Between a mortgage, car loan, student loans, credit cards, and medical bills, debt can get out of control before you realize what's happening. Whether your debt stems from a job loss, unexpected expenses, or overspending, it’s possible to reduce and eventually eliminate it. Tackling your debt takes time and effort, but combining strategies and staying consistent can help you successfully dig your way out of debt. Here are some tips to help you get out of debt.
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This strategy alone won’t get you out of debt, but it will keep you from making it harder to pay off. Reduce your temptation to create more debt by taking a break from your credit cards or even freezing your credit.
If you don't have one already, now is a great time to create a budget. A budget helps you bring your spending in line with your income, making the most of each dollar that comes in and ensuring you don't need to use credit cards or loans to make ends meet.
Putting money in an emergency fund may sound counterintuitive if you’re trying to get out of debt—you could be using that money to pay off your debt instead of sticking it in a savings account—but an emergency fund can actually keep you from creating more debt. These savings provide you with a safety net you can use for emergency expenses, which saves you from reaching for your credit card.
The ideal emergency fund holds six to 12 months' worth of living expenses, but you can start by building up at least $1,000, or whatever you can afford to save.
The less you pay toward your debt balances every month, the longer it'll take to pay them off. Interest can exponentially expand the timeline for your debt repayment, and most debt balances rack up interest charges every month.
Many people find the debt snowball method to be a good way to pay down their debt. This method allows you to make noticeable progress by paying as much as possible each month toward your smallest balance. In the meantime, make the minimum payment on all your other debts so your accounts remain in good standing. Once you’ve paid off that smallest debt, move on to the new smallest balance, and continue this process until all you’ve paid off all your accounts.
Higher interest rates keep you in debt longer because so much of your payment goes toward the monthly interest charge and not toward your actual balance. However, interest rates can be negotiable, and you can ask your credit card issuers to lower your interest rate. Creditors do this at their discretion, so customers with good payment histories are more likely to successfully negotiate lower rates.
You may be able to find a lower interest rate by seeking out promotions. If you use a balance transfer to get a lower rate, try to pay off the balance before the promotional rate expires. After that promotional period, your balance will be subject to higher interest rates.
The more money you put toward your debt, the faster you can pay it off for good. Look for ways to come up with extra money to dedicate to your debt. For example, you could earn extra cash by selling items from your home, starting a side hustle, or generating income from a hobby. You may be able to earn more money from your full-time job by negotiating a raise or working more hours.
In extreme cases, you may consider pulling money from your retirement account to pay off your debt.
Plus, when retirement comes around, your savings will be short—not only from the money you withdrew, but also from the interest, dividends, and capital gains you could have earned with that money.
It's possible to borrow from work-sponsored retirement plans, such as a 401(k). However, this strategy also comes with risks. If you leave your job, you’ll have to pay back the loan on an expedited timeframe that could worsen your debt problems.
You may have accumulated some cash in your whole or universal life insurance policy that you can put toward your debt. Like tapping retirement funds, this is a risky strategy that can come with tax consequences.
Cashing out means surrendering your life insurance policy, and it will no longer be in effect. Borrowing from your insurance policy may also be an option, but it may affect the death benefit your beneficiaries will receive.
Debt settlement may be a solution if your accounts are past due or you owe more money than you could repay over a few years. When you settle your debts, you ask the creditor to accept a one-time, lump-sum payment that’s lower than the full balance to satisfy the debt in full. Creditors typically only accept settlement offers on accounts that are in default or at risk of defaulting. However, debt settlement can negatively affect your credit score, so it should only be used as a last resort.
You can settle debts on your own by negotiating directly with your creditors, or you can get help from a reputable debt relief company. Beware of any company that advises you to purposely fall behind on payments in hopes that you can settle your debt once your accounts are in default.
Credit counseling agencies are organizations, usually nonprofit, who can help manage your finances and debt. When it comes to paying off debt, certified credit counselors negotiate with creditors on your behalf to create an affordable debt management plan. Each month, you'll send a lump sum payment to the credit counseling agency, which divides the payment and sends it to your creditors on your behalf.
A debt management plan created with a credit counselor is very different from debt settlement—you don't have to be in default for credit counseling, and the goal is to pay your accounts in full.