Every new year, millions of Americans vow to save more money, make better decisions with their finances, and pay down debt. While the first two can be difficult at times, with the proper focus they are fairly easy feats to tackle. Paying down debt, on the other hand, is a goal that many people seem to have the most trouble with. Why? Mainly because once it spirals out of control, it becomes difficult to manage or your emotions play into wanting instant gratification. Sometimes you simply can’t make ends meet and you need to borrow to keep your head above water. No matter the reason, 2017 has to be the year that we say enough is enough!
The following are seven steps to actually paying down your debt this year.
1. View Debt in the Right Light
The first step in actually paying off your debt this year, is to recognize that debt is the enemy and must be eradicated immediately! Your mindset is very important to the debt reduction mission because if you view debt as something that is necessary, then you won’t see the urgency in getting rid of it. On the other hand, when you see debt like it is, you will be motivated to do what needs to be done to get rid of it.
2. Prioritize Your Budget
If you don’t know where you are going, then it will be difficult for you to get there. Your budget is your literal roadmap telling you exactly where your money should go. To that point, you can’t really eradicate debt if you don’t know how much is coming in and going out. As you create your budget, make sure you are prioritizing savings first but then allocating a portion for debt reduction.
3. Ask for a Lower Interest Rate
What hurts us most about debt is not paying back the money that we borrowed, but the interest rate that is tacked on. Many people would be shocked to know that you can call your credit card company and ask for an interest rate reduction, which you’ll likely be given. Or you can call your student loans and do the same thing. Often just requesting autodraft for your student loan payment can can qualify you for a .25% interest rate reduction. But you have to ask! Your chances of getting that interest rate reduction are even greater if you are a customer in good standing. The worst that can happen is they say no, but again you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish by just asking.
4. Snowball Your Debt
Snowballing your debt is the act of arranging your debt from smallest to largest, paying the minimum amounts on all accounts, then using the rest of the money that you have allocated towards debt to pay down or pay off the smallest account. Subsequently, the next month you would pay the minimums on all of your accounts again and continue to snowball what is left over to the smallest accounts until everything is paid off. Many financial experts are against this method because they state that you should pay off the accounts that have the highest interest rate first. From a practical perspective, this makes sense (and is a great alternative) but snowballing your debt is more about gaining some small wins in order to give you the confidence to keep going instead of being discouraged by debt that isn’t moving.
5. Make More Money to Pay off Your Debt
Now that you have a sense of what is needed to pay off your debt, it is important that you maximize your income potential to use that money to reach your goal faster, like taking on a part-time job or starting your side-hustle. Regardless of what form it takes, making more money can turn your debt reduction dream into a reality.
6. Temporarily Cut Your Expenses
I know you work hard for your money and that you want to enjoy the fruits of your labor, but if you are serious about your debt reduction goal then it may be time to make a temporary sacrifice in order to increase your cash flow to pay off your debt. Getting rid of cable, freezing your gym membership (because you can work out without paying for one), or bringing in lunch to work, are just a few examples of sacrifices that can be made to give you some extra bucks. Keep in mind that this is temporary so as you knock down your debt, you will be back to living the high life in no time.
7. Cash in Rewards Points
Research shows that people love to get rewarded. If you are compensated for a particular action, and truly appreciate that compensation, it is very likely that you will be more inclined to take that action again and again. This is why reward points are so popular and profitable for credit card companies. They are literally rewarding you for doing something that will gain them more money. If you think about it, they lose nothing by giving you rewards in return for you to spend more money, which allows them to profit off of the interest you’re paying.
I know that the system is set up to give you less if you redeem your rewards for cashback instead of buying what is on their catalog. But, if you have a fair amount of unused rewards, getting cash back and using that to pay down your debt may be the best way to go.
What are some other things you plan to do to pay down your debt this year?
This article was originally published on Feb 9, 2017.