You may be able to get out of debt faster than you think! How? Here are five ways: - Focus on paying off high-interest debt first. - Find a side hustle to increase your income. - Reduce your biggest expenses like housing and transportation or see if you qualify for assistance programs. - Use a balance transfer to get a 0% APR period and pay your debt down aggressively - Discharge your debt through bankruptcy (yes, even if you have student loans!).
Written by Attorney Tori Bramble.
Updated July 28, 2023
When you’re in debt over your head, it’s hard to plan for your financial future. Carrying a lot of debt can decrease your credit score and make it difficult to buy a house or get a car. Paying down your debt fast can help jump-start your financial and life goals.
There are ways to get out of debt faster than you might think. You can focus on paying off high-interest debt, finding a side hustle to increase your income, using a balance transfer card to lower your interest rate, or discharging your debt through bankruptcy. This article will explore some strategies you can use to eliminate your debt quickly. Keep in mind these are just tips, not rules you have to follow. You should make sure to educate yourself and pick the option that’s best for your situation.
Start by Paying Off Loans With the Highest Interest Rates
If you want to get out of debt faster, pay extra on your loans with the highest interest rates. This is called the debt avalanche method. With this method, you prioritize paying off your account with the highest interest rate first. You’ll still pay the minimums on all your other debts, but by focusing on your high-interest debt first, you’ll decrease the amount you pay in interest. The biggest advantage of the debt avalanche method is that it saves you money over the long run. This means you can pay off more debt with the same amount of money.
With this method, you’ll pay off your loans in order of interest rate, from highest to lowest. If you don’t know what your interest rate is, look at your monthly billing statement. You’ll find your monthly interest calculation where it says interest charge calculation or APR. APR stands for annual percentage rate. It tells you the yearly interest rate you pay on your account, including fees. If you want a clearer explanation of your interest rate, call your lender.
To start, take out a piece of paper and list every one of your credit cards and other loans. Then, find the loan with the highest interest rate. This is the loan you’ll pay off first. It doesn’t matter if it’s a credit card, auto loan, or personal loan. Then list the loan or debt with the second-highest interest rate and then the third loan or credit card and so on.
Start by paying extra on the highest interest rate debt. Once the first debt is paid off, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and can move on to your second highest interest debt. And if you can manage to consistently make a payment on your debt with the next highest interest, you’ll be able to steadily chip away at your debt and save money over time. Do this until all of your debts are paid off.
Another strategy some people use to get out of debt fast is the debt snowball method. This can help you reduce and eventually eliminate worrisome debt. With the debt snowball method, you start by paying off the debt with the smallest balance (no matter the interest rate) and working your way up to your largest debt. This can give you the motivation to keep going to pay off your debts because you’ll see the balances go away.
Find a Side Hustle or Boost Your Income
If you don’t have one already, a side hustle or other income-boosting activity is a great way to get extra cash, which can help you to pay off your debt. If you earn more money with a side hustle or find other ways to make money, you’ll be able to pay down your debt more quickly.
If you think a side hustle will help you pay off your debt more quickly, there are lots of ways to earn money outside of your regular job. Here are a few ideas:
Driving for a rideshare company like Uber or Lyft in your spare time
Being a virtual assistant
Selling things around your house at a yard sale or online
If you start working on the side as an independent contractor it’s important to set aside money for taxes. Independent contractors — like those working for a ridesharing company or a food delivery service — generally don’t have taxes taken out of their pay. You’ll be responsible for setting money aside and paying your taxes on this income on your own. If you don’t, chances are good you’ll have a high tax bill and owe the IRS money come tax time.
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Make Lifestyle Changes
Besides paying off your high interest rate debts, doing a balance transfer to a card with a lower interest rate, and starting a side hustle, there are other ways you can get out of debt faster if you’re creative. Making lifestyle changes is a great way to save money to put towards your debt.
Here are a few ideas:
Look for an apartment with cheaper rent, do meal prep on the weekends, cancel streaming services (particularly ones you don’t use), avoid eating out, and check out movies from the library instead of buying movie theater tickets.
Explore ways to save money on recurring bills. This can make a big difference. For example, look for cheaper car insurance or a cheaper cell phone plan.
Consider looking to see if there are any government programs that could help you lower your monthly bills. If you have a low income, you may be eligible for government assistance for utilities, health insurance, or public transportation.
You can also reach out to a credit counseling agency to learn more about budgeting, reading your credit report, and managing your debt. They also offer home-buying and money management workshops.
It’s also important to consider that depending on your total debt balance, income, and other factors, paying off your debts in full may not be possible. You can use Upsolve Debt Repayment Calculator to see how long it will take you to pay off your debts. If it turns out that your debt is impossible to repay because of high interest or because of a life change like a job loss, then bankruptcy may be right for you. We’ll discuss this later in the article.
And if you make lifestyle changes but still can’t pay off your debts, don’t worry — there are other options to help you get out of debt.
Look for Lower Interest Rates or Balance Transfer Cards
When shopping around for credit card lenders, always look for the lowest interest rate you can find and get approved for. This is important because having a lower interest rate on your debt means it costs you less to borrow money. Because of this, it’s often quicker and easier to pay off. It takes time to pay off a loan with a lower interest rate because more of your payment is applied to the principal (instead of to the interest).
Before considering a balance transfer, make sure you know the interest rates on all your loans and credit cards. Don’t let fear keep you in the dark about what you owe your creditors. Knowing your interest rates will help you make a plan to manage and pay off your debt. If you find that your credit card with the lowest interest rate isn’t maxed out, consider doing a balance transfer to move your debt from higher interest rate cards to this lower interest rate card. A balance transfer can help you save money on interest charges.
You can also consider opening a new card with a low introductory interest rate and transferring your credit card balances to this card. Many companies offer balance transfer credit cards with low or no interest for a period of time. If you’re focused on making payments during this period, you can get ahead of your debt. You may also qualify for a personal loan with a lower interest rate than your credit cards and use the funds to pay off your credit cards. This is called debt consolidation.
But if you’re considering applying for a new credit card or loan, be aware of how it will affect your credit. First, when you apply for several loans at once, each application shows up on your credit report. Applying for too many loans at the same time can lower your credit score. You don’t want to apply for several loans in a short period because credit card issuers may think that you're in financial trouble and not want to give you a loan.
Second, opening up new lines of credit could tempt you to borrow more money and go deeper into debt. Only open new lines of credit if you’re confident you can use them wisely. Lastly, sometimes cards that offer balance transfers have a balance transfer fee or annual fee that can actually increase your credit card debt. If these fees will increase your credit card balance by more than you’re able to save pay not paying interest for a period of time, think twice.
Find Out if You Can Discharge Debt in Bankruptcy
If you have a lot of debt that you have no hope of ever paying off, consider if bankruptcy is right for you. Filing for bankruptcy is a way to take the stress of overwhelming, high-interest debt off your mind and from your budget.
There are two types of consumer bankruptcy: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13.
What Is Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?
Chapter 7 bankruptcy tends to be good for people who have a lot of credit card debt or other types of unsecured debt, like medical bills and personal loans. You can even file bankruptcy to get rid of student loan debt, though you'll have to prove repaying the debt causes undue hardship. You'll also have to take an extra step to file an adversary proceeding, but this process has gotten easier due to rule changes in late 2022. The process for discharging student debt is different for federal student loans than it is for private student loans.
What Is Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?
Chapter 13 is the second most common type of consumer bankruptcy. It's less popular than Chapter 7 because it takes longer and is more complicated due to the required 3-5 year repayment plan on your debt. That said, if you own a home or car and you want to keep it but you're behind on your payments, Chapter 13 may be more beneficial than Chapter 7. Also, if you make too much income to qualify for Chapter 7, you can look into Chapter 13 as an alternative.
Upsolve is a non-profit organization that can help you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy for free on your own. If you don’t qualify to file bankruptcy for free, Upsolve can connect you with a local bankruptcy lawyer for a free consultation to find out how you can get debt relief.
If you’re just making minimum payments, it can take many years to emerge from high-interest debts. This can be very frustrating, and you may feel like you’ll never escape. But you can try new strategies to get your debt paid off faster. You may be able to save by making lifestyle changes to decrease your expenses, earning extra money to put toward your debt, or lowering your interest rate with a personal loan or balance transfer, so you pay less over time and more of your monthly payment goes to paying down the principal.
If you’ve tried everything but still aren’t able to pay off your debt, it may be time to consider bankruptcy to get a fresh start. Start our screener now to see if you qualify for free help. If your case is complicated, we can help you find a free consultation with bankruptcy attorney to decide if this is the right option for you to eliminate your stressful debt.