Dealing with debt can be overwhelming and stressful. If you find yourself struggling to pay off multiple debts, the snowball method can provide a practical and effective strategy to regain control of your financial situation. This method, popularized by personal finance expert Dave Ramsey, focuses on paying off debts in a specific order to build momentum and motivation.
Read on to learn how the snowball debt payoff method works, including its benefits, plus alternative payoff strategies you may want to consider.
Building the Snowball
With the snowball method you list your debts from smallest to largest based on balance and regardless of interest rates. The goal is to pay off the smallest debt first while making minimum payments on other debts. Once the smallest debt is paid off, you roll the amount you were paying towards it into the next smallest debt, creating a “snowball effect” as you tackle larger debts.
Getting rid of the smallest debt first can give you a psychological boost. If, by contrast, you were to try to pay down the largest debt first, it might feel like throwing a pebble into an ocean, and you might simply give up before you got very far.
A Word about Paying off High-interest Debt First
From a purely financial perspective, it might make more sense to first tackle the debt that comes with the highest interest rate first, since it means paying less interest over the life of the loans (more on this approach below).
However, the snowball method focuses on the psychological aspect of debt repayment. By starting with the smallest debt, you experience quick wins and a sense of accomplishment right away. This early success can then motivate you to continue the debt repayment journey. In addition, paying off smaller debts frees up cash flow, allowing you to put more money towards larger debts later.
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Making Minimum Payments Doesn’t Equal Minimum Payoff Time
While you may feel like you’re making progress by paying the minimum balance on your debts, this approach can lead to a prolonged payoff timeline. The snowball method encourages you to pay more than the minimum on your smallest debt, accelerating the repayment process. Over time, as you pay off each debt, the amount you can allocate towards the next debt grows, increasing your progress.
The Snowball Plan, Step By Step
Here’s a step-by-step guide to implementing the snowball method.
1. List all debts from smallest to largest. You want to list them by the total amount owed, not the interest rates. If two debts have similar totals, place the debt with the higher interest rate first.
2. Make minimum payments. Continue making minimum payments on all debts except the smallest one.
3. Attack the smallest debt. Put any extra money you can towards paying off the smallest debt while making minimum payments on others.
4. Roll the snowball. Once the smallest debt is paid off, take the amount you were paying towards it and add it to the minimum payment of the next smallest debt.
5. Repeat and accelerate. Repeat this process, attacking one debt at a time, until all debts are paid off.
A Word About Principal Reduction
It’s a good idea to reach out to your creditors and lenders and find out how they apply extra payments to a debt (they don’t all do it the same way). You’ll want to make sure that any additional payments you make beyond the minimum are applied to the principal balance of the debt. This will help reduce the overall interest you pay and expedite the debt payoff process.
Perks of the Snowball Method
The snowball method offers several advantages:
• Motivation and momentum The quick wins and sense of progress provide motivation to continue the debt repayment journey.
• Simplification Focusing on one debt at a time simplifies the process, making it easier to track and manage.
• Increased cash flow As each debt is paid off, the money previously allocated to it becomes available to put towards the next debt, accelerating the payoff timeline.
Alternatives to the Snowball Method
While the snowball method has proven effective for many, it’s not the only debt repayment strategy available. Here are three alternative methods you may want to consider.
The Avalanche Method
The avalanche method involves making a list of all your debts in order of interest rate. The first debt on your list should be the one with the highest interest rate. You then pay extra on that first debt, while continuing to pay the minimum on all the others. When you fully pay off that first debt, you apply your extra payment to the debt with the next highest interest rate, and so on.
This method can potentially save more on interest payments in the long run. However, it requires discipline and may take longer to see significant progress compared to the snowball method.
The Debt Snowflake Method
The debt snowflake method is a debt repayment method you can use on its own or in conjunction with other approaches (like the snowball or avalanche method). The snowflake approach involves finding extra income through a part-time job or side gig, selling items, and/or cutting expenses and then putting that extra money directly toward debt repayment. While each “snowflake” may not have a significant impact on your debt, they can accumulate over time and help you become free of high-interest debt.
If the snowball, avalanche, or snowflake methods seem overwhelming, you might want to consider combining your debts into one simple monthly payment that doesn’t require any strategizing. Known as debt consolidation, you may be able to do this by taking out a personal loan and using it to pay off your debts. You then only have one balance and one payment and, ideally, a lower interest rate, which can help you save money.
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The snowball method offers a practical and motivational approach to paying down debt. By starting with small debts and building momentum, you can gain control of your finances and work towards becoming debt-free.
However, it’s important to choose a method that aligns with your financial goals and personal preferences. Whichever method you choose, the key is to take action and commit to a debt repayment strategy that works for you.
If you’re interested in exploring your debt consolidation options, SoFi could help. With a lower fixed interest rate on loan amounts from $5K to $100K, a SoFi personal loan for debt consolidation could substantially lower how much you pay each month. Checking your rate won’t affect your credit score, and it takes just one minute.
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