Editor's Note: Since the writing of this article, the federal Student Loan Debt Relief program has been blocked due to two court decisions; the Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments for both appeals in February. In the meantime, the Biden administration extended the federal student loan payment pause into 2023. The US Department of Education announced loan repayments may resume as late as 60 days after June 30, 2023.
When you’re worried about money and feel your options are limited, debt can feel like a pair of handcuffs. And if it feels like you can’t do what you want to do — which is to pay it all off and get yourself free — there’s the temptation to do nothing. But there are some things that can be helpful when crafting a debt reduction plan that will work for your situation.
Tips to Build a Debt Reduction Plan
Before you start prioritizing expenses, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what income is available and how much is being spent. This can be done with pen and paper, or by leveraging an all-in-one app, such as SoFi Relay.
Keeping a roof over their head is a number one priority for most people. Mortgage lenders are not very patient when it comes to getting their money, and failing to make a house payment can leave a big black mark on a person’s credit record. For renters, paying the property owner on time each month may have a positive impact on their credit report.
Making sure a car loan and car insurance are current, especially if that’s the only way to get to work, might be next in order of importance. After that come big debts, such as student loans, but those may be eligible for student loan forgiveness depending on the type of loan and if the qualifications for forgiveness are met.
Refinancing student loans into one manageable payment might be worth considering if that would save money with a lower interest rate or a shorter loan term. (For federal student loan borrowers, though, refinancing may not be the best option right now since the CARES Act and the Biden administration has offered some relief through Dec. 31, 2022.)
Making a plan to tackle credit card debt is also important. Each month, making the monthly minimum payment is important, otherwise, a person’s credit report can quickly reflect any lack of payment . And to manage the outstanding balances on those credit cards, it may be time to work out a new payment plan to get out from under credit card debt.
Once all that information is accounted for, moving forward with a personal debt reduction plan will make it easier to deal with all those long-term bills and relieve debt-related worry.
There are four popular approaches to knocking down debt. The debt avalanche method is probably best suited to those who are analytical, disciplined, and want to pay off their debt in the most efficient manner based solely on the math.
The debt snowball method takes human behavior into consideration and focuses on maintaining motivation as a person pays off their debt.
The debt fireball method is a hybrid approach that combines aspects of the snowball and avalanche methods.
And a personal loan may be an option for those who have a solid financial history or whose credit score has improved since they first signed up for their high-interest loans and credit cards.
Here’s how each strategy typically works.
This method puts the focus on interest rates rather than the balance that’s owed on each bill.
1. The first step is collecting all debt statements (e.g., credit card, auto loan, student loan) and determining the interest rate being charged on each debt.
2. Making a list of all those bills is next, looking past the total amount owed on each debt. This method puts the debt with the highest interest rate in the spotlight, so that one will be at the top of the list, with the other debts listed in order of interest rate, second highest to lowest.
3. Some things to keep in mind might be any fees, prepayment penalties, or tax strategies that could make one debt more or less expensive than the others. When using a balance transfer credit card to save money on any particular debt, reprioritizing the list once the introductory rate runs out and a higher rate kicks in plays a part in how this method works.
4. Continuing to pay the minimum on each bill — on time, every month — is important. But paying extra (as much as possible) toward the bill at the top of the list will help that debt be paid off as quickly as possible.
5. When the first debt is paid off, moving on to the next debt on the list and starting to pay extra there will start the process over again. Money will be saved as each of those high-interest loans and credit cards are eliminated, which can allow all the bills to be paid off sooner.
Recommended: Debt Avalanche Method 101
This approach can be effective in getting a handle on debt by slowly reducing the number of bills there are to deal with each month.
1. This method also starts with collecting debt statements and making a list of those debts, but instead of listing them in order of interest rate, organizing them from the smallest debt to the largest (total amount owed, not monthly payment amount).
2. Continuing to pay the minimum — on time, every month — but paying as much extra as possible toward the smallest debt on the list is key to this method. (If possible, completely paying off the balance on that very first bill might provide some sweet momentum to get started.)
3. As with the debt avalanche method above, paying attention to fees, penalties, and tax strategies may determine which debt gets paid first.
4. Moving on to the next debt on the list, and so on, will keep this method in motion. Keeping track of paid-off debts with a visual tracker might help with motivation.
5. No longer using credit cards that have been paid off is a good way to stay out of debt for the long term. And having a goal to set up an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses—a medical bill or car repair, for example — to stay on track is a good way to stay ahead of the game.
Recommended: Debt Snowball Method 101
This strategy is a hybrid approach of the snowball and avalanche methods. It separates debt into two categories and can be helpful when blazing through costly “bad debt” quickly.
1. Categorizing all debt as either “good” or “bad.” “Good” debt is generally in the form of things that have potential to increase net worth, such as student loans, business loans, or mortgages, for example. “Bad” debt, on the other hand, is normally considered to be debt incurred for a depreciating asset, like car loans and credit card debt. As this list is being developed, identifying all debt with an interest rate of 7% or higher is likely the “bad” debt that may be beneficial to focus on first.
2. Listing bad debts from smallest to largest based on their outstanding balances will provide the working order.
3. Making the minimum monthly payment on all outstanding debts — on time, every month — then funneling any excess funds to the smallest of the bad debts is the focus of this method.
4. When that balance is paid in full, going on to the next smallest on the bad-debt list will keep the fireball momentum until all the bad debt is repaid.
5. When that’s done, paying off good debt on the normal schedule can be a smart way to invest in the future. Applying everything that was being paid toward the bad debt to a financial goal, such as saving for a house — or paying off a mortgage, starting a business, or saving for retirement, for example, is a good way to look forward to a financially secure future.
Using Personal Loans for Debt Reduction
Consolidating debts at a lower interest rate or with a shorter term offers another option to pay those debts off in less time than expected.
1. Gathering debt statements and totaling up the debts to be paid off is the first step.
2. To have an idea of interest rates that might be available (most lenders will offer a range), making sure the information on credit reports is accurate is the next important step. Any errors found on a credit report can be reported to the credit reporting agency.
3. Looking at a variety of lenders to find the best interest rates and terms available will help when setting a goal to find a manageable payment while paying off the debt load as quickly as possible.
4. Considering member benefits or other perks that lenders may offer, such as a hardship deferral or a discount on a future loan might make a difference when choosing a lender. Then, applying for the loan that best suits the borrower’s needs is the next step in the process.
5. Paying off old debts with the personal loan and staying current with the new loan payments will help keep things manageable. Sticking to a budget that prevents the same spending mistakes from being made again is important to keeping debt at bay.
Personal loans used for debt consolidation can help pull everything together for those who find it easier to keep up with just one monthly payment. A bonus is that because the interest rates for personal loans are typically lower than credit card interest rates, the amount paid on the total debt may be less than what would have been paid just by plugging away at those individual debts. For those who qualify for a rate that’s less than their credit card rates, a personal loan can make sense.
Having a debt reduction plan in place is key to getting rid of those financial handcuffs and being able to look forward to a successful financial future. Planning ahead, saving for specific goals, and sticking with a budget will go a long way to minimizing dependence on credit cards or high-interest loans in the future.
With an unsecured personal loan from SoFi, debts can be consolidated and paid off in a way that works for your income, budget, and timeline.
SoFi Student Loan Refinance CLICK HERE for more information. Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.
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If you are looking to refinance federal student loans, please be aware that the White House has announced up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for qualifying borrowers whose student loans are federally held. Additionally, the federal student loan payment pause and interest holiday has been extended beyond December 31, 2022. Please carefully consider these changes before refinancing federally held loans with SoFi, since the amount or portion of your federal student debt that you refinance will no longer qualify for the federal loan payment suspension, interest waiver, or any other current or future benefits applicable to federal loans. If you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness and still wish to refinance, leave unrefinanced the amount you expect to be forgiven to receive your federal benefit.
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SoFi Student Loan Refinance
CLICK HERE for more information.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.