29% of Americans Are Struggling to Manage Their Debt. 3 Tips to Handle Yours

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Debt can be a major drag. Here's how to tackle yours.

Key points

  • A new survey reveals consumer debt is a problem for many Americans.
  • Here are some tips for tackling your debt and paying it off more efficiently.

Americans, generally speaking, aren't strangers to consumer debt. But that doesn't mean they're not stressed about it. In a recent New York Life survey, 29% of Americans who feel less confident in their finances than before are facing challenges with managing debt. If that sounds like you, here are three essential moves to make.

1. Recognize the difference between healthy debt and bad debt

You may have a mix of debts in your name, and it's important to know which ones you ought to try eliminating first. Mortgage debt is considered a healthy type to have. A mortgage allows you to eventually own a home outright, and that home could gain or maintain its value over time.

An auto loan is also a pretty healthy type of debt. While cars don't usually gain value over time, they're an essential asset, and they are worth some money even as they age. Plus, auto loans, like mortgages, tend to come with fixed monthly payments.

Credit card debt, on the other hand, is generally bad news. Not only do credit cards charge a lot of interest, but they often charge variable interest, making it difficult to predict your true carrying cost.

The expenses you charge on a credit card may be just that -- expenses, as opposed to assets that are worth a meaningful amount of money. You don't necessarily have to worry about paying off your mortgage or car loan as quickly as possible -- but you should aim to knock out your credit card balances as soon as you can.

2. Rework your spending to free up money for unhealthy debt

If you want to pay off your credit cards sooner, cutting back on non-essential spending should help free up cash you can use to whittle down your balances. Take a look at your budget, or set one up if you don't have one yet, and figure out how much savings you can eke out by reducing your spending in categories like entertainment and dining out. You may even be able to slash your spending on essentials like groceries and household products if you start seeking out sales and shopping more efficiently.

3. Consolidate credit card balances to pay them off more affordably

If you owe money on different credit cards, consolidating your debt could make it easier to track and manage. It could also make it less expensive to pay off.

One option to consider is a balance transfer, where you move your existing credit card balances onto a single card with a lower interest rate (or, better yet, to a card with an introductory period where you pay no interest at all). If you can't qualify for a balance transfer or don't want to pursue one, a personal loan is another option for consolidating your debt. The interest rate you're charged on one of these loans will likely be much lower than what your credit cards are charging.

If you own a home and have a lot of equity in it (which may be the case today since home values are up on a national level), you can also look at doing a cash-out refinance. This option lets you borrow more than your remaining mortgage balance and use the cash you receive for any purpose you choose.

Debt-related struggles can impact your well-being and make you feel bad about your finances. If that's the situation you've landed in, take these three steps to get a handle on your debt -- and get rid of the unhealthy portion of it as quickly as possible.

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