Managing Debt

5 Ways To Get Out of Debt: Which Will Work for You?

Comments 50 Comments

Being in debt has a bigger impact on your financial future than you might realize. Bad debts can continue to to haunt you and your credit report for years, especially if you don’t deal with it now. The first step is knowing where you stand. You can monitor your credit easily using Credit.com’s Free Credit Report Card. It provides you with your credit scores, and breaks down the various components of your credit file in an easy to understand way. When you’re ready to do a deeper dive and look at your actual credit reports,  go to AnnualCreditReport.com where you can pull each of your three credit reports once a year for free (though they can be tricky to read and you’ll probably find our Credit Report Cheat Sheet useful).

Once you’ve set your goal to get out of debt, you have to figure out how to achieve that goal. But with so many different experts touting different solutions, how do you pick the one that will work for you? Here are five options:

DIY Debt Reduction

With the DIY approach, you make the minimum payments on all of your debts except the one you are targeting. There are two main variations on this strategy: the snowball method, and the avalanche approach. With the snowball method you pay off the account with the smallest balance first. With the avalanche approach, you pay off the credit card with the highest interest rate first. Either way, once the first debt is paid off, you apply the payment you were making to the next target debt, and so on until they are all gone.

DIY debt reduction may work for you if:

You have a clear plan and are committed to sticking with it; you are able to stop taking on new credit card debt for the duration of the program; and you have enough cash flow to pay off your balances in approximately 3 years or less. (Any longer than that and you increase the risk that unexpected expenses will derail your plan.)

To make it work:

Create a written plan using a program like SavvyMoney, ReadyForZero or Zilch, all of which will allow you to create a specific repayment plan and try out different scenarios. For some borrowers, for example, the avalanche method may represent significant savings over the snowball method. For others, it’s not a big difference.  But unless you run the numbers, you won’t know that and you may leave money on the table by choosing the method that “feels right,” rather than the one that will get you out of debt fastest.

Another tip: combine this approach with consolidation for maximum savings.

Consolidation

If you are able to consolidate your debts, you will get a new loan to pay off other debts. Then you will pay off the new loan as quickly as possible. You may be able to consolidate with a personal loan or by using balance transfers to low-rate or 0% credit cards. The danger? The new loan will make you feel like you solved the problem, and soon you’ll be pulling out the plastic again.

Consolidation can work for you if:

You are able to significantly reduce your interest rates, and are able to pay off the new debt in roughly three years or less.

To make it work:

Combine consolidation with a DIY debt reduction plan. Put your credit cards somewhere that they won’t be easy to get to, so you won’t be tempted to run up new debt while you’re still paying off this loan.

Credit Counseling

A reputable credit counseling organization will typically review your budget with you for free, and help you figure out if a Debt Management Plan can help you get out of debt faster. If you enroll in a DMP, your credit card issuers will typically reduce your interest rates, and you’ll make one monthly payment to the counseling agency, which will then pay each of your creditors. According to the most recent Transparency Project report from Cambridge Credit Counseling, clients received interest rate reductions averaging 14.49%. As a result, the average new client’s payment was $141.58 less than what they had been paying on their own.

A DMP may work for you if:

Your creditors lower your interest rates enough to provide breathing room in your budget, and you have enough income and cash flow to pay back your debts in five years or less.

To make it work:

Be realistic about your ability to make the payments required under the DMP for as long as it will take you to pay off your balances. Take advantage of the education and support programs offered by the counseling agency, and reach out to them immediately if you experience an unexpected financial setback.

Debt Settlement

If your balances are too high to pay them back within five years, or if you’re dealing with significant debt that’s been turned over to collections, you may want to consider trying to negotiate settlements with your creditors. With this approach, the creditor or collector agrees to accept less than the full balance to satisfy the debt.

Debt settlement may work for you if:

You are able to come up with the enough money — typically around 30 – 50% of what you owe — to settle your debts in a relatively short period of time (usually 24 months or less). The funds to settle may come from savings or a gift from a family member, for example.

To make it work:

Educate yourself on how settlement works. You may have a stressful few months as you try to negotiate with the companies to whom you owe money. Before you go this route, it’s a good idea to also talk with a bankruptcy attorney to find out whether that might be a better option. Also make sure you investigate upfront whether you will owe taxes on canceled debt.

Bankruptcy

If you file for bankruptcy, you may be able to eliminate most or all of your debts very quickly (in a Chapter 7 Plan) or over five years or less (in a Chapter 13 Plan). If you are being threatened with debt collection lawsuits, if your income has been to reduced to the point where you can’t make your payments, or if you are simply feeling overwhelmed with your debt, it’s a good idea to talk with a bankruptcy attorney to find out whether it may provide the relief you need.

Bankruptcy may work for you if:

You have significant debts that can be discharged (eliminated), and your income does not prevent you from doing that.

To make it work:

Talk with a qualified bankruptcy attorney, one whose practice is largely devoted to bankruptcy and helping consumers in debt. Ask for referrals from financial professionals you trust, or visit NACBA.org. When you do meet with an attorney, bring all the documentation he or she instructs you to bring, and be completely honest about your situation. And don’t wait until you’ve been sued or you raided your retirement accounts to talk to an attorney.

Image: iStockphoto

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

  • Pingback: 5 Ways To Get Out of Debt: Which Will Work for You? | Credit.com … | Debt Payment Solutions

  • Sandy Wardlaw

    Some good advice but I would add one other thing. Whatever method is used to pay off credit card debt you must stop using any and all cards until your goal is met. You can’t get out of CC debt while still using the same cards that caused the problem.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      So true Sandy!

  • Pingback: 5 Ways To Get Out of Debt – Credit.com News + Advice | Throttle Debt

  • Pingback: 5 Ways To Get Out of Debt – Credit.com News + Advice | Priority Debts

  • thorn

    Great tips ..thanks a lot for the valuable information ..Really what a brilliant way to combine your interests. I admire your creativity.

  • Meg Fringer

    The credit counseling has worked great for us. Family Credit Counseling has been handling our credit card debt for 8 months. They negotiated lower rates and payments and no late fees with 5 cards. The only one that refused to work with them was Capital One, even though we have been with them for over 10 years. So they are the only one we have to pay out of pocket and we are paying extra on it to get rid of them forever!!

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Glad to hear you are on the right track Meg!

    • brian Odell

      But remember when useing these services it is treated the same as a bankruptcy when you are trying to get a home loan. Its better to just try to talk to them yourself to get a lower rate. Also many of these companies have terrible service.

      • Erin Jones

        I agree with calling the companies yourself. You may have to wait until you are behind one month but most have debt reduction plans that have no late charges and a lower interest rate to help. And since a condition is that you close the card, you cannot accumulate more debt. I have been on plan with Bank of America for a few years and it has worked well.

  • Julie

    Learn self control and know what you can afford and what you can’t. Learn to save up for items you want and pay for it with cash. Find ways to make extra cash vs using a credit cards. Need to take responsibility for what you purchase. People buy things and then can’t pay for the things they should take care of. People that struggle with finances may have it for a lifetime, and it is repeated over and over again. People that file for bankruptcy will more then likely file bankruptcy again it ends up being a easy way out. The sad thing about all this is, alot of people are starting to feel they are entitled not to pay and find a easy way out. All the talk about debt reduction, well don’t spend. Learn self control and only spend on the necessary things, eliminate using any credit cards, work your self down to only one card and you be the one that sets the credit card limit you want not the credit card company. People it’s your money you earn, why give it to the banks. If you pay for things for cash, you don’t have that bill coming in the mail. If you do decide to use a credit card learn to pay it off in a short amount of time.

  • K Richards

    Do the credit counseling programs ruin your credit? We have perfect credit but see a very large long term expense in the near future & I would like to work with credit counseling but am not sure if the stress of the debt is more or less than the stress of ruined credit.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      K Richards –

      I wrote about that very topic in this story: How Debt Relief Options Affect Your Credit. I will add that there may be a trade-off but even if your credit is affected, there is a time limit that negative credit information can be reported. Sometimes debt that isn’t dealt with can last longer than the credit damage!

  • Pingback: The 4 best ways to make money from home | Forex Market Today

  • walter hanson

    Gerri:

    I would’ve added a tip if you have multiple credit debt pay attention to those statements where they say if you pay a certain amount every month with no charges you can be paid off in three years. One thing I’m trying to do is to try to get the debts that won’t be a priority to get the payment closer to three years. It’s a symbol of process if you get one there and once you can start knocking off a debt totally this will help speed up the avalance you’re talking about.

    Walter Hanson
    Minneapolis, MN

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Walter – I agree. And when we hope to hear your success story when you pay off all your cards! :)

  • Pingback: Will Debt Consolidation Help or Hurt Your Credit? |

  • ramdi

    What about someone who’s main debt is IRS and state taxes? Any advice?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I am working on a story on that topic. Takes a different approach.

  • http://abusytraveler.cim Robin L.Schanck

    Get a second job driving limo,taxi,shuttle van where you can earn cash tips to help with credit card debt. I got myself to blame for over spending no more cards!

  • http://abusytraveler.cim Robin L.Schanck

    Get a second job driving limo,taxi,shuttle van where you can earn cash tips to pay off the credit card dept.I got myself to blame for over spending no more cards!

  • http://ANNUALCREDITREPORT.COM JOJO

    WANTED FREE ANNUAL REPORT FROM ALL 3 CREDIT GROUPS
    - STARTED W/TRANS UNION THEN GOT TOSSED OUT WITHOUT
    THE OTHER TWO.

    PLEASE ADVISE/CAN IT BE RESUBMITTED?

    • http://www.credit.com Gerri

      Jojo – If you can’t get them online have you thought about ordering them by mail? There are addresses available if you want to request copies that way. (Not sure what will happen if you try to go back and get the other two online. I don’t think it hurts to try…)

  • Pingback: 4 Ways That Credit is Like the Superbowl (and 1 Way it's Not) | Credit.com News + Advice

  • John

    Wait for the Federal Reserve to inflate away the value of the currency, rendering the debt inconsequential. Of course, everybody’s wages and savings will be inconsequential as well.

  • Pingback: 6 Ways to Cut Your Credit Card Interest Payments |

  • Pingback: Here's Why You Need to Get Debt-Free | DEBT RELIEF NEWS

  • This financial education is good to adher to, it has added more value to what I believe Financial Education is all about. Sincerely I found this article most effective and valuable to my life and financial breakthrough. Thanks for this wonderful advice, w

    This article is very useful to me especially in my financial world.

  • http://credit.com Lori

    I have no credit cards but I have student loan debt that I don’t seem to keep up with. Can the same plan for credit cards work for student loan debt?

    • Dana

      Lori,

      Yes and no. You can use the DIY method, for sure, if you sit down and have an honest talk with your budget and decide that you can both afford the payments and be disciplined to pay them down in the suggested three years. You could also try consolidating/refinancing, but it is difficult to find lenders that will refinance student loans. I went through Wells Fargo to refinance mine, and have been pleased with their service so far. You may have other lender options available to you depending on your location.
      As far as I know, student loan providers don’t generally go for settlement, and student loan debt is not dischargeable in a bankruptcy. But you can seek counseling for any kind of debt – a good place to start is with your primary financial institution, as they have experience working in the financial world and can at least point you in the right direction.

      Additionally, student loans have relief options that other kinds of loans do not. Ask your provider directly what can be done – you may be eligible for deferment or forgiveness, depending on factors like your income, location, occupation, and deferment history.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Hi Lori –

      What kind of student loans do you have? Private or federal?

  • Tracy

    I am 48, and finished nursing school in May. I found a part time job. I also am a single mom with 6 kids still at home, and one adult child at home. I have debt, my mortgage, home equity, a car loan, and two credit cards with debt. In addition, I have $20,000 in student loans. Right now, it is $0 to pay back for an income based repayment plan. My youngest child is in kindergarten. I don’t know if I will be better able to take care of my student loan debt later, if it will become easier to pay as the kids leave for school, or if I can anticipate more work. Right now I have three part time jobs, my income has gone up some since school, but I can’t get prime jobs. I suspect my age and not being as computer savvy as my younger colleagues. I have learned a lot, but didn’t have much education in it, unlike my kids who have classes in school and become high tech while learning basic skills. What will happen to my income based payback, will it be ballooning as I am hoping to retire, I am in uncharted water for me. I had plenty of debt for my master’s in a very small field, art therapy, and ended up rolling part of that debt into my house. I felt it made sense, I ran a daycare at home for a while, I was paying my debt with my income. When our income dropped to less than half in 2007, I felt going to nursing school would be a good financial move. It is giving me more income and more time, so I am happy, but don’t know what will happen to the debt and the best way to tackle it. Feedback?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Tracy – Congrats on going back to school and getting your degree while raising your family. That’s a huge accomplishment and you should feel very proud of it. You are in a field that is in demand, and I suspect that if you do a good job your career prospects will continue to improve.

      It is true that over time you may pay more for your loan if you continue in IBR – unless you end up in the program for the entire 20 years at which time your balances will be forgiven (after 10 years if you work in public service). There’s more information about that here. However, it also sounds like this is a better option for you right now to keep you from falling behind (which is much worse) or from running up larger debts on your credit cards.

      It probably makes sense for you to focus on paying off your credit cards and higher rate debt first, then when your situation stabilizes you can revisit what you want to do with the student loans. (I am not a financial planner though so please don’t take this as that kind of advice.) Another option: you may want to try to find out if there are nursing jobs in your community that would be considered public service as they may be eligible for student loan forgiveness.

  • Pingback: Will Debt Consolidation Help or Hurt Your Credit? | Best Credit Repair

  • Pat

    If my bank decided to close my account will that affect my credit score?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Not likely. Bank account information may be reported to Chexsystems, Certegy or Telecheck, but not typically on standard consumer credit reports.

  • Pat

    I meant my credit card account

  • Pingback: Is Your Cell Phone Ruining Your Credit? | Credit.com News + Advice

  • Linda

    If I contact credit card companies and have my limits lowered does that reflect negatively on my credit report. I have no debt, just want to lower these high limits to ensure that I can’t charge more than I can afford to pay off.

  • http://www.debtconsolidationcare.com/User/sally.nachelle Sally Nachelle

    Well-researched article. People always make expenses beyond their means. As a result they fall knee deep in debt. They never think how they will repay these debts, unless the creditors take legal action against them. Basically there are 2 types of expenses – necessary and unnecessary. You will have to stop spending money on the unnecessary expenses. By following this way, you will be able to get out of debt. There is nothing to worry, if you are able to manage your all kind of debts without breaking your bank. But it could be a great problem, if you can’t tackle your debts and the amount of debts are too much. That’s why you should try to manage your money wisely and spend as per your financial means. Don’t try to take out a loan which you can’t afford to pay back.

  • Jena

    Hi M.s Detweiler,
    What is the process to get judgements that have been placed on my property removed. I am retired and live on a small fixed income.I am trying to salvage what I can on my credit.

  • Pingback: In Positive Fed Debt Report, Hidden Danger Lurks |

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Congrats! That’s a great success story. We’d love to hear more about how you did it.

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    There are cases where one spouse will file bankruptcy without the other but before you decide to go this route, we’d strongly urge you to consult with a bankruptcy attorney. They’ll be able to advise you on whether or not there are issues that could potentially impact your spouse (for example, if you live in a community property state where debtors may go after your spouse for payment).

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    If it’s mostly credit card debt, have you considered consumer credit counseling? They’d be able to help you negotiate lower interest and one time monthly payments (if you qualify for a Debt Management Plan). Entering into a DMP wouldn’t negatively impact your credit but there are certain drawbacks to keep in mind. For one, you’d enter the program with the understanding that you’re in it to pay off the debt, so you wouldn’t be able to take on any new debt while you’re in the program. Meaning you couldn’t apply for new credit and you wouldn’t be able to use your credit cards. You can read more about DMPs here: • Is a Debt Management Plan Right for You?

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), if you dispute the collection or request that the collector validate the debt, the collector must respond and address your request — otherwise, they have no right to continue collection attempts. Make sure you keep excellent records of your correspondence, which means sending everything certified, return receipt requested so that you have proof they received your disputes or validation requests. If they continue trying to collect without responding, you have two options:

    1. Contact a consumer law attorney. They’ll be able to help you determine whether or not the collector is breaking laws under the FDCPA and there may be legal recourse available to you. To find a consumer law attorney in your state, http://www.NACA.net is a good place to start.

    2. File a complaint with the Consumer FInancial Protection Bureau. They’ll open an investigation with the collector to help address your complaint: http://www.consumerfinance.gov

    One other point that’s important to note: Every time the collection is sold to a new collector, you’ll have to repeat the process. Unfortunately, every time the collection is sold, you’ll have to take the same steps with the collection company that currently owns the account.

  • Pingback: Will Debt Destroy Your Credit Score? |

  • Pingback: Will Debt Destroy Your Credit Score? | Excellent Loan

  • Pingback: Flonder | Will Debt Destroy Your Credit Score?

  • Pingback: Will Debt Destroy Your Credit Score?

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    Cherokee — It would really depend on your individual financial situation, your income and your ability to pay the debts. A HELOC or second mortgage COULD be an option but you’d want to be careful going this route and make sure you can afford to pay the debts — you don’t want to jeopardize your home if you were unable to pay. Bankruptcy is also an option, but again, it would really depend on your overall financial situation. In which case, it may be worth consulting with a bankruptcy attorney to see if bankruptcy would be right for you. As far as other options, because you’re dealing with extensive medical debts, have you considered trying to negotiate a settlement? To help consumers struggling with overwhelming medical debt and medical collections, Gerri has covered this issue extensively here at Credit.com. The following resources may give you a few other options on how to deal with medical bills:

    The Ultimate Guide to Solving Your Medical Bill Problems
    How to Fix Your Medical Bill Problems
    How to Negotiate Your Medical Bills
    Is it Ever Too Late to Negotiate a Medical Bill?

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    In an ideal situation you’d have an emergency fund to get you through the next 3-6 months while you searched for employment but this isn’t always possible. One option is to try contacting your creditors and explaining that you’ve lost your job and are currently searching for employment. Depending on the lender, they may be willing to work with you, either by lowering your monthly payment or skipping a payment and adding it to the end of the loan to buy you a little more time. In the end, however, putting food on the table and a roof over your head is necessity and you can’t pay if you just don’t have the money. This doesn’t mean that you should ignore the debts, but you may not be able to pay them until you find a new job and are financially able to. If you fall behind, the debts may go delinquent but they’ll have to wait until you do find employment and are able to pay again. Just know that you’re not alone and there are millions of Americans that have struggled through the same situation.

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    Karen – walking away from the mortgage would put the home into default and it would be foreclosed on. If this is what’s happening right now, and you’re currently delinquent on the mortgage, it would definitely impact your ability to get a new mortgage. Have you considered trying to sell the home instead? If you’ve been in the home for 40 years, you may not be underwater like so many millions of Americans that purchased just prior to the mortgage collapse so this may be a better option.

    In the end, however, a recent foreclosure or short sale may delay being approved for a new mortgage for a couple years depending on the mortgage lender. For more on this topic, the following resources may help:

    How Soon Can I Get a Mortgage After Credit Problems?
    How Long Does It Take to Rebuild My Credit After a Short Sale?

  • pesto

    Here is an inquiryI wonder if you can point me in the right direction. we finished our basement the other year and prior to that never had an issue with water in the basement. My wife insisted on a floating floor becuase it looked nice. no sooner did we get it installed we got 8 inches of rain. Part of the floor destroed, so i had it replaced with tile ($3000 on credit card). Next comes superstorm Sandy….rest of basement floating floor and lower part of the walls damaged. repaired that since insurance would not coer it…..almost 15k on credit card. to hopefully prevent more flooding had a french drain put in (worked so far)…also on credit card. Car repairs came at that time and it just kept mounting. Last year owed $41k (all at 0%). Transferred over this year the blaance and owe $31k now…at 0% for another year. I make 100k a year as a cop, wife makes 35k as a private school teacher. We live in the northeast, so although it appears as a lot of money it isnt. Due to the debt I am payiong off we have very little in savings. We have a son looking at colleges (he is a hs junior). Should i continue to pay off the credit card debt or put more away for him for college in his 529 (also have two younger sons. We have other bills too…2 car payments, mortgage and the regular electric, groceeries, ect.
    also, when he goes to college, will he be able to get loans and grants based on our pay (including mortgage, car payments, credit card debt, two other children at home)? Thanks.

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Not an easy situation by any stretch but the first thing I would suggest is talking with a credit counseling agency to see if they can help you create a realistic repayment plan for this debt. As for whether to pay off the debt or save for college goes, if you can pay off the debt I’d suggest you focus on that first.

  • Pingback: Flonder | Who Will Be Debt-Free in 2014?

  • Pingback: Americans Are Serious About Tackling Debt in 2014 | Watch List News

  • Pingback: Americans Are Serious About Tackling Debt in 2014 | Flip Bankruptcy

  • Pingback: Americans Are Serious About Tackling Debt in 2014 | Palsnews

  • Pingback: Americans Are Serious About Tackling Debt in 2014 | Beast Investor

  • gw

    What do you think about debt consolidation through companies like Prosper and Lending Club?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      We think they can be a great option for consumers and we work with them to refer consumers for whom this might be a good fit. A fixed-rate, fixed-term loan can be a good way to get out of debt.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Have you considered credit counseling?

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Aubrey – Unfortunately that’s not an option for some people. Some are working two or three jobs already, have children that need to be cared for or are facing enormous medical bills that can’t possibly be repaid. I’ve learned that every situation is different.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    If it appears on your credit reports, it should help your scores provided you keep your balances low in comparison to your credit limit and pay on time. Unfortunately it is impossible to predict exactly how much it will help your scores, as it depends on everything else in your credit reports.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    By debt consolidation, what exactly do you mean? Are you thinking of paying it back through a credit counseling agency – or are you talking about a consolidation loan?

    As for the 1099-c, whether or not you have to pay taxes on the amount forgiven depends on whether you qualify for the insolvency exclusion. We wrote about that here: 1099-C In the Mail? How to Avoid Taxes on Cancelled Debt

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Credit counseling doesn’t hurt your credit scores as much as you think. FICO ignores the fact that you are in a DMP (see article above for definition) when calculating credit scores. The main impact will be the fact that you will close your accounts. But if this is your best shot for getting out of debt then my philosophy is go for it! Once you are debt-free you should be able to quickly rebuild any issues with your credit. You’ll have no debt, and your payments should be all on time while you are in the program. Don’t let worries about your credit scores keep you from getting out from under your debt.

Find out where you stand.
Get your FREE personalized credit report card.

Sign Up Now
X

Start Maximizing Your Credit Today

Credit ScoreGet a FREE personalized credit check-up today.

Get Started - It's Free!