Whether you have credit card debt, car loans, student debt, or all of the above, owing money is no walk in the park. While it seems easy to get into debt, getting out of it is a lot harder.
Interest compounding on top of your principal can make payments extraordinarily high. Paying off debt can often take years if you’re only making minimum credit card payments. Plus, high debt levels can limit your access to additional credit, whether it’s buying a house or getting a new car.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic solution that erases your financial problems. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to do so. By reevaluating your spending habits and your current financial obligations, you can create a strategic plan that can help you successfully get out of debt — and fast.
Want to know how to get out of debt fast? Follow these steps.
1. Stop spending.
It doesn’t matter how you got into debt, whether you racked up too much on your credit cards or had a debilitating illness that kept you from working for a while.
Regardless of how it happened, you have to stop spending money so that you can get your finances back on track. That may sound like an easy thing to do, but it really requires a mindset shift.
It doesn’t mean simply stopping major purchases or skipping vacation this year. To truly achieve debt freedom, you have to funnel every extra penny towards paying off those balances.
No more takeout because you’re too tired to cook, and no more snack runs at the gas station. Small expenditures lead to recurring debt just as much as large ones do, so get both under control and start paying everything off.
2. Prevent future debt.
Before conquering your current debt, make sure you don’t add more to what you currently owe. If you’re having trouble stopping your spending, try to remove the temptation completely. Hide or cut up your credit cards if you have to. Also, remove your credit card information from any websites you frequently shop at.
Even if you can control your day-to-day urge to spend, you still need to prepare for unexpected expenses, like a trip to the mechanic or a doctor’s bill. Set aside an emergency fund of at least $1,000 to give yourself a buffer when you have a last-minute bill to take care of. Otherwise, you’ll keep tacking on new debt just as you pay off your old debt.
3. Scale down your budget.
There’s nothing more eye-opening than going through all of your bank and credit card statements and seeing what you actually spend your money on. In fact, you’ll probably be shocked to see how quickly small purchases add up over a month.
Comb through your last month’s statements and pull out everything that was an essential payment or purchase, like your rent or mortgage, your utilities, etc. From there, look to see where you can cut back.
If it helps, set up autopay for your bills on payday, then use an envelope of cash for your gas and groceries. Once you run out of money, you need to start digging in the pantry and getting creative in the kitchen.
4. Pick which card to pay off first.
When you’re trying to pay down your debt fast, pick one to focus your main efforts on. There are several ways to choose, so pick the strategy that feels best for you.
One popular way, called the Debt Snowball Method, is to pay off the card with the smallest balance. This helps you give yourself an easy win and feel motivated to keep moving forward. If you’re more motivated by saving money, pick the card with the highest interest rate, so you end up paying less in the long run.
Any extra money you have goes towards that one monthly payment you choose, rather than spreading extra payments equally across all of your outstanding debts. Set yourself up for success by picking a payoff strategy that will make you feel good about your progress, not bad about your debts.
5. Keep making payments on your other debt.
Just because you put extra cash towards one credit card doesn’t mean you should neglect your minimum payments on the others. The point of getting out of debt is to free up cash and strengthen your credit. If you miss monthly payments, it will show up on your credit report. You’re also likely to incur late fees and even go into delinquency on your account.
Once an account is 30 days late or more, your credit score starts to take a nosedive. Be sure to preserve your credit score while paying off debt by making each minimum payment every month.
6. Lower your interest rates.
Another way to get out of debt faster is to save money on interest. Call your credit card companies and try to negotiate a lower interest rate. It helps if you’re a long-time customer with a history of timely payments.
7. Transfer your balances.
You can also consider transferring your credit card balance to another credit card with a lower interest rate or even no interest for a set period. You might consider consolidating your debt with a single personal loan if you qualify. Often, the interest rates on a debt consolidation loan are much lower than those of credit cards.
While credit card balance transfers and debt consolidation loans can make paying off debt easier, they won’t change your spending habits. So be conscious of your financial goals of becoming debt-free and use these tools to pay off existing debts.
See also: Best Personal Loans for Bad Credit
If you have other types of debt, like student loan debt, a mortgage, or a car loan, you can apply to refinance them and get a lower rate. Even if you’re focused on making extra payments on credit card debt, you can use the monthly savings from other expenses to put more towards those higher balances.
9. Find savings elsewhere in your budget.
Since you’ve cut back on your expenses and the amount of interest you’re paying, it’s time to find more ways to save. Take a look at other expenses you pay, even if they don’t seem negotiable at first. Car insurance, homeowners insurance, cell phone, cable, and internet — all of these services are negotiable. Shop around with different companies and look for the best offer.
Even if you don’t want to switch, you can use your research as leverage when you call your current servicer and ask for a better deal. For instance, if your cable contract is up for renewal (and you decide to keep it), look at all the offers from other companies. Then, call your company and tell them you’re considering switching. Chances are, they’ll meet or beat that pricing just to keep you as a customer.
10. Declutter and sell your belongings.
When you’re working on getting out of debt, it’s also helpful to get rid of the physical baggage surrounding you. This can help clear emotional clutter and bring in some extra money to put towards a credit card balance. You can have an actual yard sale at your house or even hold an online yard sale. Consider posting items on eBay, Craigslist, and Facebook classified groups.
Price your items competitively to help move them faster. While you probably think your stuff is worth a lot because you paid for it (and still might be paying for it), most people are only willing to spend a fraction of the original price when buying second hand.
11. Get a side hustle to earn more.
When you’re ready to find even more money to put towards your debt, consider getting a side hustle or a part-time job to supplement your current income. Pay down your car loan by driving for Uber or put more towards your student loans by tutoring. You can freelance, babysit, pet sit, or start an Etsy shop showcasing a unique talent.
There are endless opportunities to offer your services to earn extra cash. It doesn’t have to be incredibly specialized, and it definitely doesn’t have to require any startup capital. Play to your strengths and your network of connections so you can start earning more and paying down your debt as quickly as possible.
12. Funnel extra money towards debt.
Whether it’s a tax refund, stimulus check, or birthday money, remember that the ultimate reward is experiencing financial security. That’s way better than treating yourself to a mani/pedi that only lasts a week or two.
So, every time you get unexpected money that doesn’t go towards your usual budget, you know exactly what to do: make a higher payment on your debt. You’ll be pleased to see how quickly those balances start to diminish.
13. Appreciate life’s simple pleasures.
Much of our accumulated debt is driven by an urge for more stuff — and the bigger, the better. Get out of the mindset of “treating” yourself for good behavior with an expensive one-time shopping spree or splurge item. That’s not really fixing the debt problem because you’ll always feel like you’re being deprived of something. Instead, appreciate what you do have.
Time and relationships hold much more value than anything you can charge. Once you realize that, you’ll find that the real secret behind eliminating debt is knowing that you already have everything you need.