Debt is nothing new to most people; it’s something that most of us live with in our own lives. In fact, the New York Federal Reserve calculated American consumer debt at $14.56 trillion at the end of 2020, which includes mortgages, car payments, student loans, and credit card balances.
But while it’s common to the average American, debt is not altogether a good thing, and can have effects on your financial wellness long into the future. For that reason, more and more people are initiating efforts to pay off their outstanding balances, in an attempt to become fully debt-free.
Why should I try to be debt-free?
Only you can decide if putting in the hard work to become debt-free is the right decision for you, but generally, there are a few reasons you might want to. First of all, high debt can affect your credit score, which will affect future purchases or loans. But more importantly, we must remember that debt generates debt, so the hole is constantly getting bigger as long as you carry those balances. Think of this like a credit card balance (a debt in and of itself), and the additional interest added in order to maintain that debt. While your initial purchase may have only cost around $100, paying that off over two years at around 20 percent interest will cost you $20 extra. When you look at those calculations for larger debt—like cars or electronics payments—you can see how debt can add up.
How can I get out of debt?
The concept of getting out of debt is simple: you pay toward anything you owe to anyone, until all of your financial obligations are gone. But in reality, that is much easier said than done. Paying off debt requires a lot of discipline and sacrifice. Why? Because it requires you free up the funds to pay down your balances - funds you may not have readily available without adjusting your lifestyle or spending habits. But, we know you can do it and are willing to help any way we can!
How fast can I get out of debt?
The speed that you can get out of debt depends on a number of factors that differ from person to person. To determine a rough estimate of how fast you can pay it off, first make a list of what you owe on all your accounts. How much debt do you have? Then, look at “excess” money you have each month—money that isn’t allocated to a bill, or money that you can free up by canceling or reallocating something else. Once you have those two numbers, you can get a realistic view of how long you will need to put your money toward those payments. But remember, interest is always growing that bottom number, so it will take you a little longer than you might think!
8 Creative Ideas to Pay Down Debt
As American debt has grown higher, so has the desire for many to break free of it. Fortunately, because of that, there are a number of unconventional ways that you can pay off those financial obligations. Here are a few ways to consider.
1. Make a snowball
One of the most popular ways to pay off balances is with the snowball method, a process made famous by financial coach Dave Ramsey. In the snowball method, you take the list of your accounts and with your excess funds, pay off the smallest balance as fast as you can. Once you have completely paid off that account, take your funds, add them to the minimum payment you were making toward that account, and start working on the next account. As you do this, your excess funds each month will grow larger, allowing you more impact as you tackle the larger and larger balances.
2. App up
There are a number of phone or online apps designed to help you track and pay off debt. Here are a few you might want to check out:
- Truebill - this app tracks all of your subscriptions (like that one time you ordered a free trial of that game) and makes them visible, allowing you the opportunity to remember to cancel them.
- YNAB - short for You Need a Budget, this app is a budget tracker that works along with the snowball method of paying off debt.
- Mint - widely known for keeping track of your expenses, Mint is a go-to for budgeting software options.
- Qoins - with this app, saving for debt payoff is simple—you just round up? Each purchase you make will be rounded up to the nearest dollar, and all that change goes into a bucket. At the end of the month, your stash is converted (minus a small fee) and put toward your debt balance.
3. Pay bills...more?
It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes making extra payments can actually save you money—and get you closer to financial freedom, as well. For example, by paying your mortgage bi-weekly instead of monthly, you can get in an entire extra payment each year, helping you pay down that big balance quickly.
4. Find lost money
Do you have money owed to you by the U.S. or state government that you never collected? If so, it may be sitting in an unclaimed fund stack, just waiting on you to find it. To find out if you have unclaimed funds, find your state (you can use the site Unclaimed.org as a start) and then search by your name and information. From there, simply start the claim process and get your money. Then, when that claimed money finally comes through, use it to pay off a balance!
5. Visualize your why
One of the most important, and overlooked aspects of accomplishing any goal is to be able to understand why you want to do it in the first place. By tapping into your “why”, you have a deeper motivation to actually work toward it and get it done.
For some, that may be so that you can retire easily. For others, debt-free may be a next step toward an even bigger goal, like travel. But whatever the why is, it’s important to be able to visualize it easily, so that when you have to give up that new purchase, you can still feel like you’re moving toward your goal.
6. Sell off the extra
Most of us have extra stuff lying around. Why not put it toward your big payoff? Hold a yard sale or throw those superfluous knick-knacks on Facebook Marketplace, and clean up your house and your credit accounts at the same time!
7. Don’t be too restrictive
At first, you may be super motivated to pay down debt, and may set big restrictions for yourself—no coffee, no eating out, no extra treats at the store. But as time goes on (and remember, it takes the average person around 20 years to pay off $30,000 worth of debt), those restrictions may seem harder and harder to keep up. Instead, set yourself rewards and realistic goals to keep yourself motivated. Promise yourself a nice dinner out after you pay off that bill, or a weekend getaway once you hit a certain amount that you’ve paid off. By instituting small rewards along the way, you’re far more likely to keep it up into the future.
8. Get a bigger shovel
When digging yourself out of debt, the size of the shovel (a.k.a.- how much money you can put toward paying it off) matters. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to increase the amount of money you’re able to put toward your balances, including getting a side hustle or a second job, or asking for a raise.
Getting out of debt can be hard, but we can help! We at Spero are grateful for your membership and excited to help you along with your goals. If we can ever help you with creative ideas to become debt-free; we’re here to help. Call us or come in to one of our convenient branches for more information.
This material is for educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.