Tackle your debt as aggressively as possible so that it doesn’t eat into future savings.
If you’re weighed down by debt, you’re not alone. Eight out of 10 Americans have debt, with the average American carrying around $68,000, according to a Pew Survey of American Family Finances.
Debt isn’t necessarily bad. In some cases, it can actually help build wealth. But if you’re saddled with a lot of high-rate consumer debt, you could be putting your finances at risk. Try these strategies for getting out of debt.
• Prioritize your debt
“When it comes to your debt, you need to prioritize to pulverize,” said Nicole Lapin, author of “Rich Bitch: A Simple 12-Step Plan for Getting Your Financial Life Together … Finally.” She recommended paying off your highest interest-rate debt first, which is likely credit-card debt. Afterward, tackle your car loan because your vehicle is a depreciating asset. “There’s no sense paying more interest on it as it decreases in value,” she said.
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Then, focus on wiping out any student loans you might have. Paying off your mortgage can be your final priority.
• Put windfalls toward debt
“Treat newfound money like you never had it. If you get a raise or a year-end bonus, don’t start spending more — put it directly toward your debt,” said Jeanette Pavini of Coupons.com. “You were able to live month to month without it, so you should be able to get by without it now.”
Pavini also said that paying down debt requires keeping tabs on how much you owe, setting short-term and long-term goals to pay it off and tracking your progress toward reaching your goals.
• Earn more money
“We all know that you’ve got to cut unnecessary expenses from your budget, but too often we forget to think about the other side of the ledger — our income,” said Kyle Taylor of ThePennyHoarder.com. “People who are most successful in paying off their debt usually pick up a few side gigs.”
For example, you can use the Swagbucks app to get cash back on purchases or pick up small gigs on Field Agent. “These things add up, so don’t forget that the small things count,” he said.
• Invest in yourself
Entrepreneur Josh Felber advocated finding ways to earn more to wipe out debt. But he said you should focus on big ways to increase your income:
“Take action, start investing in yourself to grow and obtain the knowledge to start a business, add multiple streams of income and make sure your financial output is not more than your intake,” he said. As you grow into new work opportunities, maintain your current lifestyle, keeping unnecessary expenses to a minimum.
• Learn to negotiate
When it comes to your debt, talk to lenders to explore repayment options, to get lower interest rates or to have your debt reduced. No matter the type of debt you’re facing, call your lender and see if they have options that can help you get your finances back on track. The worst that can happen is they say no.
• Avoid debt-settlement firms
“If you watch bad late-night TV, you’ve probably seen those ads being run by the debt-settlement outfits. Their promises scream out in the night about reducing your outstanding debt to just pennies on the dollar without making you file for bankruptcy — no matter how much outstanding debt you have,” said Clark Howard, host of popular radio show and podcast “The Clark Howard Show.” But you shouldn’t trust those promises.
Howard said that these firms typically require you pay an upfront fee, plus a monthly retainer. They then tell you to stop paying your bills, stash the money you would have used to pay bills into a bank account and just sit on it. “The idea is to make the credit- card companies so desperate that they’ll cry uncle and want to settle with you at a reduced rate,” he said. “The reality, however, is that too often you wind up just damaging your credit.”