While you may be comfortable having a modest amount of debt (maybe you took out a student loan to help fund your college education, for example), you may come to a point in time when you feel uncomfortable with the amount of debt you’re carrying. You’re not alone. One of the first lessons of managing your own finances is that debt can accumulate quickly.
The good news is that you can take steps right now to start paying down, and working toward paying off, your debt. Why worry about monthly payments, accruing interest and potential knocks to your credit score when you can instead take control to keep things moving in a positive direction?
Let’s break the process down into manageable steps:
Organize all of the related information. Compile whatever debt-related documentation you have into one neat, organized list so you can clearly see the key details of what you owe: the names of your creditors and the amount owed to each, plus each debt’s interest rate, minimum monthly payment and due date. Having this information laid out in one place offers you a high-level view of your total debt obligation as well as its individual parts, which may help you envision your path forward.
Choose a repayment strategy. Now that you have a good sense of your overall debt obligation, consider which route you’d like to take in reducing it. One strategy, the snowball method, entails targeting the debts with the smallest remaining balances first. Many people like this approach because seeing those accounts getting paid off relatively quickly gives them momentum: Each zero balance is an achievement that motivates them to keep going.
Others choose the avalanche method: paying off debts with higher interest rates first. While this may not deliver the same quick results as the snowball method, it could save you money by reducing the overall interest you pay.
Still others prefer debt consolidation. This is the practice of combining multiple debts into one larger debt — preferably one with a lower interest rate than the individual debts carry. It’s important to note that, while debt consolidation may offer you terms that are more appealing to you, such as a lower monthly payment requirement or a lower interest rate, it does not erase any part of your original debts or decrease the balances you owe. Debt consolidation simply bundles your debts together under one lender (or one type of loan), so that you will be making one monthly payment instead of several.
How to decide? A variety of online debt calculators are available to help you compare how long it will take you, and how much it will cost you, to pay off your debt using different approaches. This information may help you determine which of the payoff strategies is right for you.
Consult your budget. Before deciding how much extra you can put toward paying off your debt each month, take a good hard look at your budget. Where will this additional money come from? Reviewing your budget while you’re in the mindset of getting your debt under control may motivate you to identify areas where you can cut back on your spending to achieve your new goal.
Pay on time, every time. Regardless of which approach you take to paying off your debt, remember that it’s vital to your credit score for you to make on-time payments of at least the minimum monthly amount to each of your credit accounts.
Let’s say you choose the snowball method, for example, and you’ve decided to double up on the monthly payments to your lowest-balance account. That’s great, but make sure that you are also keeping up with payments to any other open accounts, paying at least the monthly minimum. To ensure you’re paying on time, you may find it helpful to write memos to yourself on your calendar, computer or phone, or even to set an alarm to remind yourself when a payment is due.
Ready to tackle that debt? Take a deep breath, envision your peace of mind, and get started today!