Managing Debt

How to Pick a Debt Payoff Strategy

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The idea of beginning to save can seem impossible when you are carrying a large amount of debt. In fact, sometimes just figuring out how to pay off your debt can be difficult.

There are some strategies financial experts advise when it comes to deciding how to take care of your debt. Here’s how to decide which is right for you.

Different Kinds of Debt

It’s important to have a clear picture on your entire financial situation. Listing all your debt may be depressing, but it can help get you started on a road map to get rid of it. Think of your list of debts as a starting point and imagine how nice it will be to cross them off one by one. A great way to take stock of your debt is to pull your credit reports from the major credit bureaus, which you can do for free once a year.

Once you can see your debts in front of you, you can categorize them by the kind of debt. Not all debt is created equal. Some debt will cost you more because it has a higher interest. Other debts may cost you more because they are spread out over such a long time.

The Highest Interest

One strategy for deciding how to prioritize your debt payments is to tackle the highest-interest debt first. Paying interest doesn’t do anything for you. A car isn’t worth more because you paid more in interest. So knocking out the higher-interest debt first can cut down on how much you are paying in interest.

High-interest debt is typically from credit cards, auto loans or personal loans. Sometimes these debts are so large that the idea of not being able to cross anything off of your list for months or even years can be depressing and de-motivating. This is where the next strategy comes in.

The Smallest Total

If you are the kind of person who needs to build up confidence and enjoys small victories, you may want to try a different approach. To get you going, you might consider getting rid of your smallest debt first, regardless of the interest rate, then put the money you were paying on that one toward paying off the second-smallest and so on. This way, you will be able to cross debts off of your list and see progress more quickly.

In the long term, this strategy is likely to cost more because you will probably be paying the higher-interest debt for longer. But if the satisfaction of checking things off the list keeps you on track, it can be worth it.

Getting to Goal

Ultimately, you want to ensure you stay focused on paying off debt. How you prioritize your debt will depend on your creditors, your financial situation and your personality. If you try a strategy and it doesn’t work, try another . . . and then another until you’re living debt-free. You also may want to track your progress and how paying off your debt is helping your credit. You can check two of your credit scores for free every month and track your progress with a personalized action plan on Credit.com

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