How to Plan the Ultimate Debt Payoff Strategy

By Janet Siroto · December 26, 2023 · 6 minute read

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How to Plan the Ultimate Debt Payoff Strategy

Most of us have debt, whether that means a student loan, a car loan, a credit card balance, or a combination of these. Although there are plenty of good reasons to take on debt, such as affording your education, buying wheels to get to work, and charging clothes to wear on the job, face it: Debt has a way of piling up, and that interest can keep ticking northward.

To deal with debt, it’s wise to be proactive about paying it off. Luckily, there are plenty of great resources and techniques to help you create your debt payoff plan — but only you will know what’s best for your unique financial situation.

While none of this is meant to replace financial advice from a professional, here are a few tips to consider. They can offer solid advice on techniques to help crush your debt.

Customize Your Debt Payoff Plan Approach

The words “snowball” and “avalanche” might sound like an increasingly alarming day on the mountain, but they also apply to three popular debt payoff methods, one of which may be just right for you.

•   The snowball method entails paying off your debts in order from smallest to largest, regardless of their respective interest rates. By getting that smallest debt paid off quickly, you may well feel a surge of motivation to keep on going with your debt repayment plan.

But people using the debt snowball method, beware: Ignoring interest rates usually means paying more money in the long run.

•   If savings is your main priority, you’ll probably want to look at the avalanche method, which has you putting more money toward your higher-interest rate debt first. Not only does this avalanche method save you money, it can also help you get debt-free sooner.

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Try a Debt Detox

People often compare getting fiscally fit with getting physically fit, and with good reason. Whether you’re trying to achieve financial goals or health and fitness goals, you’re more likely to succeed if you have a good plan in place, a fair amount of willpower, and a desire to change your habits.

You might try what’s known as a spending fast, and only buy necessities for a month or two (or longer) and see how much you can save. The funds you accrue can go towards your debt. Seeing that debt shrink can inspire you to keep going.

Or you might try a technique such as only using your debit card or cash, to help you avoid more high-interest credit card debt.

Amp up the Minimum

Another approach for a debt payoff plan is to pay more than the minimum payment each month. Whether you have student loans or credit card debt, paying more than the minimum can help accelerate your debt payoff journey.

It can be tempting to just stick with paying the minimum balance due rather than adding to it. But paying as much as you can each month (without stretching yourself too thin) can add up. In order to make this happen, however, you may have to make a few sacrifices.

Making coffee at home, cooking for yourself, or exercising outside instead of paying for a pricey gym membership are all small changes that can help save extra money each month to put toward your debt.

By increasing how much is allocated toward monthly payments, you could pay off your debt faster and therefore save on interest. And who wouldn’t want to be out of debt sooner?

Consider a Balance Transfer

Balance transfer credit cards sometimes offer low or 0% introductory annual percentage rate, or APR, periods for high-interest credit card debt transfers. Typically, you may enjoy 18 months of 0% interest, which can help keep you from accumulating even more debt via interest.

Reasons people apply for a balance transfer credit card include:

•   Having high-interest credit card debt

•   A desire to simplify payments on one card, rather than managing payments on multiple credit cards

•   Wanting to take advantage of a good promotional deal (for example, up to months of 0% interest).

But it is important to remember that this debt payoff strategy is optimal if you know you can pay off your entire debt by the time the low- or no-interest period ends. Otherwise, you will go back to accruing interest on your debt after the introductory period ends.

A credit card interest calculator can help you discover how much you are paying in interest alone on your credit card debt. This can help you evaluate how much you might save.

Recalibrate Your Rate

High-interest rate debt is not only expensive, it can also take forever to pay off. But just because your loan or credit card came with a rate that’s higher than you’d like doesn’t necessarily mean you’re stuck with it forever.

•   For one thing, if you have student loans, student loan refinancing is one option. When you refinance your student loans with a private lender, you are taking out a completely new loan with a new interest rate.

You can refinance both private and federal student loans with a private lender, but understand that if you refinance federal loans you will lose access to all federal benefits like deferment, income-driven repayment plans, and public service loan forgiveness programs. In addition, if you opt for a loan with an extended term, you may pay more interest over the life of the loan, so think carefully about whether it’s the right move for you.

If you have an improved financial profile from when you took out your original loan, however, you may be able to qualify for a lower interest rate. By obtaining a lower interest rate, you could save money over the life of the loan. Or you may be able to select a shorter term with higher payments but a quicker payoff — and save money on interest payments.

•   If you have high-interest credit cards, you can look into consolidating them with a low-interest rate unsecured personal loan. One plus of taking out a personal loan to consolidate your debt is that personal loans are typically installment loans, which means they have a fixed repayment period. That means you’ll know exactly when your loan will be paid off.

In contrast, credit card debt is “revolving debt,” which means you can continuously add to the debt even while paying it off. That’s not an option with a personal loan. By consolidating your credit card debt with a personal loan, you could also potentially qualify for a lower interest rate, which can make your debt easier to manage.

On the flip side, a personal loan may not be right for everyone. Some personal loans come with origination fees, late fees, or prepayment penalties, which could potentially drive up the cost of your loan. When shopping around for debt payoff solutions, you may want to consider any hidden fees that could come with a personal loan.

No matter what debt payoff plan you choose, the key is to take control of your debt rather than letting it control you. Ultimately, executing a successful debt payoff strategy might help you focus on the positive outcomes that happened as a result of your debt rather than the frustration of having to pay it back.

The Takeaway

Debt, especially when it’s the high-interest variety, can be hard to pay off. By trying such tactics as budgeting, reducing spending, and considering balance transfer credit cards and loan financing, you can likely get on a path to lowering and then eliminating your debt.

Think twice before turning to high-interest credit cards. Consider a SoFi personal loan instead. SoFi offers competitive fixed rates and same-day funding. Checking your rate takes just a minute.

SoFi’s Personal Loan was named NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Personal Loan overall.

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Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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