If you're concerned about money you owe, you may need a better debt management plan — and it's also worth noting you're hardly alone.
The average consumer carries $101,915 in debt, according to a recent report from the credit bureau Experian. That includes virtually every type of loan, such as a mortgage, car and student loans, plus home equity loans, credit card debt and personal loans.
In some ways, you should feel good about your debts. Owning a home or car, and even getting a college or graduate degree, can be viewed as investments — and fortunately, with a strategic debt management plan and some discipline, you can efficiently pay down debt, save more and propel yourself toward your financial goals. The advice below can help you get started.
Consolidating debts can be a smart and realistic strategy for someone who feels that they're starting to compile too much debt but hasn't yet had a serious problem paying it off. These approaches can be effective for high-interest credit card debt or student loans — though, to get the rates that will make it worth your while, you'll need a solid credit history (which means not having had a lot of late or missed payments to lenders). Interest rates change frequently, but the average credit card interest rate in the first quarter of 2023 was 20.92%, according to data from the Federal Reserve. The lower the interest rate, the less you'll pay in interest. Borrowers with below-average credit or unstable income might not qualify at all.
Generally, if you're consolidating debts or doing a credit card balance transfer, this can be a good sign that it's time to focus on getting your debts paid off and under control, rather than adding to what you already owe.
If you want to save money and become debt-free faster, you need to do more than pay only your required monthly credit card minimums. Two approaches for this, in particular, are often recommended by experts.
The debt avalanche method entails ranking your debts and focusing on paying off the one with the highest interest rate first. You'll still make the minimum payments on all of your other debts, but you'll put as much as you can toward the highest interest loan. Despite the "avalanche" moniker, tackling the high interest rate debts can be a slow process; if the money you owe is significant, you may not see much progress for some time, until all of a sudden, like an avalanche, you do. Once that debt is paid off, you work on the next debt with the highest interest rate.
Conversely, with the debt snowball method, borrowers aim most of their money allocated to paying off debts at the smallest loan first, regardless of the interest rate. The reasoning is that, psychologically, it can feel good to pay off something quickly, and your success may motivate you to work even harder at paying off the next debt. Then, if you take the money you were using to pay off the first debt and add it to what you are paying toward the next debt, there will soon be a snowball effect (imagine a snowball going down a hill, getting larger and larger), because after each debt is paid off, you'll have more money to put toward remaining debts.
One downside of the snowball method, however, is that your larger debts will accumulate more interest as you focus on paying off the smaller ones. So if you have larger debts with especially high interest rates, the debt snowball might not be the right fit for you.
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