9 Ways to Pay Off Debt

You can throw the reminders in the Cuisinart or chuck them into a garbage can, but that won't make the debt go away. Debt hovers like a carrion bird over a dying beast, with annual rates of 20% or more compounded monthly, month in and month out. You can't wish it away. But you can pay it down with determination, our free debt-fighting resources, and the good graces of a few wealthy relatives (see tip No. 5). Here are nine ways to get out of debt:

1. Pay more than the minimum
First, break the habit of paying only the minimum required each month. Paying the minimum -- usually 2% to 3% of the outstanding balance -- only prolongs the agony. Besides, it's precisely what the banks want you to do. The longer you take to repay the charges, the more interest they make, and the less cash you have in your pocket. Don't play their selfish game.

Instead, bite the bullet and pay as much as you can each month. If your minimum payment is $100, double that to $200 or more. Examine your normal expenses -- you can find the money. (For a gazillion ideas, check out our Living Below Your Means discussion board.) Skip eating out at lunch, and bring it from home instead. Eliminate desserts. Give up happy hour. We all have "luxuries," and you know what yours are.

Make a few sacrifices, and you will find the extra dollars needed to increase your debt repayments dramatically. Those increased payments will save you hundreds, if not thousands, in interest payments. Plus, you will get out of the hole you've dug for yourself much more quickly. Is it fun? No. But it sure beats living a hand-to-mouth existence, fearing bills each month.

2. Snowball your debt payments
Take a long, hard look at all your credit cards. Pay particular attention to the one with the lowest interest rate. Have you reached the maximum limit on that card? If not, consider transferring a higher-interest bill to that one. Many credit cards permit this, and it's positively Foolish to trade an 18% debt for one at 12%.

If your entire balance is too large to fit on one low-interest card, pay at least the minimum amounts due on all of your cards except one. Funnel the majority of your debt repayments into that one credit card, and pay it off as quickly as possible. When the balance on that card reaches zero, move on to the next with the same aggressive repayment plan.

Lather, rinse, and repeat. This method of repayment is aptly called "snowballing." As your debts decrease, the amount of money you have to attack them increases. Your payments snowball until all of your debt is pummeled. Pretty neat, eh?

Another way to transfer higher-interest debt to a lower-interest card is to take advantage of the promotional offers many banks use to entice you to their line of credit. You've seen the come-ons. "Transfer all your credit card balances to us, and pay just 5.9% until next January." It could be worth it. Moving to 5.9% from 18% interest could mean substantial dollars to you. And the money saved in interest could then be applied toward the principal each month, thus reducing your outstanding debt balance even further.

Take care, though, before you act. Examine the offer closely. Look for the hooks. Will the interest rate after the introductory period be higher than you're paying now? If so, you may have to switch again at that time. That, in turn, could give rise to another surprise. Banks have caught onto the charge card hoppers who switch from card to card to take advantage of the low introductory rates. Many of these offers now stipulate that if you transfer balances from the new card within a 12-month period, the normal interest rate will be applied to all outstanding balances retroactively. That proviso could be a bitter pill to swallow for someone short on cash, and it certainly doesn't help the debt repayment schedule. Read the fine print, Fool.

3. Cash out your savings account
You could cash out your savings and investments and use the proceeds toward debt repayment. Yeah, no one wants to do that. But sometimes it's just Foolish to do so. Even when debt interest is at 12%, your investments would have to pay more than 18% before federal and state taxes to equal that outflow of dollars. We doubt the dollars in your savings account are earning anywhere near that rate of interest. Pay off the debt, and it's the same as getting that 18% return without any risk on your part. The higher the interest rate on your debt, the more attractive repayment versus investment becomes.

4. Borrow against your life insurance
Do you have life insurance with a cash value? If so, borrow against the policy. Yes, you're borrowing your own money. But the interest rate is typically well below commercial rates, and you can take your time repaying the loan. Do repay it, though. If you die before it's repaid, the outstanding balance plus interest will be deducted from the face value of the policy payable to the beneficiary. While that seems a small price to pay to get out of debt now, it could be burdensome to your loved ones should you sleep the eternal sleep before paying it back.

5. Finagle family and friends
Perhaps your family or friends could float you a loan. Who else knows, trusts, and loves you like they do? Unless you're really the black sheep of the flock, chances are you'll get a very favorable interest rate. They may even tolerate a late payment or two. But if you want to maintain the relationship, it's best to keep things on the straight and narrow by using a written agreement. You should clearly establish the interest and repayment schedule in writing to avoid misunderstandings and hard feelings. And it goes without saying that you must be scrupulous about adhering to that schedule. Otherwise, you can forget the family reunions and birthday presents.

6. Get a home equity loan
Do you own your own home and have equity that's accumulated through the years as you've paid off the mortgage? If so, now's the time to consider a home equity loan (HEL) line of credit for the maximum amount possible.

A HEL gives you two ways to save. First, by using the loan proceeds to pay down your debt, you trade something like an 18% loan for a 6%-7% loan. Second, if you itemize deductions on your income tax returns, HEL interest is a deductible item under most circumstances. In a 25% marginal tax bracket, the 6% loan really has an effective rate of 4.5%, and that's probably the cheapest interest rate you'll see on personal indebtedness.

The danger here is falling into a common trap. Many get an HEL, pay off existing debt, and then ring up the charges on the credit cards all over again. Now they have the HEL to repay on top of the credit cards. The hole just got much deeper. Fools use the HEL to pay off the credit cards, and then keep them paid off until the HEL is repaid.

7. Borrow from your 401(k)
Do you participate in a 401(k) qualified retirement plan at work? Most 401(k) plans have a feature that lets you borrow up to 50% of the account's value, or $50,000, whichever is smaller. Interest rates are usually a point or two above prime, which makes them cheaper than that found on credit cards. Thus, 401(k) plan loans may be a Foolish option to debt repayment. Not only is the interest typically much lower than that on credit cards, the best part is you pay it to yourself. That's right, every dime in interest paid on a 401(k) loan goes directly into the borrower's 401(k) account, not the lender's.

But there are drawbacks. First, the loan and interest will be repaid with after-tax dollars, but the interest will be taxed again when you withdraw money from the 401(k) years later. Additionally, you must repay this loan within five years. If you leave your employment prior to full repayment, the outstanding balance becomes due and payable immediately. If it's not repaid, that amount will be treated as a distribution to you. You'll be taxed on that amount at ordinary rates. And if you're under the age of 59 and one-half years, you will also be assessed an additional 10% excise tax as a penalty for an early withdrawal of retirement funds. Accordingly, ensure any 401(k) loan can be repaid before you leave your job.

8. Renegotiate terms with your creditors
OK, you've done all you can. Savings are gone; relatives have been tapped out; you don't have a home or 401(k) to borrow against. You feel like you're against that proverbial wall. The money just isn't there. Is bankruptcy the only way out? No way. Try pulling an  ace out of your sleeve prior to taking that step. What ace? The threat of bankruptcy, of course.

Let your creditors know your situation. Tell them that if you are unable to renegotiate terms, you'll have no other recourse but to declare bankruptcy. Ask for a new and lower repayment schedule; request a lower interest rate; and appeal to their desire to receive payment. Faced with the prospect that you may resort to such a drastic step, creditors will do what they can to protect themselves against a total loss.

Indeed, many will negotiate away the farm before they'll write off your debt. As lawyers love to say, everything is negotiable. Therefore, what do you have to lose, except time? It's worth a try. And if you don't wish to do this yourself, organizations exist that can do it for you.

9. As a last resort, file bankruptcy
What if you decide you can't pay down your debt using any of the methods listed above? What should you do? The absolute last resort is bankruptcy. Within Fooldom, we firmly believe everyone has a moral obligation to repay their debts to the utmost of their ability. There are times, though, when repayment may be impossible. In those cases, bankruptcy may be the only available course of action. Nevertheless, be aware of the significant drawbacks.

Your credit record will contain this information for 10 years, thus ensuring you will have a tough time obtaining credit you can afford during that period. Additionally, as odd as it seems, it costs money to file for bankruptcy. Attorney and court filing fees cost in the hundreds of dollars, and they must be paid to obtain the relief sought. Finally, bankruptcy laws have gotten a lot tougher in recent years, so you may not qualify for complete relief.

There are two types of personal bankruptcy relief: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Chapter 7 is straight bankruptcy that allows the discharge of almost all debts. Those that aren't discharged are alimony, child support, taxes, loans obtained through filing false financial statements, loans not listed in the bankruptcy petition, legal judgments against the petitioner, and student loans.

While Chapter 7 relieves you of the responsibility of repaying most creditors, you may have to surrender much of your property to help satisfy the debt. However, different states have different laws that grant you exemptions on certain types of property, such as a certain amount of equity in your home, a low-value vehicle, small amounts of jewelry and other personal property, and tools you use in your trade or business. These exemptions usually aren't huge, but they do mean you won't have to start over with absolutely nothing.

Chapter 13, sometimes called the "wage-earner plan," is different. You keep your property but surrender control of your finances to the bankruptcy court. The court approves a repayment plan based on your financial resources that provides for repayment of all or part of your debt over a three-to-five-year period. During that time, your creditors are not allowed to harass you for repayment. You also incur no interest charges on the indebtedness during the repayment period. When all conditions of the court-approved plan have been fulfilled, you emerge debt-free from the bankruptcy.

This article is adapted from a David Braze article. It has been revised.

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Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2008, at 6:35 PM, danaseilhan wrote:

    I had so hoped you wouldn't go in for that silly idea that a savings account is an investment vehicle. Fo' shame!

    Most people who keep savings accounts are putting money away for a rainy day. Telling someone who's in the throes of heavy debt and major debt repayment that they should liquidate their safety net... well, yes, it's foolish, but it's not Foolish, if you know what I mean.

    Interest rates are irrelevant. The real point is that if you have no emergency savings and you suddenly need a major brake job on your car, you'll be better off taking a thousand bucks or so out of your emergency savings to cover it than charging it on a card only to wind up with more debt to pay off.

    It's like this: a savings account with a $5000 balance and two percent interest, versus a credit card with a $5000 balance charging you 19 percent interest. The card is not maxed out, so you get a $1000 brake job because it's get the brake job or wreck your car. So which is better: earning 2 percent on four thousand dollars, or having to pay 19 percent on six thousand?

    You're better served liquidating other investments, even ones for retirement, than paying off debt with the emergency fund--as long as you pay no penalty for doing so. But as far as I can tell your average investment account not pegged to a retirement fund tends to let you liquidate without costing much.

  • Report this Comment On September 16, 2008, at 3:35 PM, ntokb3 wrote:

    Recommendation #6 is incredibly risky, not Foolish. Refinancing unsecured debt with secured debt is a bad plan. The overall goal of a personal debt reduction should be minimization of financial risk. Offering your house as collateral against unsecured debt just to save a few points of interest increases the downside risk immensely, and IMHO, unacceptably. Think of it this way, the worst case scenario of defaulting on credit card debt is a bad credit rating (and everything that goes with it.) Worst case from defaulting on a HEL is homelessness. My advise would be to minimize your expenses, maximize your income and pay the debt off as quickly as possible (under 3 years.) When you do the math, you'll probably find, as I did, that refinancing credit card debt will only save you maybe a couple of thousand dollars (tops) over the 1-3 years it takes to knock out the debt. This isn't worth the risk of losing my home should I lose my job and find myself unable to meet my obligations.

  • Report this Comment On October 06, 2008, at 3:41 PM, janiesuper wrote:

    #2 isn't entirely helpful. The best way to get out of debt is to play off your higher interest credit cards FIRST. Transfer as much balances to low interest cards and pay minimum on those, and then pay off the one with the highest interest by paying more than the minimum. Make sure that the cards you call "low interest" are low interest in the long run. Some charge you a 3% fee just to transfer. Try to keep some cards without balances so that you can have an open space to jump to if needed. This is how I work my credit card debt and i have alot of it. If i didnt do this, i would never get out of debt.

    follow this calculator:

    i swear by this, it really is the best way (as long as you stick to it)

  • Report this Comment On October 11, 2008, at 5:52 PM, journeywithme wrote:

    Get ideas, but I must hesitate on the home equity suggestion. I think that what has contributes to much of our nation's current debt is that people have been tapping into their home equity as if it were their own personal bank and not realizing that in later years... that extra cash... the may not have been totally necessary... has come back to hunt them. I think a home equity line of credit should be used in the most dire of emergency situation and at a last resort especially if housing values have been declining and their is a high risk that you may not be able to repay it according to the terms agreed upon.

    It's a tough call to make because in some situations this money may be the only money that some people have access to.

    I guess the best thing to do is to really wiegh out the options before you sign on the solid line.

    Be well.

  • Report this Comment On October 24, 2008, at 1:35 PM, crp1197 wrote:

    Sorry, #2 is the best way. Snowball your debt. The key is paying off balances with the smallest balance. Consider, if you have few payments each month then you have more money to pay off debt. Balances with higher interest rates may cost you more but in your overall debt picture, if you have less overall debt your credit score improves and it encourages you to continue to work toward being debt free.

  • Report this Comment On October 27, 2008, at 5:05 PM, deletealldebt wrote:

    There are ways to use secured debt to payoff unsecured debt and come out ahead by breaking the debt paradigm of earn/spend/borrow/repay by the proper application of the money from the secured debt. You just have to use the method that you are comfortable with and understand. Blanket dismissal of any method (and each method will be dismissed out of hand by someone) does not serve those that need to get out of debt sooner than later.

  • Report this Comment On December 13, 2008, at 9:46 AM, techentrepreneur wrote:

    Actually paying off debt with a savings account instead of keeping that "emergency cash fund" does make sense. Think of it this way.

    Situation 1, no savings account: You use your emergency cash fund and pay off your highest interest loan/credit card say 19%. You have some surprise expense and put it on a credit card (preferably a lower APR one). You save the difference between the 19% and the APR on the credit card you put the emergency expense on.

    Situation 2, savings account: You leave your emergency cash fund where it is and you maintain your various debts (including the higher APR debts). You have a surprise expense and take it directly out of your emergency fund. You avoid having to put that expense on a credit card but because you kept your emergency savings account you never paid off the debt that you would have in situation 1.

    So if you have an emergency expense either way you have a decent chance of breaking even. But if you keep an emergency credit card that has a lower APR than your other accounts, you could save the difference of the APR on the higher debt and the emergency card.

    **The most important factor is if you actually DON'T have an emergency expense. In situation 1, there is an exponential gain because you paid off some of your debt and saved the interest charges, in situation 2 you had the money in your savings account doing absolutely nothing.

    So even if it is a wash if you DO have an emergency, getting rid of your emergency savings account makes sense because there is also a chance that you WON'T have an emergency expense. Just make sure you have an emergency credit card with as low an APR as possible.

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2008, at 1:40 PM, dp23peace wrote:

    I have been through this entire thing; bad credit, bad credit card debt from the credit cards that banks sent me in college- "oh, I have to bay those back?". I payed them all off by getting the smallest out of the way first and now have excellent credit. It took almost 10 years to clean it all up, but there is no way around it.

    I'm not sure if all of you have been through this, but when you have a tendency to get into CC debt in the first place there is psychology involved. Therefore, a bit of psychology must be used to fix it. Paying off something, anything, truly does wonders for your self-esteem, which was probably pretty low. It gives you the confidence that you can eventually fix it.

  • Report this Comment On January 01, 2009, at 4:34 PM, dcw77 wrote:

    I forgot to mention one more surefire way to increase your monthly income without borrowing (HELOC, 401K, insurance plan, etc...), and that is increasing your tax exemptions to the number of people in your household. All you're doing by maintaining a low exemption number is giving an interest-free loan to the government.

    Adjust your income to match the number of (dependent) members in your house hold. If it's just you, your exemption should be 1. You and a spouse should be 2. You and four children would be 5. I've been claiming a 3 exemption for my wife and myself for the past three years and I'll usually pay less than $200 at tax time.

    Once you have adjusted your exemptions on your W-4, compare the difference in taxes between your most recent and next pay statements. Take that difference and throw it straight towards your debts. Granted, you won't be receiving a fat tax return every year, but wouldn't that money be more useful each month at becoming debt free?

    You can determine the proper amount of exemptions for yourself directly on the IRS website. Their link is:,,id=14806,00.html or just go to and search for Withholding Calculator.

  • Report this Comment On January 01, 2009, at 6:37 PM, mrchairman11 wrote:

    Personally, I think all the options presented in the article are valid; however, it depends on the person and their situation. I sincerely hope that a person is not in a level of despair where all steps are necessary; however, to really resolve a debt problem a person must self evaluate.

    Did an incident take place that could not have been predicted that would cost them to increase debt levels? For example a parent dies and money is required for the services and you need to pay at least 50% up front.

    Did the person have a shopping addiction and spend money he/she did not have and would not have over the course of six months to pay the bill? More importantly spend money they would not have by the end of the month.

    If it's the latter then a person needs to come full circle with life and understand needs versus wants or they will be in the same situation again.


    I do love the idea of not giving a zero interest loan to the government and applying the money towards debt.

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2009, at 9:10 PM, mreilly82 wrote:

    I too hope people are as serious about paying off their secured and unsecured debts as quickly as possible.

    My wife and I had serious chnges to our incomes this year due to layoffs. So what we did was take our previous 3 months financial statements and categorize it as: Income (salary, bonuses, etc.),

    Fixed (rent, utilities, student loans, etc.) and Variable (gas, entertainment, groceries). After doing this with our new jobs we determined that we had 50 cents of income which was disposable. We were dead broke after elimanting all Variable expenses.Finding out where it is going is a god idea if you need to come with some extra dollars. We then pulled a calendar out and figured out that if pay was bi weekly there should be months where we would be paid three times instead of twice. So with the 3rd paycheck we took all of it and paid off small debts you know those little 20 dollar per month items. After doing this 3 times in the past 9 months we now have a dispsable income of 838.00 which is now applied to our car payment so we can can eliminate that and generate an additional $200 per month as well. I guess it would be a snowball method we used or just change in habit and discipline. Our stimulus package went straight to paying off debt not material items.

    Cash is King! now when we would like to make a purchase it may take a couple months to get it but we now pay cash. Some fuel stations even offer a discount on cash payment. The economy is hurting because of availability of credit. No consumer credit = no consumer economy.... unless you have cash.

  • Report this Comment On February 27, 2009, at 12:31 PM, RebeccaJYR wrote:

    Funneling several cards into one only works if you're seriously going to pay it off. If you continuing adding to yet another card in the meantime, it can quickly snowball into a financial mess.

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2009, at 2:29 PM, jberlat wrote:

    I would never borrow from my 401K to pay a debt. I would rather stop contributing then take money already put away. You can lose your job and then it has to be paid back right away.

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2009, at 2:32 PM, jberlat wrote:

    Debt is a way of life in America.


    It doesn't have to be. The only thing you should into debt for is a house. Everything else can be paid with cash. Maybe you can't buy a 40K car with cash. Great. That means you shouldn't be buying a 40K car. Maybe you have to buy a car for 15K. If you can't save money every month, you need either a change in the income or a change in the outgoing. Constantly going deeper into debt is not the solution.

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2009, at 11:04 PM, Juaminamillion wrote:

    Borrow our own money! Life insurance should ONLY be term life! Cash value life insurance is a terrible waste of your money. Cash in the policy, pay off high % debt, buy term insurance and invest the difference between the expensive cash value and term life!

  • Report this Comment On April 01, 2009, at 12:45 PM, chrissylee01 wrote:

    They didn't mention debt settlement as an alternative to bankruptcy.

    I did this on my own, NOT using a debt settlement company, and settled $38K worth of credit card debt over 4 cards, for only $19K. This took two and a half years, nerves of steel, and saving every penny to have the cash for the settlements, but I'm now debt free excpet for a mortgage.

    Credit score took a hit, went from Excellent to Fair. But I now have money and no desire to spend anymore. I did keep one small balance credit card that I pay off each month, just to try to get my score up.

  • Report this Comment On August 04, 2009, at 11:55 PM, MarieDi wrote:

    I agree with the person who said to never take out money from your retirement fund. NEVER do it! I know someone who is in his early sixties who withdrew money from his retirement plan, and consequently will be living on social security when he retires.

  • Report this Comment On August 08, 2009, at 4:52 PM, need2talk2 wrote:

    My ex daughter in law has maxed her credit card. Line was 20,000 and she owes 20,200. She has used all the money in her 401 and all her money every where else. she has a car and an older model collector type pickup in her name and that is all. Her payment is around 1100.00 and she is paying arud 200.00 each month and paying it late., What will they do to her?

  • Report this Comment On December 16, 2009, at 2:42 PM, 123tonka wrote:

    I have read and begun the Dave Ramsey program and I do think that IF one has a savings it would be prudent to cash it in and pay off debt... this is not to confuse saving with Emergency Fund... the EF would be for just that - emergencies so that when a broken car needs fixing one does not put themselves back into credit debt over it. The whole point is STOP relying on credit and live within our means... if that means you have $1 a month fun money so be it (or get another job). I have read a lot of comments where people are justifying why to stay in credit debt... don't... it can and will ruin your life. And though closing accounts may hurt your credit score now... you shouldn't care - if you turn to cash and living within your means you won't need credit... not even for buying a home. The mortgage companies do not need a fico score... it is a little more work for them, but they can do it (I can't remember the term of how they draw up the loan). Ramsay, for instance, does not even show up in the credit reports because it has been so long since he has used credit (according to him).

    The other comment I wanted to make was to those saying the best way was to pay higher interest first- I thought this too and worked a whole plan out doing the snowball (lowest bill first) or paying off highest interest first... the difference was less than a month of payment. If I have a bunch of $100, $200, $300 dollar bills or cards that are sucking $15 and $20 dollars because that is the lowest they let me pay- month after month I am paying this on many bills with no sense of a light at the end. If I can concentrate on the smallest and pay that off in 1-2 months then now I have $20 more to concentrate on the next lowest then in 1-2 months $20 more ... within 5-6 months I actually have several bills paid off (whew!) and I am making significant extra payments payments on those bigger ones... PLUS... if I have something come up and I need cash there is more room to move stuff around (this is not a suggestion... one really should JUST STICK THE PLAN OUT)!!!

    Well - good luck to all- I need it too-- I have known the Ramsay plan for a long time (which entails much more than snowballing, but specific ways to spend every dollar!) and I have yet to succeed at it... funny how the facts can be there and we are in full understanding, but don't just follow through! Merry Christmas all!

  • Report this Comment On December 16, 2009, at 2:45 PM, 123tonka wrote:

    just a PS... absolutley nothing is wrong with paying the balance due every month... nobody would be in credit crisis if we did that... but we obviously are in credit crisis because we have not been smart with our credit and have built up WAY to much debt to pay it off "next month" Then again- if one had the cash to pay the balance every month- why bother with the card... just use the cash!

  • Report this Comment On January 10, 2010, at 6:52 PM, sapphire777 wrote:

    HEY PEOPLE did you forget that every time you make a transfer you have to pay a 3% fee? My last transfer cost me over $500 in fees!!! Now that I am down to one card, I won't be making any transfers any time soon.

  • Report this Comment On July 07, 2010, at 5:55 AM, ragedmaximus wrote:

    Why does usa charge so much for college .It puts the student in 100's of thousands of DEBT before they even have a job to pay it off.Then they load up on the credit cards cause they are broke and school debt follows you card debt is ABSURD INTEREST and SHOULD BE LOWERED.The average citizen can't afford 20 percent interest rates.If I could loan my money to credit cards for the amount of interest they charge I would be very very rich after a few years.

  • Report this Comment On July 09, 2010, at 11:32 AM, jfarena wrote:

    Speaking from experience, go with the snowball. In the last 24 months, i've paid off $52,000 with the snowball, plus saved six months worth of expenses in an emergency account and am now debt free outside my primary mortgage which I am in the process of switching from 30 to 15 years at 4.00% (no points). I am in a much better financial situation than I was a few years back.

    I've read a few posts that say pay off the higher interest first. While that makes sense if you have a ton of cash, most people in debt that deep don't have that much to throw at their debt. Paying the smallest (total) debt first frees up more cash to put towards those larger and usually higher interest debts. We're talking about 2 years, not your entire life so snowballing it from smallest to largest payment is a temporary inconvenience from an interest standpoint, but you'll end up ahead of the game since it would likely take you longer to pay off that debt with smaller payments on the higher interest (and balance) debt.

    My Advice:

    - Snowball your debt

    - Save up an emergency savings of six months

    - Plan your large purchases and pay cash

    - Live below your means

    - Invest for the long term

    - Enjoy life debt free

    Just my $0.02, worth more now than it was 2 years ago :)

  • Report this Comment On July 31, 2010, at 11:58 PM, Sumflow wrote:

    If you want to get out of dept you have to have declining balances on all accounts every month.

  • Report this Comment On September 05, 2010, at 4:11 AM, boyarsky11 wrote:

    Don't think you offer the best strategies. Here is what I did to pay off my debt:

    1. Take at least 1/2 vacation day from work, make yourself a cup of coffee, sit down at your computer and get the phone number of each one of your creditors. Then, call each one up and tell them you are in financial hardship and you would like to continue to pay them monthly, but you cannot with the current APR. They will then lower the APR substantially and maybe even zero for 12 to 60 months. (Usually 12 months at first; when that expires, you can renegotiate for another 48 months). The catch? They will likely close your credit card, and you will take a small, temporary hit on your credit score, but if you're in bad financial shape due to the usurious APRs, the hit is negligable. Yes, you will have to live without the credit cards because they will close them, but you shouldn't have them anyway because they're nothing but trouble -- to me, credit cards are the crack cocaine of the financial industry. Anyway, you won't have access to your credit cards, but you will pay substantially less per month, and in a few months, your credit score will rise and in general, you will feel better because you are in control of the credit and your finances in general. Credit and finances are no longer controlling you.

    2. Make sure you leave one credit card open (preferably, the one with the lowest APR). Don't call them at all. You need one open credit, even if you're maxed out on it at this point. You'll be able to pay it down since you're now paying off the others in a way that you can handle.

    3. When you're all finished calling the credit card companies and you have now your new, now fixed, monthly payment and payment date for each (eg., $65.00 due to Chase Freedom on the 5th of every month; $105.00 due on the 20th of every month to Citicard, etc.), figure out which paycheck is going to be used to cover which credit card payments. I get 2 paychecks a month, so obviously the paycheck on the 10th of every month will be used to cover payments occuring on the 10th through the 19th. Then I get paid again on the 20th, so that check will be used to cover payments from the 20th thorugh the 9th of the following month. Some creditors may insist on automatic withdrawals; others you need to be responsible to make. Regardless, you need to memorize these due dates. the is critical. Your payment dates for your credit cards are now front and center in your life. If you make one mistake -- just one -- they'll boot you from the program and you're back to 30% APR.

    4. You probably will find that you will be paying about 2/3 of what you are paying now, per month, to the credit card companies. So now you can breathe a little bit better. But there is more work to do.

    5. Call up every vendor you use that sends you a monthly bill, i.e., cable televisions, verizon, water bill, electric bill, etc. Tell the customer service person that you want them to read to you every line item on the bill and have them state whether that particular charge is required by law. Some are, some aren't. They tend to throw in a lot of stuff that nikes up the bill, such as security features and special internal voice mails, and many other things. If they say any line item (any charge) is not required by law, that you don't want it now or ever and you want it immediately removed. You want a bare bones bill, no extra courtesies or special services. You want only what is required by law.

    When it comes to the variious phones you may have, tell the companies you want any phone numbers that will cause extra charges to be blocked.

    When it comes to cable/satellite, tell them to reduce your service to the bare minimum package. (Sorry -- you can't have HBO fora while; not when it costs you an extram $25.00 month. If it's so important to you, you can get it back when your debit is paid off).

    6. If you are working, tell your HR department or whomever controls your payroll check that you want two things: (a) if you have a 401K deduction from each paycheck, have them reduce it by 1% (so if currently they're taking 4%, you need to reduce it to 3%, just until you pay off your debit. This is instead of the 401K loan, which you can default on and if you do it will cost you dearlly, not to mention the tax issues stated by the blogger). If instead, you reduce your 401K deduction just a little, you get more dough in your paycheck and not tax issues or risk of default. (b) make sure your payroll check is adjusted so that you claim only the deduction which results is the least amount of taxes taken out per paycheck so that you paycheck is bigger. Yes -- you will have less in your tax refund. That's the tight thing to do, because you need your money on a regular basis; not all at once during tax time.

    7. Now look at your insurance. If you have both car insurance and home insurance, make sure they are from the same carrier -- that will most likely lower the cost than if you have separate carriers.

    8. When you go food shopping, make sure you use coupons, etc. and take advantage of sales (this you probably already know), but what you don't know is that you must, at all times, have 3 cans of tuna fish (assuming you like tuna fish), and 3 boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (if you like it -- get Kraft because the other brands stink). This is because at the end of the pay period, if you run out of money, you can eat the tuna and the macaroni and cheese as your dinners. Remember: you won't have access to much credit and you will need to stretch those pennies.)

    If you do the above, as I laid out, you will most likely be able to pay your credit card debit within 5 years, and while you're doing it, you will be breathing again and sleeping well again.

  • Report this Comment On September 14, 2010, at 3:48 AM, boyarsky11 wrote:

    Just thought of something else I did when I was in deep credit card debit. Eat in soup kitchens -- that right, soup kitchens. I know from experience that there are all kinds of soup kitchens -- from unpleasant places in very poor neighborhoods that attract primarily alcoholics, drug addicts and mentally ill. But then there are soup kitchens like the one in my neighborhood which has a diverse clientele: indigent people, but also students, seniors, recent immigrants, etc. I have eaten at the latter and I have loved it -- and it's all free. Tell you spouse or partner and/or kids the truth: we're going through hard times but we're digging out, and part of the way of doing it is going to be eating in soup kitchens for some of our meals, some of the time.

    Then, when you're out of debt, make a contribution to the soup kitchen, and/or volunteer there, as I did.

    You can also get your clothes at Good Will. I never needed to do that.

    Remember: if you are in serious credit card debt, you have a financial cancer. Take your pride and throw it out. Do whatever you have to do, as long as it's legal, to cut out this cancer so that you can live again.

  • Report this Comment On October 17, 2010, at 8:05 PM, marcscredit wrote:

    Great article but I have encountered a new trend that the credit card companies are doing to us who are trying to pay off our debit. Its kind of a catch 22. My income has dramatically increased over the past 6 months which gave me the ability to start paying off large amounts on my credit card debit. One card keeps dramatically lowering my limit every time I make a payment of 1000 USD or more, which keeps the card almost at its limit. (very nasty to do imo to someone who always made payments on time) One of my other cards, which I had paid off did a soft hit and saw that I had the first card near the limit and they closed my account. There goes $2000 down the drain on that card. This race to the payoff keeps pulling my score score down and down. I had it up to 712 before the card companies started dropping my credit limit when I paid large amount Now its a 693. Its like they are kicking me when I'm trying to get out of debit with them. I think I might just stop when I have the cards down to around 600 and pay the mini. I wish I would not have got myself into this mess in the first place but I did agree to the terms of the Once I hit bottom i guess it will be my responsible to pull myself back up again. Just no more debit that I can not held :)

  • Report this Comment On November 08, 2010, at 2:33 PM, foolishsolution wrote:

    While our kids were in private schools my husband and I got into serious credit card and car loan debt. It took us about five years to improve our credit rating to over 700 and we were able to buy a house ten years after the worst of our problem. This is what I did. I kept our accounts but cut up all but our debit cards so we were forced to pay cash. I paid every month twice the finance charge or the minimum amount owed as soon as I could which was usually just on time. In this way I began paying off the highest interest cards first. After a year I started getting offers for low interest credit cards and balance transfers. I transferred balances after reading the fine print to only those with low rates for the life of the balance transfer. So I still have some debt but < 30% of my credit limit so we have very good credit scores now. The interest rates are 0 to 3.99% so I focus on car and house loans now which are at slightly higher rates than our credit cards. I like the fact that I am no longer paying $1000/month in interest charges even with a new mortgage. I have a notebook with our debt balances and the interest rates which I record every 6 months. I get satisfaction noting how much progress we are making and that I am not making much money for the banking industry. It seems like a no brainer but If you have joint indebtedness it is best to let the more fiscally responsible person handle the finances.

  • Report this Comment On December 19, 2010, at 10:42 AM, lbdebtfree wrote:

    I don't think it is wise advise to "Cash out your savings account" UNLESS you've considered your situation carefully and can afford to do so. Some people don't have solid jobs and money laying around in retirement accounts, insurance, etc. to borrow from, so cashing out your only means of an emergency fund wouldn't be wise. Why? Well if you need that money for say car repairs, rent payments, other housing needs, and the list goes on, you'll just end up having to put that debt right back on the credit cards because that was all the money you had! Some things just can't be paid with a credit card, example rent payments. I'd only liquidate my savings if i had a lofty sized ER fund and other accounts to fall back on. Otherwise Not a good idea, no way! I do love the concept of snowballing though... great idea.

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2010, at 10:59 AM, Komrad wrote:

    What worked for me:

    Create a Budget using the you need a budget dot com method.

    Document all debts, including account, balance,phone number, etc

    Negotiate Payments with each creditor

    Pay off the really small debts ( like few hundred dollar ones )

    Save up an mini emergency fund of $1000

    Start the debt snowball

    Allocate money to the one-month buffer, which is equal to one months income when completed. Now you pay this months expenses with last months income, and budget this month's money to pay next months expenses.,

    A buffer plus an emergency fund will "smooth out" your finances, preventing small unplanned events from hurting your debt snowball's progress.

    Once the snowball is done, or at least well underway, fun your job-loss emergency fund of 3-6 months income.

    Once this is done and your debts paid off, you've really changed the way you think about money, and the new habits will prevent you going back into debt. You also have a huge peace of mind and control of your funds. Now you can set up long term savings, investments, etc while not being an easy target for Murphy, who likes to ruin people's lives with unexpected events like car accidents, unforeseeable bills, house damage, job loss, etc.

  • Report this Comment On December 27, 2010, at 1:26 PM, sunshinebuster wrote:

    I tried this method and paid off one of my cards. It had a limit of $5,000. Well, when I paid this card off the credit card company lowered my limited to $2500.00. Never missed a payment, never went over my limit. Just keep in mind, if you do pay your cards down or off, the credit card companies will lower you limits just above your balance left which will also lower you credit scored. They done this to me 5 times so far. I pay down my cards and down goes the limit.

    Just a thought to keep in mind while you are paying down you limits.

  • Report this Comment On June 05, 2011, at 3:07 AM, the0nly0ne wrote:

    Punctuation is important. It can mean the difference between "Fools use the HEL to pay off the credit cards, and then keep them paid off until the HEL is repaid", and "Fools: use the HEL to pay off the credit cards, and then keep them paid off until the HEL is repaid."

  • Report this Comment On November 10, 2011, at 9:50 PM, cronyjabrony wrote:

    I wouldn`t recomend any one to have whole life or universal life insurance. Any financial self help book eg. Dave Ramsey, Suzy Orman all say stay away from that garbage. I am suprised they would endorse it on here. Its all crap. Buy term invest the difference unless you want to make insurance companies and sleezy agents rich.

  • Report this Comment On November 11, 2011, at 7:45 AM, mm5525 wrote:

    Even if all you can do is pay close to the minimum on a credit card, do pay it as early as possible in the billing cycle. For instance, your statement is available on November 11, pay it on November 11 rather than the due date of November 30. This will lower your average daily balance your interest is calculated on during the billing cycle. You will see less dollars going toward interest as time marches on. Retrain your mind to think the first day of the new statement date is your new due date.

  • Report this Comment On November 17, 2011, at 9:29 PM, babbabson wrote:

    Chase doesn't appear to be interested in helping their credit card customers pay off their credit cards. Chase offers only two choices under their auto pay system: pay the minimum or pay the full balance.

    All of the other credit cards I have ever had let me set up an auto pay for: the minimum, a set amount or the minimum plus a set amount, or the full balance every month. The only way to make a payment of more than the minimum on your Chase card is to call them (you cannot set it up yourself at their website) or log in every month and manually send them money. It seems an obstructive stance.

  • Report this Comment On November 22, 2011, at 8:02 PM, gocrew wrote:

    Question: I am paying off my debt. I have a no interest loan that I owe 13,000, and a second mortgage paying 3.20% interest that I owe 69,000 on. I can pay off the 0% interest loan, but my husband thinks its a bad idea. My thought is if I pay off this loan and snowball the monthly payment into the other loan, we can pay it off almost a year sooner?? Help! What should we do?

  • Report this Comment On January 06, 2012, at 2:05 AM, wolfman225 wrote:

    I used method #10. Divorce.

    Even after legal bills, I ended up way ahead. In less than 2 year's time I was debt free except for the mortgage AND had a cash emergency fund of more than 6 months expenses. Now that I've sold the house (at a paper loss, hello tax deduction!), I have nearly 2 YEARS expenses in the bank. In cash. In the last year I've also been able to accumulate nearly $10K in my retirement accounts, starting from zero.

    I wouldn't recommend this particular method of becoming debt free for everyone, but it worked out well for me. :/

  • Report this Comment On January 06, 2012, at 3:59 AM, seattle1115 wrote:

    @boyarsky11: "Then, when you're out of debt, make a contribution to the soup kitchen, and/or volunteer there, as I did."

    Thank you so much for adding this step to your suggestion. There are different kinds of debts - if your financial account balance is negative, that sucks; if your karmic account balance is negative, that's a tragedy (and an avoidable one).

    "You can also get your clothes at Good Will. I never needed to do that."

    I'm a BIG believer in buying clothes at Goodwill! I have two jobs - one of them requires that I dress professionally, and I get those clothing items at a department store. The other job involves lots of dirt and sweat, and I buy most of my clothes for that gig at Goodwill, along with clothing for camping (a cheap and spiritually rewarding hobby, by the way), knocking around the house, and so forth. I see absolutely no reason to spend good money on clothing that isn't intended to impress anyone. And as a bonus, the money you spend goes to help out people who are far a worse situation than the one you're in.

    One more thing - when I transferred my bank accounts to a credit union, I also got a credit card from the same credit union. I got a better interest rate than I would have gotten with my credit score at a commercial bank, and I deal with a lot less fine=print sleaziness than I dealt with before.

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2012, at 11:10 PM, lag2633 wrote:

    Here is an interesting question: better to pay off a credit card debt carrying 8% interest or better to pay off the IRS, which has a 2-3% interest but compounding daily? I'm not even able to do the math - the IRS total is $2,000. now and the credit card is at $800. It seems like comparing apples to organges and I know the knee-jerk reaction is to pay off the USGov first but if it's cheaper money, why? I don't make much income now (by choice) and didn't want to support killing people, etc. . .

    The only reason I incurred the IRA debt was due to taking some retirement funds early and missing a deadline (dumb, I know but was out of the county for an extended period of time).

    I've never ever been in debt before (other than mortgage) and kinda like the idea of this being some kind of karmic equilibrium (I was so proud of never being in debt before, not even from college). But now that I do exactly what I want to do, which is teach children yoga, I know my income won't be large and it is good to be self-sustaining. Any and all feedback and help on how to figure out the math on which debt is better to pay off first would be much appreciated. And I so appreciate all the Foolish info - Thank You, Lag

  • Report this Comment On October 12, 2012, at 6:34 PM, lucasb232 wrote:

    From my experience I can say, there are financial calculators which show you in detail how to payoff mortgage early. The calculator which I use is " Smart Loan Calculator Pro " which is available in app store for 2 bucks. It is awsome. It is not for one time. It is life time useful smart calculator. Give it a try. I guarantee, you would thank me after you download and check it. After checking this, I realized how easy to payoff martgage early.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2013, at 7:20 PM, herrodpete wrote:

    if you do find yourself getting behind, missing payments or filing for BK make sure you get your credit fixed. Get all the negative stuff off your credit. Probably best to hire a credit repair company. but make sure you hire a reputable one. I have heard about Lexington Law being one of the best out there. Business ove 20 years. Don't want to go with a fly by the night firm, its not worth it. 

  • Report this Comment On January 24, 2013, at 9:01 AM, Flyman64 wrote:

    Be careful before applying for a new CC-it's a hit on your credit report. Set a plan for yourself-pick a CC with the highest rate and call them to see if they will reduce the rate every month, ask for a supervisor which usually has more pull than the person answering your first call. Snowballing is a great tool, but another way to pay it off faster is to before the due date and if you can give up that coffee add a few dollars to it and watch that debt come down, ,make your other payments on time. Once that is paid off (now keep in mind it does not happen in 1 or 2 months. Remember, it took you years to acquire your debt, so keep your first bill you started paying extra on and do this little baby step and the light will get brighter at the end of the tunnel. Once that bill is paid off, hit the next one with the money you were paying the first bill with-hey you survived without the money for few months anyway. It will work. I paid off over 10,000 in less than 18 months, and I am not done yet

  • Report this Comment On October 01, 2013, at 12:10 PM, mrunge340 wrote:

    So much bad advice. YOU CANNOT BORROW TO GET OUT OF DEBT!!!

  • Report this Comment On January 09, 2014, at 2:35 PM, EnoughStupidDebt wrote:

    Never again. I have literally did nothing the past 2 years but pay debt. What was once around 20k has dwindled down to 12k. No dates, rarely go out but I was tired of throwing away money every month and felt guilty even buying something personal from time to time. I feel like I lost 2 years of my life.

    Debt can ruin your life and I will never carry more then a 10k credit limit combined on all my cards again. If it means I don't play the credit card game oh well. Now I have 6100k on one card at 10%, 2200 on another card at 9% and 0% till Oct on a card with 4700 balance. For me the best approach was to pay the lowest cards off first, cut them up and leave them open. Currently paying off 1500 a month on credit card balance, you just get sick of paying over time and realize you have to sacrifice and become very agressive to pay it down substantially. I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Things seem manageable on these cards to a point and that point for me is around 6 or 7k although 0 debt is obviously my goal now. I wish anyone who has debt good luck in paying it off. Money can't buy happiness but it can be you security and peace off mind that if your encounter some bad breaks you won't be struggling and stressing.

  • Report this Comment On March 08, 2014, at 2:13 AM, ClaraCho wrote:

    Americans gotta get out of debt and live within their means!

    My tips -

    1) Sell everything that you own and don't need.

    2) Everybody should cut eating out costs as much as possible. Try to eat on less than $2 per day. It's very much possible if you do smart shopping at the grocery store (or online for non-perishables).

    3) Cut back on transit costs. Drive a cheap car (or better yet, none at all). Use 4AutoInsuranceQuote for insurance ($25/month). Use GasBuddy for gas (save $100/month).

    4) If your rent is too high, move. Don't buy unless you can afford.

    5) Pay off all your debts. If you use a credit card, pay it off in full every month.

  • Report this Comment On October 21, 2014, at 2:48 AM, pramfinancial wrote:

    Useful post, since paying off debts shouldn't be taken lightly, else mounting of interest rates can actually play a spoil sports. Where paying after due time can become a tedious task. That is why, getting rid of debt within specified time is always beneficial from monetary as well as health wise too.

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  • Report this Comment On July 07, 2016, at 5:27 AM, GoldenFinancial wrote:

    When you are a couple and both have got some debt before marriage, like education loan or house loan, etc. Sit and prioritize your spending and bill payments, instead of blaming each other. Also after marriage there might be some bills accruing due to credit cards and all, join credit card programs and get rid of them all, or at least try to lower them, by calling credit card companies.

    If payments are made on time the companies lower the monthly payments or waive of the annual fee.

  • Report this Comment On July 11, 2016, at 12:10 PM, Garcinia wrote:

    Most of these I agree with. However, finagling family and friends is something I would not recommend. It puts your relationship with that family member or friend in jeopardy. For instance, if you get a loan from a friend or family member and all of a sudden they get a postcard from your week in Aruba, they may get a little miffed and then your relationship with them will only go downhill.

  • Report this Comment On July 15, 2016, at 1:32 AM, Jasmine4000 wrote:

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