Secrets to Paying Off Debt as Quickly as Possible
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Imagine your world if you didn’t have any debt.
What would that feel like? How much of a raise would you give yourself by being able to keep more of your money?
Imagine the freedom that comes from knowing you are in total control of your money. You don’t owe anyone anything and you own everything you have free and clear.
There is a great sense of peace that comes with being debt free. Like a tremendous burden being lifted and not having to worry about money so much.
There are some steps you can take to work toward this goal.
Paying off debt will take time. Your income and amount of debt will dictate how long it will take, but there are some tricks to helping the process move along more quickly.
Start an Emergency Fund
Are you surprised that this is one of the first steps to eliminating debt?
Many families will rely on credit cards in the event of an emergency. If you’re already struggling with debt, this is a bad plan.
Emergency situations cause a lot of extra stress and adding a mountain more of debt onto a credit card isn’t going to help ease your situation.
While paying down debt, you should have at least $1,000-$2,000 saved in a savings account that is strictly reserved for emergencies. When your debt is paid off, you can increase this amount to 3-6 months’ worth of expenses. This will allow you to avoid accruing more debt and remain debt free in the long term.
To get you started, check out Brightpeak Financial’s challenge to help you save your first $500 in just one week.
Emergencies aren’t a matter of if, but when. They will happen eventually. Being prepared now will greatly reduce your stress level when Murphy’s law comes knocking at your door.
Related Article: 12 Helpful Tips for Building an Emergency Fund Fast
Use a Budget
A budget is NOT designed to be a burden or restrictive for you.
Your money is meant to be spent ... or saved and spent later. A budget is how you plan to spend and save your money. Rather than spending money willy-nilly, you have a purpose and timing to spending your money.
Simple as that.
If you want to know the progress you are making and how to best use your money, you need to create a budget. This will also allow you to see where you’re overspending and can make some adjustments to make sure you can pay off your debt as quickly as possible.
Need some help getting your budget started? Check out my 5 day challenge, “From Busted to Balanced.” It walks your through specific steps over 5 days to show you the best way to set up your budget and get it automated so that it’ll be easier to manage.
Related Article: 7 Horrible Mistakes You’re Making with Your Budget (and How to Fix It)
Related Article: How to Budget and Get a Month Ahead with a Variable Income
Stop Using Credit
You aren’t going to help yourself get out of debt if you continue to use credit.
I hear so many people say, “I pay off my credit cards every month and I use it for the rewards.”
- The rewards are nothing compared to the reward of paying off debt.
- Life happens, and you never know when you’ll have a problem paying off the credit cards and be left with a balance you can't repay.
Along with credit cards, you should not accrue any new debt, including lines of credit at retail stores or purchasing a new car.
What do you do when you need to make a big purchase?
Use the good ol’ fashioned trick of saving up for it.
Related Article: How to Pay Cash for Big Expenses and Save Yourself from More Debt
Cut Your Expenses to the Bare Minimum
You’ll want to free up as much extra money as possible to go toward paying off your debt.
Cut out anything that isn’t a necessity. I know it’s hard, but remember it’s only temporary.
You may find you don’t miss things you cut from your budget. We cut cable TV out of our budget when we were paying off debt and managed just fine. A few years later we decided to get cable back and found we never watched it, so we turned it off again.
Here are several ideas to cut or reduce from your budget:
- Cable or satellite TV (you can try a digital antenna for free TV)
- Check for a better cell phone plan
- Check for a better rate on your internet plan
- Home phone (cut extra options, or just use your cell phone)
- Eating out
- Gym membership
- Magazine subscriptions
- Audio book subscriptions
- Plan meals and reduce your grocery bill (learn how to shop with coupons without being extreme)
- Wait longer between haircuts
- Buy used clothing or save on new clothes for your kids
- Use public transportation if it’s cheaper than driving
- Downgrade your car
- Use your utilities (water, gas, electric) wisely and check for equal payment options in your area. While equal payments don’t lower your bill, it helps offset the high and low months so your payment amount is more predictable.
Use the Debt Snowball
Once you have your emergency fund in place it’s time to take an accounting of your debt and work it into your budget.
One of the best ways to expedite paying of your debt is to use the debt snowball.
List your debts in order of smallest to largest balance (as apposed to interest rate). Start paying as much money as you can toward the smallest balance debt that you owe. Go above and beyond the minimum payment as much as possible.
You should see quick progress on paying off that debt, perhaps being able to pay it off in a few months’ time. Once it is paid off, take the entire amount of money you were using and roll it over onto your next lowest debt. This should add a substantially higher payment and the next debt will also get paid off quickly.
Continue this process until all your debts are paid in full.
The benefit to paying the smallest balance first, over highest interest, is you’ll see quick progress. It’ll help motivate you keep you excited about paying off debt.
Here is an example of the debt snowball:
Make Bi-Weekly Payments
If you get paid every other week, it might make sense to make bi-weekly payments.
Split your full payment in half (including extra money you are paying) and pay every other week. This will feel like a smaller payment and will allow you to pay an extra payment each year.
If you pay every other week, you’ll make 26 half payments, which is 13 full payments.
This is especially helpful for larger debts that will take more than a year to pay off.
Consider Refinancing Student Loans
If you have student loans, you typically have about 6 months after graduating before you need to need to start repaying.
Student loans can be a huge burden and have large payments. In our home, we had some confusion with how the financer had split up our disbursements into different accounts with several payments due at different times.
We found it beneficial in our situation to refinance our student loans with SoFi. It allowed us to get a better interest rate and have all the different payments reduced into one lower payment a single due date. We could use the savings to pay extra principal or pay toward another debt in our debt snowball to help pay off even faster.
On a side note, I don’t recommend paying off debt by consolidating into a personal loan. The problem with doing this is it opens up the balance on your credit cards and makes it awfully tempting to get yourself into even more trouble by adding more debt than you had before.
Related Article: The Worst Advice for Paying Off Debt (And What to Do Instead)
Related Article: Should I Refinance My Student Loans?
Negotiate with Creditors
Call and ask for reduced interest rates from your creditors.
If you are behind on payments, it’s important to communicate with them and let them know you are willing to work with them to repay the money that you owe. Many companies are happy to work with you and will try to come up with agreeable terms.
Be sure to make minimum payments on all debts except the debt at the front of the line that is being aggressively attacked by the debt snowball.
I don’t recommend debt consolidation companies. You can read more about debt payoff strategies to avoid here.
Earn Extra Money
If you find your not able to put as much money toward debt as you’d like or you want more money to pay off debt faster, get an extra job and put all that money toward your debt.
There are lots of wild ideas flying around on the internet that sound promising. Just know, if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is.
Here are some viable options for extra money:
- Deliver pizza
- Work as a server or host at a restaurant
- Babysit for neighbors, friends, family
- Pet care and grooming
- Sell crafts or artwork
- Offer tutoring services locally or online
- Sell your services (writing, technical, bookkeeping, etc.) as a freelancer
There are many options to earning extra money. Try to avoid “opportunities” that require a large purchase and take a long time to earn money.
Keys to Paying Off Debt Quickly
Paying off debt can be so hard, but it’s not impossible. The only thing standing in the way of becoming debt free is how you are managing your money.
Stay motivated by visualizing the freedom and peace you’ll have when your debts are all repaid.