It’s amazing that it’s so easy (and often fun) to get into debt, but painfully difficult to get back out. It can take just a few months to create tens of thousands of dollars in debt, but sometimes decades to pay it off. Everyone who pays off their debt does it a different way and often combine strategies to knock out bad debt. Here are some ways to get out of debt.
1. Stop creating more debt.
This alone won’t get you out of debt, but at least your debt won’t get worse. When you continue adding debt while you’re paying it off, you won’t make much progress, if you make any progress at all. Reduce your temptation to create more debt by cutting up your credit cards or even freezing your credit.
2. Increase your monthly payment.
If you’re only paying the minimum on your debts, it will take the longest time to get out of debt. By the time you finally pay off your balance with minimum payments, you’ll probably have paid double or even triple what you originally charged. It’s only ok to pay the minimum on your credit cards when you have a debt-repayment strategy that requires you to make a big payment on one of your credit cards.
3. Build an emergency fund.
An emergency fund may sound counterintuitive if you’re trying to get out of debt since you could be using that money to pay off your debt instead of sticking it in a savings account. But, an emergency fund can actually keep you from creating more debt by providing you with a safety net you can use instead of a credit card when an emergency comes up. The ideal emergency fund is six to twelve months of living expenses, but focus on building up at least $1,000 in the short-term.
4. Pick one debt and give it all you've got.
Some people increase all their minimum payments by just a little bit, but that way your payments only drop by a small amount each month. You can make more noticeable progress by making a big payment to just one of your accounts each month until that debt is completely repaid. In the meantime, make the minimum on all your other accounts. Then do the same for another debt, and another until they’re all paid off.
5. Ask your creditor for a lower interest rate.
Higher interest rates keep you in debt longer because so much of your payment goes toward the monthly interest charge and not toward your actual balance. Ask your credit card issuers to lower your interest rate. Often, customers with good payment history can negotiate lower rates. If you use a balance transfer to get a lower rate, try to pay off the balance before the promotional rate expires. After that, your balance will be subject to the higher interest rate.
6. Look for ways to put more money towards your debt.
The more you put toward your debt, the faster you can pay your debt off for good. If you don’t already have one, create a monthly budget to better manage your money and possibly help you figure out how you cut out some expenses and use that money for your debt. You may also be able to come up with money for debt by selling things from your home or generating income from a hobby.
7. Withdraw from your retirement fund.
You may consider pulling money from your retirement account to pay off your debt. Beware, if you’re not 59 ½, you’ll face early withdrawal penalties and additional tax liability if you withdraw money from certain retirement plans. Plus, when retirement comes around, your savings will be short not only from the money you withdrew but also from the interest you could have earned. Borrowing from your retirement is also risky since you’ll have to pay back the loan within a few months if you leave your job.
8. Cash out a life insurance policy.
You may have accumulated some cash in your whole or universal life insurance policy that you can put toward your debt. Be careful though, some withdrawals have tax consequences. Borrowing from your insurance policy is also an option, but may affect the death benefit your beneficiaries will receive.
9. Settle with your creditors.
Debt settlement may be the solution if your accounts are past due or you owe more money than you could repay over a few years. When you settle your debts, you ask the creditor to accept a one-time, lump-sum payment to satisfy the debt. Creditors who agree to a settlement offer also agree to cancel the rest of the debt, but they typically only accept these offers on accounts that are in default or at risk of defaulting.
10. Go through credit counseling.
Debt management plans through credit counseling agencies typically last four to six years. But, you can take use the lower interest rate and minimum payment they negotiate to pay off your credit cards by sending an extra payment every month. Let the credit counseling agency know which credit card they to send the extra payment to. This is basically the snowball method of paying off your debt, except the credit counseling agency is managing your payment.