4 Ways to Visualize Debt (and Make Paying It Off More Fun)

Quick Answer

Using a debt visualizer can help you feel motivated and engaged in your debt repayment goals. Try a DIY debt visual such as a debt paper chain or a debt jar. You can also keep it simple with a printable debt tracker or an app on your phone.

A person putting money into a full money jar, saving for debt

While paying off debt may not be particularly enjoyable, these ideas for debt payoff visuals can help you add elements of fun into the process. These techniques for visualizing your debt payoff can help you see more clearly what you owe, stay motivated for the long haul and celebrate your small wins along the way.

Before you create your debt visual, start by taking inventory of your balances. Seeing all your debt laid out in front of you can be overwhelming, but it's key for knowing exactly what you owe and what to prioritize. Write down each balance, its interest rate, the minimum payment and due date. Then read on for five ideas for how to visualize and pay off your debts.

1. Debt Paper Chain

When carrying debt feels like a ball and chain holding you back from your long-term financial goals, this crafty debt visual can help you reclaim the chain and break it down link by link.

To create your debt paper chain, start by determining which debt to prioritize paying off first. If you have a high-interest credit card balance, for instance, aggressively paying it off is a great first move. For this example, we'll use a $3,000 credit card balance. We'll visualize the balance with a paper chain made up of 30 links, so that each link represents $100 in debt.

Next, grab some construction paper. Cut the paper into thin, long rectangles about one inch wide. Start weaving your chain by bending your first strip into a circle and using a glue stick to glue one end to the other. You should end up with a loop.

Repeat the process by threading your second strip through the first, curling it into a loop, and gluing the ends together. Keep going until you have enough links to represent the entirety of your debt.

Last, hang your debt paper chain somewhere in your home. Each time you make a $100 payment (or whatever you let each chain link represent), rip off a link and throw it away.

2. Debt Jar

Much like the jar savings challenge, this creative debt visualization idea makes use of an item you may already have in your pantry.

To make a debt visualization jar, grab a mason jar, some construction or printer paper and something to write with. Next, decide what balance or balances you want to put in your jar. For this example, we'll use a $5,000 car loan balance.

Cut your paper into small rectangles. You'll write a dollar amount on each rectangle, fold it up and stuff it in the jar. There's a couple ways you can customize this challenge to your preferences. You could make each piece of paper represent $100. In our example, we'd stuff our jar with 50 pieces of paper ($5000/$100 = 50).

Another fun way to do this challenge is to switch up the dollar amounts on each piece of paper. You could make some pieces worth $100, some worth $50, some worth $75 and some worth $25. Then, pull a slip out of your jar any time you can and pay whatever the amount on the slip says.

Every time you make a payment, you can chuck that slip in the trash and watch the balance in your jar dwindle.

3. Printable Debt Trackers

If you want the fun of a colorful debt visualizer but aren't in the mood to take on anything too crafty, there's an abundance of printable debt trackers on the internet to choose from.

Search for free printable debt trackers and pick the one that motivates you. Popular options include "debt walls" and "debt thermometers," where you color in your progress as you go. Simply print out the visualizer and grab some markers to track your debt repayment.

4. Phone App

Using a debt visualizer can help you stay on track to paying off your debt, but if you prefer digital to analog, you have no shortage of options. Choosing a debt payoff app with great visual features gives you the best of both worlds. Plus, you'll be able to carry your payoff plan with you in your pocket, so you can know what you owe and track payment on the fly.

There's a number of great debt payoff apps to choose from. Among the best debt payoff apps with strong visual features is Payoff Planner, which features graphs of your debt by balance and is free to use. Another contender is Undebt.it, which is a mobile-friendly, browser-based debt payoff app that helps you chart your debts, choose from various repayment options and automate your payments.

The Bottom Line

Visualizing your debt can help you gamify the debt repayment process, stay motivated and celebrate how far you go in your efforts to improve your finances. Seeing your debt dwindle before your eyes can help you maintain the momentum to see repayment through.

As you pay down your debt, you'll also see your efforts reflected in your credit. Sign up for free credit monitoring through Experian to watch how paying down your balances and reducing what you owe can lead to steady inclines in your score. You'll also see additional tips for improving credit, such as diversifying your credit mix and letting your accounts age.