Most of us have debt. Some of us have a lot. And all of us could use a little help getting it under control. With a few simple changes in the way you pay and earn, you can quickly show that debt who’s boss.
Entering the real world can feel like a rude awakening sometimes. From student loans to credit card debt, young adults are saddled with mountains of debt. The financial burdens can prevent them from getting a leg up in life. The average student loan debt is around $27,000, while credit card balances average $4,000 for college graduates.
But by adopting the following strategies, borrowers can create a clear road map for eliminating debt and head toward a richer, happier life.
Tackle the Priciest Debt First
How to prioritize your debt pay off plan? If you have several credit cards and are not sure which one to attack most aggressively, start with the card with the highest interest rate first. This may not be the card with the biggest balance but with its high rate, it’s technically your most expensive debt. Best to get rid of this first and foremost. Put as much as you can toward this debt each month, while doing your best paying off the other cards.
Do More Than the Minimum
In 2012, about one third of credit card borrowers occasionally paid the bare minimum, according to a survey by FINRA. And while you can technically get away with just paying the minimum amount on your balance each month, this is hardly a way to get ahead of your debt in good time. For example, on a $1,000 credit card balance with a 15 percent APR, it would take 54 months—or four and a half years—to eliminate that balance. In the meantime, you’d have paid more than $350 in interest. Paying just twice the minimum balance can shave years off your payoff period and save you tons in interest.
By the way, thanks to new credit industry regulations, card companies are required to disclose how long it will take you to pay off your balance if you merely make minimum payments, as well as what you need to pay each month to be debt-free in three years. That information should be disclosed on your monthly statements. Use that as a guide to getting out of debt quicker. There are also a number of calculators online that can compute the savings by paying certain amounts toward your debt every month including ones at Bankrate and CreditCards.com.
Setting your payments on autopilot ensures you never fall behind on a payment, which can result in ballooning balances and late fees. It also means you don’t have to lose sleep wondering if last month’s payment went through on time. (Not to mention you don’t have to bother with snail mail and stamps!) Some creditors and lenders may even reward you for automating your payments. For example, most student loan lenders—private and federal—will knock off 0.25 percent from your current interest rate when you sign up for an auto-payment plan.
Stick to Cash
If you’re trying to eliminate credit card debt, it makes sense to stop using plastic for awhile, otherwise the cycle of debt continues. A commitment to cash for a period of time—say three or six months—can go a very long way in knocking down your debt load and giving you a more realistic sense of your budget. A cash existence also ensures that you think more critically about every purchase, and in the long run can lead to saving lots of money. Researchers at New York University found it’s in fact more “painful” to pay with cash than credit. It hurts to part with cash, which can lead to more thoughtful spending and, consequently, fewer purchases.
Generate a Get-Out-of-Debt Income Stream
When you’re young, you’ve got that incredible body clock that allows you to stay up late and work until odd hours of the night. Take advantage of your stamina and consider taking on a side gig to specifically help accelerate your debt pay-off and build savings. When I first got out of graduate school with more than $30,000 in credit card and student loan debt, I babysat and freelanced as a writer to supplement my low starting salary. These days, the Internet has made it much easier to find side gigs—many of which you can do from home. Safe websites like tutor.com, care.com, and elance.com offer various job opportunities for those seeking ways to make money easily on the side.
Share Your Goals
Letting your friends and family know that you’re concentrating on saving money to pay off debt may boost your chances of crossing that finish line successfully. A 2012 paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research found that participants who saved money in a self-help treatment group, where they’d publicly announce their savings progress, saved 3 1/2 times more frequently, and their average savings balance was almost twice that of the control group. So spread the word. Start a Facebook page and invite friends to leave words of inspiration and advice.
If your debt is completely out of hand and you need some additional coaching, consider entering a debt management program offered at a nonprofit, such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or Money Management International. Credit counselors will work on your behalf to reduce your monthly payments to a more manageable level and, with your commitment, get you out of debt slowly but surely. If you need help, specifically with your student loans, call your lender and ask about modification plans. For federal loans you may be able to qualify for Income-Based Repayment or a Pay-as-You-Earn Plan.
Have you recently paid down a large, looming debt? Are you currently valiantly crushing a dastardly debt beast? Share your thoughts and triumphs with us, Grownup; we understand.
Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance author, TV personality, and sought-after speaker whose mission is to help people take control of their finances so they can live their richest, happiest lives. A frequent financial contributor to Yahoo! and The Today Show and contributing editor to Money Magazine, she has personally coached a wide range of audiences, from college students to couples to executives at Fortune 500 firms. Her latest book is When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women. To learn more about Farnoosh, visit her website or follow her on Twitter @Farnoosh.