Do you have more debt than you'd like and want to pay it off as quickly as possible? We asked three of our analysts for their top debt-reduction techniques, and here is what they had to say.
Matt Frankel: One smart way to get out of debt is to consolidate your high-interest debt (credit cards) at a lower interest rate.
There are plenty of credit cards out there offering 0% interest on balance transfers for as long as 18 months. Good examples include the Discover It card and the Citi Diamond Preferred card, but there are plenty of others to choose from.
It's worth noting that many of these have balance transfer fees (usually 3%), but it's still much better than paying interest rates of 18% or more. And this only works if you stop using your high-interest accounts while paying off your debts. If you continue to run up balances after you consolidate your existing debt, the cycle will just begin again.
As an example, let's say that you have $5,000 in credit card debt at 18% interest. If you pay $200 per month to the credit card companies, only $125 of that amount is actually paying off the principle. The rest is being eaten up by interest. If you consolidate your debt at 0% interest, 100% of every payment you send in will pay down your principal.
By consolidating your debts, more of your money goes toward paying your debt and not into your credit card companies' pockets. As a result, your debt gets paid off quicker.
Dan Dzombak: When you fall behind on your bills it is important to get a hold of how big the problem is. The first thing you need to do when you get into debt is figure out exactly how much you owe and how fast each of your debts is growing.
Make a list of all your debts, the amount owed on each, minimum payments, and the interest rates your debts are growing by. If you don't know how much you owe, you can't plan how to get out of debt.
The next step is to organize your list of debts by interest rate with the highest interest rate debt at the top. Credit card debt can easily top 20% annual interest rates while payday loans, cash advance loans, and title loans often carry annual interest rates above 400%, which can quickly and easily spiral completely out of control.
The quickest way to pay off your debt is prioritizing paying off your high interest rate debt first while still paying the minimum payments on all your other debt so that you don't incur late fees and penalties. In this way, you are slowing how fast your debt is growing and over time will be able to reverse your debt buildup.
Selena Maranjian: The best way to pay off a lot of debt is to be aggressive about it. Many make small moves toward paying off their debt, and then lose their resolve and what little momentum they had. High-interest rate debt, such as that from credit cards, can really blow up your chance at a comfortable retirement if you don't address it.
One way to be aggressive about it is to stop accumulating more debt, such as by taking credit cards out of play. (You might, for example, freeze them in some water in your freezer and pay for things with cash. Studies show that we tend to spend less with cash than we do when charging.) Next, start making regular payments on your debt, and aim to pay more than you think you can -- nowhere near the minimum required payments. Achieve that by some extreme measures. Looking forward to your annual bonus at work? Put it all toward paying off your debt. Perhaps cut off your cable TV subscription for a year or two, and make do with less expensive streaming services. (If you save $100 per month over two years, that's $2,400!) Perhaps stop going to restaurants for a while, too. (Cutting a weekly $50 restaurant habit can net you $2,600 in one year and $5,200 in two.) You might recoil at the thought, but consider a part-time job for a while. (Fifteen hours per week earning $15 per hour will generate $225 per week, or close to $12,000 in a year.) Consider taking in a boarder, or renting out a parking spot in your driveway or garage.
Be creative and aggressive, and you can pay down big debts relatively quickly.
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