Getting and staying out of debt is tough. Many people try and fail, or they succeed only to become ensnared the vicious cycle over and over again. Eliminating debt takes lots of grit and determination, and strategically attacking your debt will save you time, energy, and money.
Before you get started, you should know that each type of debt requires a slightly different strategy. Here’s how to tackle different types of debt, and get rid of it once and for all.
Credit card debt
The best way to attack credit card debt is by using the debt snowball. With this method, you begin by attacking the smallest debt while paying the minimum on everything else. Once one debt is paid, you take all the money you were paying on the first card and apply it to the second biggest balance. Rinse and repeat.
You may be tempted to attack them based on interest rate, which is also known as the debt avalanche. And that will work. However, you must keep in mind that debt is more mental than it is logical. You probably didn’t use a ton of logic to get into debt. And logic won’t inspire you to get out of debt. The debt snowball approach allows you to get quick wins by conquering smaller debts before taking on the larger ones, which require more time and patience. Winning becomes a contagious habit that helps you build momentum.
You also may want to contact your credit card companies and request that they lower your interest rate. Some will and some won’t, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. (See also: 2-Minute Guide: How to Use Balance Transfers to Pay Off Credit Card Debt)
Car and personal loans
Auto and personal loans are a little different from credit card debt. However, they follow the same principle for repayment. First, make sure you understand the repayment terms and then contact the lender and ask them to reduce your interest rate.
In addition to using the debt snowball, a great repayment strategy for this type of debt is to call the lending agency and set up bi-weekly payments instead of paying monthly. The minimum payment doesn’t change, you just make 26 payments a year versus 12. This lowers the total amount of interest you will pay over the life of the loan. When you pay more than the minimum payment, you’ll slash months — even years — off the total repayment time.
Despite how it may feel, paying off student loans is possible. You just need some discipline, patience, and a plan. For most folks, student loan debt is one of the most significant debts owed — second only to a mortgage.
The first thing you want to do is determine the total amount owed. You can do this by visiting the National Student Loan Data System or contacting your lender. From there, visit the Federal Student Loan Website to see if your loans can be consolidated, if your interest rate can be lowered, and if you qualify for any loan forgiveness programs. The Department of Education offers eight different repayment plans that may be able to assist you if you’re considered low income or have special circumstances. They also provide repayment calculators and a host of other information and resources that can assist you in repaying your loans quicker.
Once you know the total amount owed, and have found a repayment plan that works for you, it’s time to get busy. You want to throw ever extra dollar you have at this debt and make multiple payments a month, if possible.
The term “mortgage,” translated from old French, literally means “death pledge.” How fitting. There are several schools of thought on whether you should pay off your home early. For some people paying it off early makes sense, for others it doesn’t. If you do want to knock the mortgage off your debt list, there are a few things you can do to expedite repayment.
Make bi-weekly payments
By simply splitting your monthly mortgage payment into equal parts where it’s paid every two weeks, you can shave years of payments off a 30-year mortgage. If you pay more than the minimum, you expedite the process even more. You’ll have to make arrangements with the lending institution to set up a bi-weekly payment plan and ensure that the extra money is applied directly to the principal.
Making one additional mortgage payment a year
This impacts the mortgage the same way making bi-weekly payments does. It’s just done in one lump sum instead of over the course of a year. When you make the extra payment, you must specify that you would like it applied directly to the principal.
Make lump sum payments periodically
If you don’t feel you have the ability to make bi-weekly payments or make one large additional mortgage payment, you can still pay extra on the mortgage as you are able. Paying an extra hundred dollars a few times a year will drastically speed up the repayment process. Every little bit helps.
Refinance from a 30-year fixed to a 15-year fixed
This may not make sense for everyone, but it is worth considering. By the time you’re ready to begin aggressively paying off your home, you will have eliminated all other debt. You can afford to pay more. And your credit score will have gotten better and will allow you to refinance at a much lower interest rate. This strategy can cut the repayment time down by more than half.
But first, create an emergency fund
The quickest way to derail your debt repayment efforts is to have an unexpected expense. And you will have plenty. Establishing an emergency fund before you begin paying down debt is one of the keys to success. Having a few thousand dollars set aside just for emergencies will keep you on track, keep you from incurring new debt and do wonders for your psyche.
If you do have an emergency and have to use some of the money, you simply pause your debt repayment plan to replace what you spent. Use the extra funds you were applying to your debt to replenish your emergency fund. Once it’s restocked, you go back to attacking the debt. (See also: Where to Find Emergency Funds When You Don’t Have an Emergency Fund)