Is personal debt an impossible problem to fix? No way! Thousands – actually, millions – of people across the U.S. are struggling with personal debt right now, but the situation is not hopeless for any of them.
I know, because just last year I was one of them. In January of last year, I had over $3,000 in credit card debt and a vowed to get it paid off before the year was over. I’m grateful that I was able to accomplish my goal and along the way I learned a few things that can help others who are still on their way to being debt free. If that includes you, keep reading to learn the 5 steps that will help you get out of debt:
1. See Your Big Picture
For many people, one of the most intimidating parts of becoming debt free is actually coming to grips with how much you owe and figuring out your “big picture.” For example, if you have many different accounts (multiple credit cards and/or loans) you might not even know exactly how much you owe to each creditor and what the interest rates are on each one.
So start by writing down each of your debts in order of the highest interest rate to lowest interest rate, along with the total balance for each debt. Be sure to include all debts (like student loans, car loans, mortgages, etc.) and list the entire balance and not just the monthly payment. Then you can move on to Step #2.
2. Get Lower Interest Rates
This step is basically like super-charging your debt repayment. Why? Because you can save thousands of dollars if you get a lower interest rate. Some credit cards have rates as high as 25% – that is way too high! But if you followed Step #1, then you’ve got each of your accounts listed in front of you, and that makes it easy to identify the credit cards with the highest interest rates and attempt to get those lowered.
Start by calling those credit card companies directly and when you get a customer service representative on the phone ask them politely if they can lower your rate. For anyone with a history of on-time payments, you can explain that you’ve been a loyal customer and always paid on time and that you would like them to reduce your interest rate. Many times this will work!
If that doesn’t result in lower interest rates, another option is to see if there are any balance transfer offers or debt consolidation loans that would give you a lower rate. Just remember that some of these offers have hidden fees and interest charges, so be cautious and don’t sign up for one of these offers without reading the fine print first. (You can check out our Debt Consolidation resource center for more tips)
3. Make a Plan
Alright, you’ve now completed Steps #1 and #2, which means it’s time to make a plan. This is not as hard as you might think. You simply need to decide how much you can pay each month toward all your debts. Then make sure the amount you can pay is greater than your minimum monthly payments (in other words, all your minimum payments combined should equal less than the total amount you can pay per month).
What you’ll want to do next is allocate all your extra money each month to the account with the highest interest rate – because that will get you out of debt the fastest! If you have three credit cards and one has a 20% interest rate while the other two have a 10% interest rate, just pay the minimum on the other two while you dedicate all extra money toward the 20% card. And don’t worry, if you need help creating your plan, you can try using ReadyForZero’s free online tool for paying off debt.
4. Learn to Budget Wisely
The next step is to examine your budget closely and see where you can save a little more money to add to your debt repayment. The most important part is to track your spending so you can see where each dollar goes. And look closely to find the things that you don’t really need to spend money on. Things like eating out at restaurants, buying new clothes, or buying music online. When you have debt, it’s an emergency – and that means you can’t afford those kinds of luxuries except on rare occasions.
Another way to approach your budget is to look at all your fixed expenses (the things you pay every month) and try to figure out how they can be cut or eliminated. Check out these budgeting tips on how to reduce your fixed expenses, and in no time you’ll find yourself with additional flexibility in your budget. You can also read our blog post on how to make extra money from home, which can boost your income and make monthly budgeting easier.
5. Stay Motivated for the Long-Run
The last step is the one that brings it all together. You cannot accomplish any goal without motivation, and getting out of debt is no different. You’ll need to cultivate motivation in order to stay focused and keep pushing forward! One of the best ways to do this is to confide in your friends and family and tell them about your goal of being debt free. Ask them to support you and encourage you, so that when things get hard you’ll think of them and that alone will be enough to help you keep going.
If you’re excited and want more get-out-of-debt tips, or if you have further questions, check out our comprehensive guide on how to get out of debt. And no matter what, keep your head high and keep making those monthly payments! You will be debt free faster than you imagine.