Paying down debt can go such a long way to living a better, healthier life. Less debt means less stress, but it also means less time spent having to find ways to make sure the bills are paid each month.
In January 2016, our household debt totaled over $200,000.
Now you might think that someone with nearly $200,000 of debt must have a serious spending problem. That or a very nice house, a fancy car, perhaps an addiction to the smell of burning money… SOMETHING, right?
All we have to show for our debt is an 8 year old mini-van, a 130 year old fixer-upper of a home, and two college degrees that between us cost $150,000.
Full disclosure, here is our debt breakdown from January 2016:
- Lowes Credit Card: $2,800
- Furniture Row Credit Card: $1,782
- Private student loan #1: $25,877.28
- Private student loan #2: $9,837.03
- Private student loan #3: $3,741.16
- Federal student loan #1: $16,787.36
- Private student loan #4: $57,190.62
- Federal student loan #2: $29,306.81
- House: $43,600
- Car: $17,970.23
Grand total: $208,892.49
Our Lowes and Furniture Row bills are (were) the only credit card debt we had. We used both when we purchased our house in August of 2014 so that we could purchase some much needed appliances and furniture. Fortunately they both offered zero percent interest for a set amount of time, but still – $4,600 in credit card debt is a huge chunk of change to carry around.
Meanwhile, my partner and I both have a LOT of student loan debt. Despite both of us working while in college, we fell into the trap of taking out way more than we should have.
Rather than taking the smarter route and going to a community college first, I spent all four years at a private school that cost me about $36,000/year. My partner did go to a community college first, but was still persuaded to take out a lot of student loans to help support himself while in school.
Nearly $150,000 in student loan debt and together our jobs net us $33,000/year (after daycare is factored out…)
So how in the world have we managed to pay down over $10,000 in debt in two months?
Well, our first step was to take a look at our budget and figure out where the majority of our money was going. We were paying $1,600/month towards our debt but the overall total was only decreasing by $1,100. Once we figured out why and how that was happening, we were able to change things up to make a more significant dent in our debt.
So Step 1 is….
Pay Off Your Debt Based on Interest Rates
Some financial gurus recommend you snowball your money (pay off the smallest debts first, get a “high” from paying off a bill entirely, then roll that payment towards paying off the next smallest debt).
Here’s my problem with that:
Let’s say you owe one credit card $2,000 with 0% interest for three years (such was the case with my Furniture Row card) and another credit card is owed $4,000 with 24.9% interest (the usual rate for most Lowes purchases).
You have $300 to put towards your debt each month. If you put $170 towards the first debt and only $130 towards the second, it will take you a year to pay off that first card.
Meanwhile, in that year, you’ve put $1,560 towards that second card but have only paid it down by about $500 – that’s not even a third!!
So with the snowball method, you’ve put $3,600 towards your debt but at the end of one year, you will still owe over $3,500 (that will now take you another 14 months to pay off and cost you an additional $700 dollars).
Snowball method: Pay $300 for 26 months, $6,000 of debt = $7,800
So what if you reversed it and paid the minimum due on the zero interest and the rest towards the second card?
You’d be looking at $70 towards the first card, $230 towards the second.
In the first year, you would put $2,760 towards your second card, $2,070 of which would be towards the principal.
In the end, paying based on interest rates, you would be free of these two debts in less than two years.
Paying based on interest rates: Pay $300 for 24 months, $6,000 of debt = $7,200
So not only would you save yourself nearly $600, but you’d also have an additional $300/month two months sooner than you would with the snowball method.
That’s $1,200 you can now throw towards another debt (like your mortgage!)
Now I will say that the snowball method has been proven to work for many people and it can be an effective way to motivate yourself to pay down those debts. But depending on your financial situation, you might be paying quite a high price for that motivation.
So for today, the first thing to do to get started towards paying down $10k like I did is to look at your budget (you do have one, right?) and list out every debt you owe, the APR on it, and what you’re currently paying each month.
Having a good grasp on your financial situation is the very first step to improving it.
What debt causes YOU the most anxiety?
Is this the debt with the highest APR, the highest balance, or both?
If at any time you’re confused, feeling overwhelmed, or just need clarification on one of my tips, please do not hesitate to e-mail me. I love to hear from my readers almost as much as I love to help them!