By Dannie Phan
Being in debt is more common than you think—and so is bad personal finance advice. If you’ve spent any time at all online looking for ways to become debt-free, you’ve likely run into predatory tactics. From subpar payday loans to ineffective balance transfers, bad financial decisions are everywhere.
So does that mean you can’t pay off all your loans and get control over your life soon? And that you must be haunted by your credit card debt and student loans forever? Absolutely not. This guide on how to get out of debt quickly will help you get to a better financial situation.
First Things First: Know Your Debt
Before you can start your debt repayment journey, you first need to understand your debt. How much money do you owe? What kind of debt do you have—credit card debt, car loan, personal loans, student loans? And what’s the interest rate like for each of these?
It can be scary to tally all of it up, but it has to get done. Otherwise, you will never be able to pay off debt completely, let alone quickly.
Sit down and be honest with yourself. Create a spreadsheet. Go beyond just knowing what your minimum monthly payment is and really dig into your personal finance.
Once that’s done, you may move on to the next stage: learning how to get out of debt.
1. Up Your Debt Payments
Going above the minimum payments for your loans is the best way of getting out of debt.
For starters, you will get rid of individual debts quickly (it’s an amazing feeling that will keep you motivated). Secondly, quickly paying off a loan will even save you money in the long run, since you won’t have to pay as much in interest over time.
The debt snowball method follows this clever strategy. First, you write down all your debts and their APR. Then, you choose one (debt 1) to focus your money and energy on. Put down as much money as you can on that debt while just covering the monthly payments for all your other debts. Once that sum is paid off, you can move on to debt 2.
The trick is to always spend the same amount of money every month on paying back debts—and splitting it between aggressive pay-off tactics and a modest minimum payment. This way, you keep focused on your journey.
Which debt you choose to tackle first is up to you. Yet, financial advisors recommend focusing on the smallest debt first, so you can get a feeling of accomplishment rather quickly. However, you could always tackle the debt that has the highest interest rate.
2. Cut Down on Frivolous Spending
If you spend less, you have more room in your budget to pay off debts. That’s not a surprise to anyone, right? After all, it’s a pillar of personal finance, but it can be one of the hardest things to implement.
Look at how you spend your money every month and ask yourself, “What could I cut out and do well without?” That answer will be different for everyone. Maybe that’s cable and a monthly gym membership, or maybe that’s eating out and getting to-go coffees frequently.
What’s important is that you can cut down on these frivolous things and live more frugally for a while. At least while you’re still struggling to better your credit score.
Then, use that money you save up to make extra payments toward your debt.
Figurine carrying bag of debt through a maze.
3. Make Extra Money on the Side
Besides cutting back on your expenses, you can also get an extra income stream. Having more money coming in is one of the best ways to get out of debt faster (who’s surprised?).
You could do this by negotiating a pay raise at your job. Or you could float your resume to other companies and get a better-paying job.
But that’s much easier said than done for most. Fortunately, there are other ways to make money.
Sell What You Don’t Need Anymore
You likely have more things at home than you know what to do with. Maybe you have a cluttered closet or a few like-new kitchen gadgets you never used. Why not sell them?
Today, you can very easily sell things you don’t need for extra cash online. For instance, you can list your items on Facebook Marketplace, eBay, Craigslist, Poshmark, Depop, ThredUp—the list goes on. Every sale you make should be put toward paying off debt.
Start Your Own Side Hustle
Having a side hustle can also help you meet your credit card and student loan payments when money’s tight. If you’re good at something, you’re bound to make at least a bit of money.
Are you a really good video editor? Create a page advertising your freelance services on Upwork or Fiverr. Are you good with children? Reach out to parents in your area to see if they need a babysitter—or even a tutor if you have a college degree.
You can get as close to or as far away from a traditional second job. Whichever gig works for you is the best option.
4. Negotiate Your Bills and Debts
Did you know you can negotiate your monthly bills? Yes, you can end up paying less for your cable, phone, internet, and even rent. All it takes is a phone call to customer support and explaining yourself. You have nothing to lose, and quite a lot to gain, so don’t put off these phone calls.
Additionally, you may also be able to renegotiate your loans’ interest rates. You don’t even have to go through debt consolidation or debt settlement. It’s something to consider if you have loans with higher interest. If you have a history of paying bills on time and a relatively good credit report, there’s a chance your bank or credit card company will get you a lower interest rate.
5. Make the Most Out of Balance Transfers
If you’ve called your bank and they refuse to lower your interest rates, you should consider balance transfers.
Here’s how that works: you move your outstanding debt from one credit card to a new one with more favorable terms and conditions. The main benefit is that, because the new credit card would not charge you any interest for up to eighteen months, you can end up saving money in the long run.
Doing a balance transfer is a wise idea if you can guarantee you’ll pay everything off during the card’s no-APR trial period. Debt snowball method, anyone?
But the Work Doesn’t End There…
What good does it do to pay off debt only to rack it back up again? More often than not, people find themselves slipping into the old spending habits that got them in a bad spot in the first place.
To avoid this, you need to understand what landed you in debt. Was it buying a new car? Living a luxurious lifestyle dependant on a personal loan? A medical emergency?
Whatever the case may be, it’s important for you to get down to the root of your debt problems. Then, once you understand it better, take steps to prevent yourself from being in that situation again. That could look like finding a healthcare plan that suits you, getting rid of your tempting credit cards if you’re a shopaholic, or putting tax refund money and other financial windfalls aside on a rainy day fund.
Staying out of debt or living debt-free still takes some work—especially in curbing urges and impulses. But it’s freeing. You get to pick your financial goals and work toward a life that serves you.
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