If you think paying off debt is just about math, you only know half the story. Sure, the balance is a number. The interest rate is a number. Your payment is a number.
The debt is a story. Maybe it’s a student loan that funded your four-year education and has enabled you to get the job you’re in today. Maybe it’s a credit card debt you accrued over your college career to help you make it through those four years. Or maybe it’s a medical bill or a car repair that surprised you and now you’re struggling to pay it off and get past it.
To pay it off, it’s not just about getting the money. It’s also about making the payments and sticking with it because it won’t be a process that takes just one day. It’ll take many. It may take months and years, so half of the battle is psychological.
Here are some debt payoff tricks that will help you overcome that debt. First, we’ll look at steps you can take to lessen the burden. Next, we’ll look at strategies for paying it down.
1. Negotiate a Lower Interest Rate
Negotiating a lower interest rate is as simple as calling up the credit card company and asking. To make the most of your time, you need to do a little research to know how much of a break to ask for. Do some research on the types of credit card offers available to people with similar credit. (You can see where your credit currently stands by viewing two of your credit scores, updated each month, for free, on Credit.com.) That will give you a good sense of how much to ask for and whether to accept what they offer or push for more.
Starting with your oldest credit card, leverage that loyalty and ask them if they can lower your interest rate. It’s important you tell the card company that you’ve been a member for X years, you’ve been a loyal customer, and that you’d like a lower interest rate – those are the three boxes to check.
It’s as simple as that. Be polite and persistent, it may mean trying different customer service representatives until you get one willing to give you a break.
2. Utilize a Balance Transfer
If you can’t get your interest rate lowered, it might be time to transfer it to a new credit card using a balance transfer.
Many credit card companies will offer 0% interest on balance transfers for periods of up to 18 months. You can use that period to make aggressive payments on your debt without it growing because of interest. Much like lowering your interest rate, balance transfers won’t solve your debt problems but can be useful in making your payments go further.
As for paying down your debts, there are two ways to attack it.
The first is known as the debt snowball and the second is cleverly named the debt avalanche.
3. Make a ‘Debt Snowball’
The debt snowball is an idea popularized by Dave Ramsey. You list your debts in ascending order by balance size. You make your payments, putting any extra cash you have towards the smallest balance. When you retire that smallest balance, you add that minimum payment to the payment on the new smallest balance.
It’s called a snowball because as your debts are paid off, the minimum payments are added to the other payments. Your monthly payment amount remains the same but it’s now more aggressively paying off your debts.
This method works, despite not being mathematically optimal, because it gives you wins along the way. As you retire each debt, you get to celebrate a small win. Those small wins keep you motivated so you’re more likely to continue the payments and not relapse.
4. Create a ‘Debt Avalanche’
The debt avalanche follows a similar idea to the debt snowball except you order your debts in descending order by interest rate. You make extra payments towards the debt with the highest interest rate, which makes the avalanche the mathematically optimal strategy. The challenge is keeping motivated, especially if your highest interest debt is your largest balance. It may be quite some time before you pay it off.
At its core, paying off your debt is about paying down your debt as much as you can afford. The more you pay, the faster you’ll be debt free.