If there's one thing Americans are unquestionably familiar with, it's debt. Consumer credit card debt is now at an all-time high, with the average household on the hook for about $16,000. Yikes.
Of course, the problem with credit card debt is that it can be extremely difficult to shake, especially when you have high interest rates working against you. But there's some good news: If you employ the right tactics, you can eliminate that pesky debt and stop throwing money away on interest. Just take it from a bunch of folks who managed to do just that.
How to pay off debt
If you're convinced you'll never break free from your nagging debt, consider this: Last year, 64% of Americans who set a goal to pay down debt wound up succeeding. That's the latest from CompareCards.com, which also analyzed the habits of those who got out of debt and found three common denominators:
- 75% of those who paid off debt had a specific plan for doing so.
- 61% of those who paid off debt reduced spending to make it happen.
- 64% of those who paid off debt had an emergency fund as well.
If you're eager to lose your pesky debt once and for all, it pays to mimic these habits to increase your chances of success. Otherwise, who knows how long you'll keep throwing money away?
1. Create a debt-reduction plan
There's a smart way to pay off debt, and it generally involves tackling your costliest obligations first, and then working your way down the chain. This means that if you owe $5,000 on a credit card charging 18% interest, $1,000 on a card charging 15% interest, and $400 on a card charging 10% interest, it makes sense to tackle that $5,000 first. Your brain might attempt to lure you toward that $400 balance, since it's smaller and more attainable, but don't fall into that trap -- you'll lose more money than needed to interest if you do.
Another strategy you might consider is a balance transfer, where rather than deal with multiple debts, you consolidate everything onto a single credit card. This is a viable option if you qualify for a competitive rate, but you'll need decent credit to get there.
There are other methods out there for tackling debt, but these are two of the most common and effective. Either way, it pays to map out a debt-reduction plan rather than go in blindly.
2. Reduce your spending
The cash to pay off debt needs to come from somewhere, so it makes sense that the majority of folks who succeeded in that regard also reduced their spending in the process. If you're wondering how to go about cutting your living costs, it's simple: You need a budget.
Once you make a list of your various expenses and compare what you're spending to what you're earning, you'll see where you have the most flexibility to cut corners. For example, while you can't just arbitrarily reduce your car payment, you can lower your cable package or pledge to spend less money on takeout. The choice is yours, but know that if you're serious about eliminating debt, you need a clear sense of where your money is going, and where you need to stop wasting it.
3. Build emergency savings
The final step on your path toward debt elimination involves boosting your personal cash reserves. Now one thing you should know is that the median emergency fund size among those who paid off their debt last year was $3,500. But actually, you should probably be aiming higher.
Ideally, your emergency fund should contain enough money to cover three to six months' worth of living expenses. Why so much? You never know when you might get hurt, lose your job, or encounter a whopping expense your paycheck is in no way equipped to handle. Without ample emergency savings, you're likely to end up right back where you started -- drowning in debt with no way out. So as you go about paying down that debt, keep adding to your savings simultaneously. The larger a cushion you establish, the better protected you'll be going forward.
If you're serious about getting out of debt, then it pays to follow in the footsteps of those who have done it successfully. Follow these easy steps, and with any luck, you'll be debt-free before you know it -- and much happier for it.
The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.