Confused by debt payoff strategies? Not anymore!

You know you need to do it! That doesn’t make it any easier to start! You think, “what if it doesn’t work?” Worse yet, “What if I fail?” These harsh words that do nothing but make you feel bad!  Stop it!

You think about, “What would it be like if it did work?” Or better yet, “how will I feel when I accomplish this?”  

Tell me, how would you feel if you were able to get out of debt? Once and for all?! Relieved? You bet! Damn proud of yourself? I’ll be cheering you on too! Feeling good as hell? You bet Lizzo!

Let’s dig into the top two debt payoff strategies for getting yourself rid of your debt! After reading this post, you’ll know which to choose and have the tools to get started today!

debt payoff strategy

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America the great (debt pit)

If you’ve heard that everyone is in debt, and believed it, you’d be mostly right. A lot of people are in debt, and the figure is rising (almost) every year.

The Balance reported from a Federal Reserve report on consumer debt that “In November 2019, U.S. consumer debt rose 3.6% to $4.17 trillion. That surpassed last month’s record of $4.16 trillion. Of this, $3.09 trillion was non-revolving debt (education, auto loans), and it rose 5.8%. In September 2019, school debt totaled $1.635 trillion, and auto loans were $1.189 trillion. Credit card debt totaled $1.086 trillion, actually a decrease from 2008’s $1.02 record-setting figure.”

Why are American’s in so much debt?

This could be an entire book! So many reasons, with different levels of impact. Let’s talk about a few main points.

  1. Credit cards are easier to get. You probably get tons of junk mail with credit card offers every day! Hurrah! You’ve been pre-approved! Ugh! Firstly, you should opt-out of these offers, filling this out won’t get rid of all junk mail, but it will get rid of a significant amount. Yet, online offers are easy to get too.

    Some credit card issuers aren’t picky with your credit rating; they’ll give you a card, but with a crazy high interest! Be sure that you have a full grasp of how your credit card interest is calculated. Getting caught in paying the minimum payment could have drastic consequences in the long run.

    That’s why it’s important to pick the right way to spend money (for you). If you’re great with cash then do that. If credit makes it easier for you to stay on budget then do that!

    If you’re looking to dump your credit card debt then grab this fun printable credit card payoff tracker!

  2. Bankruptcy is harder to file. Due to the Bankruptcy Protection Act of 2005, it made it harder for Americans to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. So people either filed for Chapter 13 (debt schedule reorganization), aka, they carried their debt for longer. To see a full distinction between these two types of bankruptcy, see Nolo, which does a great job of walking you through the process and requirements.

  3. Formal financial education is limited or nonexistent in the U.S. Tell me, did you take a personal finance class in H.S.? Probably not, as it isn’t a requirement in our school system. The closest schools get to understanding financial practices are in economics class. Now, some headway is being made in our schools, but not the sweeping reform that we need. Tell me, do you think it would be more beneficial for kids to learn algebra or how to balance their bank account? I think you know my answer.

    If you want to learn more about how to better manage your money, read my post on financial literacy and you can how I started learning with just one hour a day!

  4. Cost of medical care. Ask anyone you know, and they will all say that the cost of their medical insurance is crazy high! Yet, the cost of going without is much worse if something terrible should happen to you or someone in your family.

    In looking online for the average cost of healthcare, the amounts varied wildly, so much so that I’m not confident in putting up a dollar figure. I looked at nine different (well respected) sites; costs ranged from $5,000 per person to $20,000 per person. Crazy huh! So let’s just take it that we spend a lot, and medical debt is now the leading cause of bankruptcies. According to CNBC, “A study from academic researchers found that 66.5% of all bankruptcies were tied to medical issues —either because of high costs for care or time out of work.”  

  5. Life expenses have surpassed income levels. Things are more expensive now, and incomes haven’t risen comparatively. Think of the cost of college. According to U.S. News, the average price of in-state tuition is $10,116 for the 2019-2020 school year. Go ahead and add on books and supplies to that amount too! That amount will increase an average of 3-4% each year as well. (Let’s not forget that student loans are not dismissable in bankruptcy court.)
price of college

Why should I get out of debt?

With so many of us being in debt, and it being the unspoken normal; why should we work so hard to get out of debt? Honestly, it’s a fair question. So many of us have given into the idea that they will always be in debt, it’s just the way things are. They’ve realized that they will be working until the day they die, no relief in sight. People’s resignation to this honestly breaks my heart. It’s so sad that they’re essentially hopeless. If this is you, then just let me hug you, and then we can flip off all your debtors! However, know that after that, we are getting to work on a plan of action for you!

The weight of debt is the hardest on our stress levels. Yes, there are many more seemingly “important” factors, like being denied a home loan due to your credit score, or not getting into college because you cannot afford it. Yet, I feel that debt causes the most damage to our mental and physical health and wellbeing.

How does your debt make you feel? I bet not happy, and I bet you think of it often. The weight of it. How would you feel if it was gone? Knowing that no one could take your car/house/possessions away from you. Relief flooding through your veins until your fingers tingled.  

Enough said.

Another important factor for parents to consider is the emotional and developmental toll on their children. If money is either feast or famine your kids will absolutely pick up on the stress, not to mention any arguing between parents. I wrote a whole piece about the developmental effects that happen when kids are in a financially unstable household.

Top two debt payoff strategies

There are many ways to get out of debt, but we’re going to focus on the two most popular ones; debt avalanche and the debt snowball method. You may be thinking, “Don’t I just pay my debts? Why do I need a strategy?”

Yes, you pay your debts, but you absolutely need a strategy, so you pay your debts off effectively (aka fast & furious). Without a debt payoff plan, you may flounder, lose traction, and ultimately give up. That’s precisely what we don’t want!

With whatever strategy you choose, you need to keep track of everything. This printable debt payoff tracker works for both of the debt payoff methods.

Using the debt avalanche method for debt payoff

This strategy makes the most sense logically; in a nutshell, you pay your debts off according to which has the highest interest. This method saves you the most money overall (compared to the debt avalanche). Yet, even though this saves you the most money, it may not be right for you.

Who is the debt avalanche best for?

This method for getting out of debt is best for someone who has medical debt, or a few large loans not related to a shopping habit. What I mean is that if you are in debt due to unfortunate experiences and not due to bad spending habits, this method would work well. As you are less likely to get yourself back in debt. (This sounds weird I do realize, but it will make more sense once we go through the debt snowball method).

Debt avalanche example

I love Undebt.it’s online debt payoff calculator, so easy to use! Let’s say that someone has $2,500 a month to put towards their debt, and they have the following debt amounts…

  • credit card #1: $6,750 balance at 19% interest
  • credit card #2: $4,250 balance at 24% interest
  • credit card #3: $11,600 balance at 27% interest
  • car loan: $13,500 at 5.15% for a 36 month used car loan
  • personal loan of $8,400 balance at 18% interest rate
  • *credit card minimum payment calculated at a 3.5% of total balance (the national average is 2-5%). Car loan minimum payment is $530 for new vehicles and $381 for a used car – 2018 figures, according to NerdWallet.

Here’s how it plays out with the debt avalanche method if you start this month (February 2020).

Debt Avalanche example

As you can see, you’ll end up paying $8,457 in interest, and you’ll be done in 25 months (that is if you don’t put any more charges on the accounts). Also, take a look at the figures if you only pay the minimum payments (left column), you’ll end up paying $14,523 in interest, and it will take you 42 months! 

Shut. The. Front. Door!

Yeah, that stinks! It’s the interest that really traps people into this vicious cycle of not being able to dig yourself out from under your debt. That’s why the debt avalanche method makes the most sense. If you want to dig deeper into interest rates, check out my post here on how interest rates could be crushing you (and how to get out from under it!).  BUT the debt avalanche may not be right for you! Let’s take a look at the other debt payoff plan, the debt snowball method.

Using the debt snowball method for debt payoff

This is the method that I recommend, as handling your money is a mental game, an emotional game, so to speak. If you have an emotional situation, you need to come it from an equally emotional solution (while debt avalanche is a logical solution).  

You are probably familiar with this method as getting out of debt guru; Dave Ramsey recommends this debt payoff plan. (Now I know D.R. might not be your cup of tea, he’s outspoken, condescending, and kind of a jerk.) Yet, his success rates cannot be argued with. He’s taken tens of thousands of people and turned their lives around, for which they will forever be changed and grateful).  

Getting out of debt with this method focuses on quick wins and momentum to carry you through the entire process. Because let’s face it if we make this significant change, and then we don’t see results fairly quickly, we get discouraged and give up. It’s human nature. So with this method for getting out of debt, you pay off the debt with the smallest balance first, and then work your way up to the next lowest balance (with no regard to interest rates).

Yes, you will spend more money on interest overall, yet you are much more likely to stick with the plan and finish off the debt! Because you get quicker wins, and it gains momentum quickly. This is why I recommend it!  

Who is the debt snowball method good for?

This method for getting out of debt is best for those who have lots of smaller loans/bills due to overspending with their shopping habits. Now, don’t twist my words and think that those with this type of debt are “better” or “worse” than those with medical debt. Everyone is an individual; we all have our own struggles, problems, attitudes, skills, and talents. No one (and I repeat no one) is better; we’re just different. My skill set could be your downfall and vice versa.

Debt snowball example

Let’s take the same debts as the debt avalanche example above and use them with the snowball method and see where we end up.

Debt Snowball example

As you can see, you’ll end up paying $9,048 in interest ($591 more in interest than the avalanche method), and you’ll be done in 25 months (that is if you don’t put any more charges on the accounts). Also, take a look at the figures if you only pay the minimum payments(left column), you’ll end up paying $14,519 in interest, and it will take you 42 months! 

As you can see, the difference in the amount paid is negligible ($621 in total). BUT where the magic is in the time that you pay off your first debt. 17 months with debt avalanche and then nine months with the debt snowball!

What would motivate you more? I bet it would be the weight of completely shedding your first debt!

My favorite quote is DR talking to himself about if debt avalanche is the smarter way to go…

Person 1: Well, Dave, would it not be mathematically proper to pay off the highest interest rate first?
Dave: Yes, it would. And if we were doing math, we wouldn’t have credit card debt. This is about behavior modification.

Dave Ramsey

Whichever way you choose just make sure you stick to that one method (no bouncing around) and that you keep track of each dollar you payoff! You need to stay focused and motivated! If you’re a visual person then here are some debt payoff trackers to help keep you going strong!

How to get out of debt with consolidation

“Debt consolidation rolls high-interest debts, such as credit card bills, into a single, lower-interest payment. It can reduce your total debt and reorganize it so you pay it off faster”.  Nerdwallet recommends that “If you’re dealing with a manageable amount of debt and just want to reorganize multiple bills with different interest rates, payments, and due dates, debt consolidation is a sound approach you can tackle on your own.”

People usually do this by getting a single personal loan or transferring to 0% interest credit cards (0% for a limited time).

This is a strategic debt payoff strategy that I have used, but I do so with lots of calculations and double & triple checking. I used the magic of a 0% interest credit card to rack up debt! Say what? Yup, I used it to get married. When you get married, you have to make quite a few large deposits to secure a venue, caterer, florist, photographer, and more. If you don’t “buy” in now, you risk their availability later on. So I knew that we could “afford it” but not all at once. I do believe it was a 18 month 0% introductory period, and we did pay it all off within that period.

If you don’t pay off the entire balance within the introductory period, you risk paying a whole helluva lot more! You need to be very careful when picking a 0% card, as there is an important fine print line you NEED TO pay attention to.

If you don’t pay off the balance in full, then cards go one of two ways…

  • pay interest on the balance left over after the intro period
  • pay interest on the average daily balance over the entire period

Usually, these after promo period interest rates are much higher than your average rate. You absolutely don’t want to be stuck paying for your average daily balance! (I’m too scared to do the math on it for you, but trust me, it’s not pretty!).

Also be sure to check out and balance transfer fees (if applicable to you), and any annual fees.

How to get out of debt – the worst way possible!

Many of you have heard about the process of debt settlement. Some businesses will do it all of this for you; they’ll negotiate your total balance and payments due with your creditors. For example, they’ll offer the creditor $.60 (or whatever amount) on the dollar if you pay it now. (taking a large balance and making it a much smaller one for immediate payment). This sounds great!

NO!

This is quite possibly the worst way (besides bankruptcy) for you to payoff your debt! Why? Because you are paying someone a decent-sized fee to do this when you can do it for free! Yes, you may not know how to, but you can absolutely learn! Check out these resources…

The major reason why you shouldn’t go the route of paying someone is that you are basically paying someone to clean up your mess. (This is where the straight talk gets a little rough). Don’t pay someone to clean up your own pile of sh*t! You need to go through this process to better understand and more fully comprehend the significance of your previous behavior and go through the trouble & pain of fixing your own mistakes. This is how we learn! You know this, you’re a Mom, picking up our kid’s toys for them is faster and easier, but they will never learn to do it on their own if you do it for them. Right?!

Whew! I apologize for getting a bit heated.

At the end of the day

Getting out of debt is a hard process. Not only for the sacrifices you must make now but for the time, energy and toll it takes on your mental & emotional health. Yet, it is absolutely worth it! Once this period is over, you will feel the weight of the world lifted from your shoulders! You will feel the pride of accomplishment and the satisfaction and comfort, knowing you will never go back to the way it was before!

You did it! Lizzo, can you tell me one more time, how you feeling?

Feeling good as hell!

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Which debt payoff strategy are you going to use to set yourself free?

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