As a general rule of thumb, it’s much easier to get into debt than it is to get out. But even if freedom from debt seems like a hopelessly faraway point on the horizon, it is possible to reach. What you’ll need is a plan — a realistic plan to which you can commit for as many months or years as it takes to climb out of debt.
The biggest challenge is oftentimes getting started. Going from a standstill to a slow roll takes a tremendous amount of determination.
If you find yourself getting overwhelmed with trying to figure out how in the world you’re going to tackle your debt, start by asking yourself these five simple questions. The answers will help you get a handle on your debt mentally — as well as gain a clearer understanding of the possible solutions available to you based on your financial situation.
How Much Debt Do I Have? What Kinds?
Debt denial is a very real barrier when it comes to taking control of your finances. It can even drive otherwise rational people to essentially ignore their debts, continuing on as if there’s not a problem brewing under the surface.
This is why the first questions to ask are about the amount and nature of your debts. Taking this important step will encourage you to face your debts head on. Only then can you make an informed decision about which strategies to pursue.
Itemize all your debts — credit card balances, medical bills, personal loans, mortgage(s), student loans, auto loans, etc. Take stock of the amounts and the nature of each of these debts, aiming to get a better understanding of which are most urgent and expensive.
When you decide how to get out of debt, your chosen strategies will depend greatly on the types of obligations you have and how much they are. Many strategies — like debt settlement and debt management programs — only accept unsecured debts, like credit card balances and medical bills. This means secured debts, like mortgages and auto loans, would not be eligible for these types of solutions.
Can I Get Out of Debt on My Own? Do I Need Help?
After you’ve come up with a list of your debts and their amounts, it’s useful to explore whether you believe you can get out of debt on your own — or whether you need help in the form of a more structured solution.
There are two tried-and-true DIY approaches to consider here:
- Debt snowball: Prioritize your smallest balance while paying just the minimum on all others. Once you’ve paid off your smallest balance, turn your attention and funds to the next-smallest. Continue up the line until every debt has been obliterated. This strategy helps sustain momentum by making the victories quicker.
- Debt avalanche: Prioritize your balance with the highest interest rate while paying just the minimum on all others. Once you’ve paid off your highest-interest balance, turn your attention and funds to the next-highest. Continue down the line until you’ve paid off every debt. This strategy helps minimize how expensive your debts are because it systematically reduces the interest you’re paying.
If you’ve tried to pay off your own debts to no avail, you may find it helpful to work with experts. Consider meeting with a credit counselor and potentially enrolling in a debt management plan if possible. Look into taking out a personal loan for the purpose of debt consolidation. Speak with a consultant on whether you may be a fit for a debt settlement program. There’s no shame in wanting or needing assistance as you seek to destroy your debts.
What Has Caused and Fueled My Debts?
It’s important to know not only how much you owe and how you might go about repaying it, but also to consider how you accumulated that debt. Was it an unexpected hardship or the result of years of overspending? You may be able to revamp your approach to money management so as to avoid the habits that landed you in debt in the first place. Make it a point to build an emergency fund and audit your spending habits to avoid repeating these patterns.
Rome wasn’t built in a day; it’s unlikely you’ll solve your debt crisis on the spot. But you can absolutely take those first steps by asking yourself some key questions.