Debt can be one of the biggest roadblocks to setting and achieving long-term financial goals.
With debt weighing you down, everything from growing your emergency savings to saving for retirement can feel out of reach.
So how do you chip away at it?
1. Don’t normalize debt. Attack it!
Some debt, like a mortgage or education expenses, can be “good debt” because it has the potential to benefit you financially in the long-run. Credit card debt, however, is mostly bad.
Whether good or bad, the consensus is that less debt is better. If debt becomes one more bill you pay at the end of the month, it’s easy to push it to the back of your mind. But often, debt is not an ongoing essential living expense, so don’t treat it like one. Outline an aggressive payment plan and keep track of your progress.
How do you establish a payment plan? If you haven’t already, consider putting a monthly budget in place. Having a plan for what you’ll do with your money before it comes in can be a game-changing in terms of helping you stay true to your goals.
2. Say “no” to credit card debt.
It should be a priority to reduce all debt as quickly as you can, but consider prioritizing debt that carries the highest interest rate. Credit cards typically have very high interest rates. This means you could end up paying much more than you first spent, especially if you’re making only the minimum payment.
Think about transferring credit card debt to a card with no annual fee and a lower interest rate to avoid growing interest. Then concentrate on paying off that single credit card and don’t add any more debt on other cards. Remember — your credit card is not your emergency fund!
3. Quantify the full cost of debt.
Debt consists of the principal balance plus interest, which can compound quickly. Need motivation to pay down your debt? Imagine what your finances may look like if you could take the money you pay in interest each month and put it toward something else. Debt plus its compounding interest means you have less to invest in your financial future. That’s a good reason to stay focused.
Overwhelmed? Thinking about debt consolidation?
Debt consolidation is the process of taking several smaller loans or debts and combining them into one. With only one debt, you have a single monthly payment to make, which is often much lower than what you were paying across all of your debts. It also eliminates multiple interest rates on your debts, and may come with a lower interest rate than you paid previously.
The most common methods of debt consolidation are:
- Transferring debts to a single credit card.
- Applying for a home equity loan.
- Approaching lenders for specific debt consolidation loans (see this government resource for more).
Proceed with caution. Credit cards usually have specific fees associated with interest rates and transferred balances. A lower interest rate may cost you up front, and a transferred balance may come with a processing fee. Do your research and consider negotiating your rates and terms before transferring balances. Be aware of other trade-offs as well. For example, if you agree to a lower interest rate, you may end up paying more during the life of the loan if the term of the loan is significantly longer.
Remember: the three key areas of improvement you’re seeking from debt consolidation are a significantly lower monthly payment, a reduction in interest rates, and a relationship with a lender that gives you peace of mind.
There is no silver bullet.
There are lot of “tips and tricks” to reduce debt. You can limit going out to eat, pick up a side gig, or organize low-cost hangouts with friends and family to save money — then use those savings to reduce debt.
These actions can help, but the bottom line is there is no trick. The key to reducing debt is to take control and commit to making a change. Outline a payment plan. Pay down debt with the highest interest rates first. Stick to your budget and payment plan. Don’t accrue more debt in the process. The satisfaction of sending that last payment and seeing a zero balance will be well worth the effort.