How to Pay Off Debt in 9 Easy Steps

How to Pay Off Debt in 9 Easy Steps

If the unexpected twists and turns of 2017 caused you to take on more debt than you would have liked, fret not. We’re here to help. Keep reading to learn how to pay off debt quickly this year and build a financial future you can be proud of.

1) Take a break from adding more debt

When managed correctly, debt can be an effective tool for achieving your major life goals -- for example purchasing a car or becoming a first-time homeowner. You might have even mastered the art of travel hacking using one of the best travel credit cards. However, when you start to use debt to live beyond your means, it may lead to financial stress.

If you’ve resolved to pay off debt this year, we recommend hitting the brakes on any new debt transactions until you’re back to a comfortable spot with your finances. You may need to literally freeze your credit cards and delete your card information from your favorite online stores in order to stick with the plan. But trust us, it will be worth it in the end.

2) Get it all on paper

This might seem like an obvious step, but it’s an important one.

Pulling all your credit card, student loan and/or personal loan statements and writing them down on paper or in a spreadsheet may seem overwhelming at first, but seeing your “total debt number” will likely give you the motivation you need to create a winning game plan to take the reins over your finances.

3) Use your tax refund wisely

A great way to pay off debt quickly is to throw any (and all) extra cash onto your balances. That said, if you are expecting a tax refund this year, plan on using it to pay down debt so you can save on interest costs. Alternatively, you could use the funds to beef up your emergency fund -- more on this point soon.

4) Find other extra income opportunities

Speaking of extra income, there are so many other opportunities to bring in cash outside of your 9-5 job, such as ridesharing, dog sitting, photography, or tutoring. For example, if you tutor math for 4 hours a week at a rate of $30/hour. That’s almost $500 in extra income per month!

5) Pay more than the minimum

Paying the minimum balance on your debt not only takes longer, it also costs a lot more in interest charges. For example, if you have a balance of $3,000 on an 18% APR credit card, paying the minimum payment of $75/month will cost $1,615.87 in interest and will take over 5 years to pay off, according to Capital One’s Payment Calculator.

On the other hand, if you increase your payment by just $25 (and make no additional charges to the card until it is paid off), you’d be out of in 2 years and 5 months, after paying $1,015.49 in interest. Pay twice the minimum, and you’ll be rid of your debt in exactly 2 years, paying just $593.48 in interest costs.

6) Make payments throughout the month

If you read the fine print on your credit card statement, you’ll likely see the words “daily periodic rate” mentioned somewhere on the paper. This means that interest is compounding on a daily basis. So, the quicker you can reduce your balances, even by small amounts, the more you can save on interest costs.

In other words, as soon as you find extra income in your budget or through a side hustle gig, make the payment to your credit card immediately. Don’t wait until the statement due date to hit submit.

This strategy also has the added benefit of keeping you motivated. After all, who doesn’t like celebrating small wins?

7) Consider credit card consolidation

Hear us out with this one.

As we mentioned above, racking up more debt on a new card obviously won’t help you to achieve your goal of paying off debt, but transferring your existing debt to one of the best balance transfer cards with a lower interest rate might. Some credit cards also offer 0% APR balance transfer for a certain period of time e.g. 18 months.

Generally, in order to qualify for a balance transfer offer, you will need:

  • Low debt utilization for existing accounts
  • Steady income from a job or another source, such as alimony or pension
  • No recent or current bankruptcy status
  • Good or excellent credit (depending on the card, sometimes fair credit is okay)
  • At least 1 or 2 years at your current address

Once approved, use the interest savings from your balance transfer to accelerate your debt payoff plan.

An excellent strategy involves planning your payment each month by dividing the amount you’ve transferred by the length of the promotional period. So, if you’ve transferred $3,600 onto a credit card with a 0% APR for 18 months, you could create a schedule to pay $200 a month and be out of credit card debt within a year and a half.

Again, remember, not to make any additional purchases during this time as that can delay your progress.

8) Create an Emergency Fund

This tip may not necessarily help you to pay off debt but it will help you to stay out of debt by ensuring you have a cash safety net to handle life’s unexpected events in the future.

Most experts recommend saving up 3-6 months worth of living expenses in a separate account. Importantly, you should only touch these funds when a true emergency pops up like a broken furnace or car repair.

Tapping your emergency fund instead of your credit card for these already stressful events will give you peace of mind knowing that you won’t have to get into debt to take care of them.

9) Next Steps

Our best piece of advice?

Start right now; don’t wait another minute. Each month, set a goal for yourself and your finances. Whether that's committing to save $10 a day or earn an extra $100 every weekend, you have the power to turn your biggest money goals into realities and get out of debt once and for all.


Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

This article was last updated July 6, 2018 but some terms and conditions may have changed or are no longer available. For the most accurate and up to date information please consult the terms and conditions found on the issuer website.

Our editors independently research, test, and recommmend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

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