The debt-free journey: tips and tricks to get rid of debt
By Rebecca Lake
Reviewed by Keith Osmun
Aug 22, 2023
Read time: 7 min
Getting rid of debt is doable if you have a plan.
Reducing interest rates could make paying off what you owe easier.
Negotiating with creditors could reduce what you owe.
Debt can happen to anyone. And when it happens to you, it helps to have choices for dealing with it.
It doesn’t matter what kinds of debts you have. You can tackle them with a sound plan. The road to financial freedom starts with a single step. If you're ready to kick your debt to the curb, check out these tips and get moving toward your financial goals.
Face the situation: assess your debt
Creating a debt repayment plan starts with taking stock of how much you owe and who you owe it to. It's time to add it up.
Make a list of all the creditors or lenders you owe money. Jot down:
Credit card balances or loan balances
Minimum payments due
Monthly payment amount
Interest rates for each debt
You can do this with pen and paper—or use a debt paydown app to get a clear view of all your debts. Seeing all the numbers in black and white can make it easier to figure out which debt to tackle first.
5 strategies to attack your debt
There's more than one way to get rid of debt. The best way to handle debt repayment depends on your financial situation.
Here are five possibilities you might try.
Debt snowball method
The debt snowball method involves listing your debts from the lowest balance to the highest, then paying them off in that order. You pay as much as possible toward the first debt on the list and make minimum payments for everything else.
Once you pay off the first debt, you apply that same payment amount to the next one on the list. You continue this way until all the debts are paid off. The snowball method can help you pay off credit card balances and get some quick wins right out of the gate, especially if you can knock out one or two debts right away.
The debt avalanche works the same way as the snowball method, with a key difference. Instead of listing debts from the smallest balance to the highest, you rank them from the highest APR to the lowest. APR, or annual percentage rate, is the total yearly cost of a debt, including the interest and any other fees or charges.
The idea is that by paying down credit cards with high interest rates first, you can save on interest over time.
Whether it makes sense to choose the avalanche or the snowball method depends on what matters most to you: paying off small debts immediately or trimming your total cost.
Personal loan for debt consolidation
Consolidating credit card debt with a personal loan can reduce your monthly payments, and it could help you lower the cost of your debt. To consolidate, you get a personal loan, then use the money to pay off your credit card balances.
Personal loans for debt consolidation can be secured or unsecured. Most of the time, they are unsecured loans, which means you don't need to use any collateral to qualify for the loan. Collateral is something of value you offer as a guarantee you’ll pay. If you don’t, the lender can sell the collateral.
Pay off debts with a home equity loan
If you own a home and have built up enough equity, you could borrow against your equity to pay off debt. Equity is the difference between your home’s value and what you still owe on it. You could get a home equity loan or a home equity line of credit to pay down credit card balances, medical bills, personal loans, or other debts.
Your home is the collateral that guarantees the loan or line of credit, so if you default, you could lose your home. But assuming you've looked closely at your budget and know what you can afford to pay, a home equity loan or HELOC is a debt repayment strategy that could ease the strain on your budget, lower the rate on your debt, or both.
Debt resolution allows you to pay off your debts for less than you owe. You can do the negotiations yourself, or let a professional debt resolution company do it for you. If creditors agree to a deal, you can clear credit card and other balances for less, and the remaining debt is forgiven.
Many people who start a debt resolution program choose to stop making regular payments to their creditors (if they haven’t fallen behind already). Creditors may be more flexible if it’s clear that you’re experiencing financial hardship. Missing payments reinforces that you can't afford to repay the debt in full, but it can also have a negative effect on your credit.
Resolving debts doesn’t mean walking away from them. But the financial commitment might be more manageable than all the bills you’re juggling. A professional debt resolution company will set up a Dedicated Account that you can deposit money into each month to build up a fund for making offers to your creditors.
Resolving debt could help you clean the slate so you can start moving forward financially again.
5 tips for getting rid of debt quickly
If you want to get rid of debt but don't have a magic wand handy, try these tips instead.
Pay more than the minimum. This is a tried-and-true personal finance hack for paying off debt. If you're only making the minimum monthly payments, it could take years to knock out the debt, especially if you have a high interest rate.
Switch to biweekly payments. Interest on credit cards is calculated daily. If you want to maximize the impact of your payments, try sending half the monthly payment every other week to cut down on interest. If you want to go a step further, you could try weekly payments instead.
Transfer balances. Transferring credit card balances with a high annual percentage rate (APR) to a card with a 0% APR could help you get rid of debt faster. Just be aware of the balance transfer fee and the promotional interest rate expiration. Consider this a one-time strategy. If you start shifting money around from one card to another, it’s easy to fall into a debt trap.
Use windfalls. Any time extra money comes your way, use it to pay down a chunk of your debt. For example, you could get rid of debt more quickly by using tax refunds, salary bonuses, rebates, or cash gifts to pay down balances.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This is the only way to get rid of debt without paying it off. You'd have to have a low-enough income to qualify, and you might have to give up some of your property. Talk to a bankruptcy attorney about whether you qualify.
There may not be an easy or guaranteed way to get rid of debt fast, but you can shave some time off your debt repayment plans by putting some or all of these tips to work.
3 motivational mantras for getting rid of debt
Paying off debt can sometimes seem like a slog, and that's normal. Eventually, you might even be tempted to chuck the whole plan out the window.
But that's not ideal. Defaulting on debts can lead to some pretty unpleasant consequences, especially where your credit profile is concerned.
Having some go-to mantras can help you stay motivated to continue on your debt repayment journey. If you're not sure how to make a mantra, here are a few you can use:
I choose what happens with my money.
There is no limit to what I can learn about money.
Good money choices today can lead to a better tomorrow.
Pair those motivational mantras with positive actions to improve your financial situation. For example, if you don't have an emergency fund, you can work on setting aside a little bit of money each month to build one. And you can apply your budgeting skills – or use a simple money management app – to help you have a little more money left over each month so you can work toward your bigger financial goals.
Rebecca is a senior contributing writer and debt expert. She's a Certified Educator in Personal Finance and a banking expert for Forbes Advisor. In addition to writing for online publications, Rebecca owns a personal finance website dedicated to teaching women how to take control of their money.
Keith is an editor and fact-checker for Achieve. He makes sure the content is accessible by ensuring that each piece has impeccable grammar, an approachable tone, and accurate details.
Frequently asked questions
Should I stop paying my bills to pay off my debt?
Not paying bills is a bad idea since it can lead to late fees, credit damage, and even lawsuits. If you are struggling to make even your monthly minimum payments or you’ve already fallen behind, you should reach out to your creditors and let them know. Many will offer hardship assistance, such as allowing you to skip a payment or lowering the minimum that you have to pay. If you are truly unable to pay your bills, you may need to consider debt resolution or bankruptcy. A debt consultant can walk you through your options. Get a free debt evaluation.
What happens if I can't make my debt payments?
If you can't pay credit cards, student loans, or other debts on time, creditors or lenders can report late payments to the credit bureaus. Late payments can have a negative impact on your credit profile. Eventually, debts might get sold to a collection agency. It’s a good idea to contact your creditors or have a conversation with a debt consultant if you think you’re in danger of missing a payment.
How can I negotiate with creditors to reduce my debt?
Start by saving up the amount of money you want to offer, then call your creditors, explain your hardship, and ask them to agree to the lower amount. Creditors might agree if they believe you can’t afford to repay your debts in full. Because negotiations can be lengthy and stressful, some people let a professional debt resolution company help. Expert negotiators can contact creditors on your behalf and work out an agreement to pay less than what's owed. As a bonus, negotiators may already have a relationship with your creditors, and might get a better outcome than you could get for yourself. You’re then free to focus on other things without dealing with the hassle of calling creditors.