Debt Avalanche vs. Debt Snowball: What’s the Best Way to Pay Off Student Loans?


When you’re looking for answers on how to pay off your student loans, you’re likely to come across two different repayment strategies: the debt snowball and the debt avalanche.

What does all this ice have to do with paying off debt? Let’s take a look at the debt snowball and debt avalanche methods of eliminating student loans so you can figure out which one works best for you.

The Debt Snowball

The debt snowball method aims to start with small wins and build momentum over time. Using the debt snowball method, you start paying off your student loans according to the smallest balance first, while paying the minimum on the rest.

Let’s say you have three student loans with balances of $15,632, $1,685 and $8,941. Using the snowball method you would:

  1. Focus on paying off the $1,685 balance first, throwing as much money as possible toward this loan.
  2. Pay the minimum on your $8,941 loan.
  3. Pay the minimum on your $15,632 loan.

It’s important to stay in good standing with all of your loans, but the goal is to prioritize the smallest balance and then work up to the higher balances. In this case, after paying off the $1,685 loan, you’d then focus on the $8,941 and then the $15,632 loan.

This method of paying off debt is a popular choice in the personal finance community because it helps borrowers see results right away and get a boost of motivation. In fact, financial guru Dave Ramsey swears by this method.

The major downside to this strategy is that it often takes longer to eliminate all your debt using this method versus the avalanche.

Here’s a closer look at the pros and cons of the debt snowball method:


  • Starting with the smallest payments first can provide quick wins and a sense of accomplishment.
  • It’s a tried and true method to pay off debt.
  • As you eliminate your smaller balances, you can free up extra funds to focus on the next balance.


  • It may take longer to pay off your debt.
  • You could pay more in interest in over time.

The debt snowball method is a good choice if you’re dealing with some hardcore debt fatigue and need a boost of motivation. If you go this route, know that you’ll probably pay more in interest since you’re focusing on the smallest balance first, rather than the interest rate.

The Debt Avalanche

The debt avalanche method differs from the debt snowball method because rather than focusing on the smallest balance, it focuses on the highest interest rate.

Imagine an avalanche, which starts at the highest peak and cascades downward. Similarly, the debt avalanche method requires you pay down the highest interest rate loan first while paying the minimum balance on the rest of your loans.

So if you have loans at 7.9%, 6.8% and 4.5%, you would work on eliminating your 7.9% interest rate loan first first, regardless of the balance. Once you’ve paid it off, you’ll then focus on the 6.8% loan, then the 4.5% loan.

I employed the debt avalanche method to pay off my student loans. For me, given my interest rates and student loans balances, it just made sense.

Here are the pros and cons of using the debt avalanche method.


  • You save money on interest (win)!
  • You’ll pay off your loans faster.


  • It can be hard to sustain motivation.
  • It may feel like it takes forever to pay off the high-interest debt.

Debt snowball or debt avalanche: which one is best?

Both the debt snowball and debt avalanche methods will get you to the same destination — a debt-free life.

Choosing the right strategy for you really depends on your goals and how you’re motivated. Do quick wins spur you to action or does the thought of saving money on interest keep you going?

Knowing exactly how much you could save can influence your answer. You can use an online calculator that compares the debt snowball and debt avalanche methods to determine how long it will take to get out of debt and see how much interest you will pay over time.

Depending on your interest rates and balances, you could stand to save thousands of dollars and shave off time from your repayment period by using the debt avalanche method.

But if you have a hard time paying off debt or won’t save a significant chunk of dough, the debt snowball may be a good option for you.

Also, you don’t have to choose between one or the other – sometimes a combination of the snowball and avalanche is most effective.

In other words, there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to debt repayment. Whether you choose the debt snowball, debt avalanche, or some hybrid method or something completely unique, the key is that you’re consistent and that you have a plan to get out of debt.

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