Plenty of people know the anxiety of overbearing debt. According to one source, households in the United States average $15,422 in credit card debt; $34,703 in student loan debt; and $149,782 in mortgage debt. With all of that pressure, many people think it’s impossible to improve their financial situations. However, with some work and smart strategies, you can pay off your debt without feeling overwhelmed.
Negotiate with your credit card company
Credit card companies exist to make money. Don’t doubt that. But many of them realize that they can get more out of their customers by negotiating. A person who has no hope of paying a balance might walk away completely, leaving the company with a heavy bill.
Many companies will lower your interest rate to help you get out of debt faster. This gives customers hope and encourages them to make payments on time. That’s good for you and for the credit card company, so don’t be afraid to ask.
Prioritize your payments
Start by prioritizing your payments. If you have several credit cards, organize them by interest rate. Some people think that it’s best to pay off the card with the smallest balance, but that could cost you more money in the long run so weigh your options.
Your first mission is to eliminate debt from whichever card has the highest interest rate. Make minimum payments on the others, and focus any reserve money on the most expensive card. Start small. If you can only afford to pay an extra $10 this month, then that’s what you’ll do.
This will take time. Depending on how much debt you have on the card, it could take years. Stick to it. Eventually, that balance will reach zero and you can move on to the next card on your list.
Consolidate your student loans
Student loans can stay with you for decades. That’s not always a bad thing, though, when you take advantage of a low interest rate. Consolidating your loans puts all of your student debt into a single account. Depending on when you consolidate and what kind of interest rate you can get, you could dramatically reduce the amount you pay over the lifetime of your loan.
Also, right now student loans generally have lower interest rates than credit cards. Focus your extra cash on your credit card debt while you continue to pay your student loans on time.
Pay your bills on time
Late payments cause many people to stay in debt. When you pay a bill late, your interest rate can go up, and the company can also charge you extra fees. When you pay your bills on time, however, you don’t suffer those penalties. You get to keep more of your money instead of giving it to someone else just because you sent the check a few days late.
As you lower your debt, you will have more money. That extra cash comes from lower interest payments and from avoiding late fees. But don’t use that money to take a lavish vacation. Commit it to reducing your debt even more. Eventually you’ll find that you’re living without any debt at all. That’s when you really get to use the money you earn to enjoy life instead of barely making ends meet.
Jeff Rose is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and an Iraqi combat veteran. He blogs at Good Financial Cents, Soldier of Finance, and Life Insurance By Jeff. Follow him on Twitter: @jjeffrose