Although you are obligated to repay your debts, you don’t have to let them drag you — or your financial future — down.
However, before you can even take your first steps toward financial freedom, you’ll need a roadmap to get there. A “get out of debt plan,” if you will.
The good news is getting rid of debt is actually a pretty straightforward game of math and compound interest. And once you set a course of action, you’ll be empowered to move forward and get out of debt faster.
If you’re ready to make the change and become debt-free, here’s how to get started.
1. Mentally prepare for your get out of debt plan
Before you even create a get out of debt plan, you have to first adjust your mindset. And that involves taking the emotion out of your finances.
Debt can be a major source of stress, shame, and feelings of failure. So when you’re facing debt, it can feel like an insurmountable obstacle. You might think you’ll never get free of debt. Or, it’s too far in the future to even worry about.
It’s ok and even normal to feel those things. But don’t let emotions hold you back from taking necessary steps to tackle your debts.
No matter how dire your finances feel, there is a way out. And, you’re capable of creating and following that path to financial freedom.
Remember, you are in control of your debts — not the other way around. So before you commence your get out of debt plan, fuel up with the determination to change.
Essentially, if you’re changing your money behaviors then you’re also changing how you view yourself and your finances. All of which is crucial for becoming debt-free.
2. Research what your debts look like
With your new get-out-of-debt mindset now in place, you’ll be able to stomach a full assessment of your debts.
If you’re fuzzy on some key details about your debts, you’re not the only one. Many borrowers have no idea who is servicing their loans, what their interest rates are, or even when their pay-off dates will be.
This can be especially true of student loan debt. For example, you may have several student loans taken out at different times and serviced by different lenders.
Getting your free annual credit report is a great place to start. This will list out all of the debts you currently carry. Including the balance, servicer, and account status (such as current, past due, or delinquent).
With this list of debts, you can start collecting the following key information for each of your debt or credit accounts:
- Your balance, or how much you owe
- Current status of your account
- Interest rate for a specific debt
- Monthly minimum payment amount
- Payoff date
- Contact and login credentials for your account
The good news is you can easily log into your online accounts with most creditors.
Or, call them to get any additional information not listed on your credit report. Then, record these details in a list, spreadsheet, or format that works best for you.
If it’s intimidating to do this all at once, start small by checking out just a couple of accounts a day until you’re done.
3. Check the minimum you owe each month
Now that you have your debts listed out, you can figure out what you are obligated to pay each month.
Essentially it’s the amount you must pay to your creditors to keep your accounts in good standing. And avoid ugly consequences like late fees or default.
The total amount is what you get when you add up the minimum payments for each debt. Hopefully, this is an amount that you can afford each month.
If you’re having trouble keeping up with minimum payments, however, that’s an issue you must address ASAP. And if you’re already to the point of default on some of your debts and can’t afford to catch up, it might be time to contact a bankruptcy lawyer and consider your options.
For student debts, however, keep in mind that these can’t be discharged in bankruptcy. But you can start the process to get student loans out of default.
4. Map out out your monthly expenses
By paying the minimum amounts each month, you’ll stay current on debts. But, you won’t get ahead.
If you want to pay off your debts faster and be debt-free before all of your pay-off dates, that will require paying more than just the minimums.
But to know if you can afford to pay extra on your debts, you’ll need to know what your monthly expenses are. A budget or spending plan will help you account for your money. And keep you accountable for spending it on things that really matter.
Review account statements from your bank and other service providers to see what you are paying for living expenses each month. Add up what you pay for rent or mortgage, bills, and debt payments. Make sure it includes other necessities like childcare, tuition, and groceries.
5. Find how much extra you can afford to pay
Once you have this amount, see how much of a buffer you have left each month (your net income minus your monthly expenses).
This is your disposable income, the cash that’s left over each paycheck or month after you cover all of your necessary expenses.
It’s tempting to just assume you can put all of your disposable income towards extra debt payments. But you want to make sure you’re balancing debt prepayments with other financial goals and expenses as well.
For instance, you might want to save some of your disposable income into an emergency fund. Or, create a “fun money” fund so you don’t end up feeling deprived each month.
On the other hand, the more money you can put towards your debts, the sooner you can be free of them.
When you weigh all of these considerations, you’ll get a better sense of the actual dollar amount of extra debt payments you can potentially make each month.
6. Prioritize your debts
Now that you know how much extra you can afford to pay each month, you can decide the best way to apply extra payments towards your debts.
Remember, you’ll always save the most money on interest by putting extra payments towards high-interest debts first.
Unsecured debts like credit cards, personal loans, and lines of credit will typically have higher interest rates, while secured debt like home loans or car loans tend to have lower rates.
Although student loans are unsecured, they usually (but not always) will have lower interest rates.
Put your debts in order from the highest interest rate to the lowest. Then commit to putting all of the money you’ve earmarked for extra debt payments to lowering the debt at the top of the list with the highest rate.
Rinse and repeat.
7. Get your new payoff date
When you pay extra toward debts, you’ll ultimately pay off one account and free up that total amount you were spending on the monthly payment.
For instance, if you have a $200 payment and are paying $300 extra, once that debt is gone you can add $500 in extra payments to your next debt.
Applying these extra funds toward repaying debts is commonly called a debt snowball or debt avalanche because you keep rolling the freed-up funds into the next debt until they’re all paid off.
You can use the calculator below to get an idea of how much faster you can get rid of your debt if you are paying extra each month.
Or, if you have a goal to be debt-free in a certain number of years, you can also see how much extra you’d have to pay each month to achieve that.
Another tool, Unbury.me, can help you see similar information for all of your debts at once for an overview of all of your debts at once.
Using these tools, you can figure out your new pay-off date and when you’ll be completely debt-free. Then, mark it on your calendar and refer to it as you continue on your journey towards financial freedom.
Keep trying new debt pay-off strategies
With these seven steps, you have a get out of debt plan — a roadmap you can follow to get free of debt and save hundreds (and likely thousands) of dollars in interest.
But don’t stop here! Your getting out of debt plan is just the beginning. In addition to paying extra each month, there are other strategies you can employ to get rid of debt faster.
For instance, you might look into getting a side hustle going which can help you generate more money towards paying off debts.
Or, perhaps you’re interested in refinancing or consolidating debts to a lower interest rate so more of your money goes toward paying down your principal.
Consider improving your spending habits and living more frugally. Both can free up more cash flow for debt repayments.
Also, surround yourself with family, friends, and social circles who have successfully managed their debts. And don’t be afraid to ask them about how they did it or cheer each other on.
All of these actions can help empower you to make some big financial changes. At the end of the day, keep learning about finances, debt, and managing money. Find your grit, and use it to buckle down to make positive financial changes.
Remember, you’re in charge of your finances, for better or worse. You have the power to create financial security and get out of your debt cycle permanently.
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