interest you would have paid and how much you would have saved. This can be a real inspiration and a incentive to do better. 

 One glitch in the program is that the debt elimination mode doesn't appear to go beyond the year 2012. I entered a 30-year mortgage starting in October 1998, and using the minimum payment schedule it showed the mortgage as being paid off in 2012, in 14 years. It showed the 16 years remaining on the mortgage as "savings." 

 There are also graphs showing your race towards freedom from debt and several reports that you can print. 

 The wealth-building mode works in a similar fashion. Once you are debt-free, the program builds a sample investment plan for you, using the amount of money you were using to pay debts when the last obligation was paid off. You can customize your wealth-building plan to reflect your actual investments. You can also play "what-if" scenarios with wealth-building, and print graphs and reports. 

 I found the interface difficult to use. There is no manual - just a help file - and it took me a while to figure out how to operate the program. Some of the features were a bit klunky, and the program was not as automated as I would have expected. For example, you have to manually enter your accelerator margin every time you want to change it. A more sophisticated program might have figured out that after I paid off the car, for example, I'd want to apply the monthly amount I was spending on the car loan to the mortgage. You also have to call up a separate financial calculator screen to work out interest rates, even though the basic data had already been entered in the debt matrix. The graphs were not especially meaningful; the program changed the scale of the axis when the data was changed, making all of the graphs look alike. 

DebtFree is part of a multi-level marketing plan, which aims to enlist you to help sell the entire "DebtFree and Prosperous Living" package, including the newsletters, audio and video tapes, study materials, books and this program. The web page for the mothership is at http://debtfreedomcenter.com. You can download a trial program at this site. 

 Once I figured it out, the program was fun to play with. For people who are in debt and want to get out the "what-if" scenarios could vividly illustrate that there is light at the end of the tunnel. However, I would not be interested in enrolling in a MLM program, and to take full advantage of this program the ancillary materials would be very useful. 

 John Ives works for the Army Medical Command and has done volunteer work as a credit counselor. He has a degree in economics from St. Mary's University.