Paying off debt can be a struggle. Whether it's from student loans, unexpected expenses or simply irresponsible spending habits, it can be easy to rack up more debt than you can handle. Once the debt gets too high, it can be tough to start chipping away at it.
Unfortunately, a lot of people don't know how to make a debt payoff plan. Instead, they make uninformed or desperate decisions to try to get rid of their debts as quickly as possible.
There are several mistakes people make when trying to get out of debt.
Here are five of the most common mistakes and how you can avoid them:
1] Tackling Multiple Debts at Once
People with multiple types of debt from different creditors often make the mistake of trying to pay off all of their debts at the same time.
First and foremost, you should prioritize which debts you want to pay off first. Using the "avalanche method," you would pay off high-interest debts first to avoid paying significant interest fees.
Another option is the "snowball method," in which you pay off your smallest debts first and work your way up to the largest debts. This method helps motivate you by giving you a sense of satisfaction each time you completely pay off a debt. And as you pay off each balance, it reduces the minimum payments you'll make each month. The snowball method is a great option if you lack self-discipline and you need motivation.
If you can't keep track of your debts, consider consolidating, as it will leave you with a single loan, interest rate and repayment term.
2] Closing Accounts
Credit-scoring systems don't just consider how much money you owe or whether you make your payments on time. They also factor in how much credit is available to you and the length of your credit history.
Keeping accounts open allows you to continue to build your credit history and maintain a high credit limit, which helps keep your credit utilization low. You don't have to use your credit cards, but keep the accounts open to protect your credit score.
3] Using Debt Settlement (When You Don't Need To)
Debt settlement companies help you negotiate with your creditors to accept a fraction of what you owe them as payment in full. Often, debt settlement companies instruct you to stop paying your debts for several months. This gives your creditors the impression that you can't afford to pay back your debts.
If you can successfully negotiate with your creditors, you will pay the agreed amount and the rest will be canceled. However, it's not really that simple.
First, your creditors have no obligation to accept a smaller amount. Just because you can't afford your debt doesn't mean they won't make you pay it. If your creditor doesn't settle your debt, then you'll be left to pay off the whole balance in addition to the interest and fees that piled up while you ceased payments.
Additionally, even if you're able to settle your debt, your credit report will show that you didn't pay the full amount. Your credit score could potentially drop by more than 100 points from this type of derogatory mark.
Lastly, your creditor might simply send your debt to a collections agency, which are notoriously aggressive and difficult to work with.
For these reasons, debt settlement should be avoided in almost all situations and should only be viewed as a last resort.
4] Carrying High-Interest Debt
High interest rates can make it seemingly impossible to pay off debt in a timely manner if you aren't able to make more than the minimum monthly payments. In many cases, you'll find that all of your payments are just going toward interest without shaving down your actual debt.
This mostly applies to credit card debt, as credit cards often charge annual percentage rates (APRs) ranging from 10% to 25%. If your debts have high interest rates, you should prioritize paying them off first.
One particularly effective way to pay off high-interest credit card debt is to get a balance transfer credit card. It might seem like a bad move to open a new credit card when you're trying to pay off your debts, but balance transfer cards can help you save significantly by offering 0% introductory APRs.
Simply transfer your balance from one credit card to a balance transfer credit card and pay off as much as you can during the period with no interest.
5] Not Changing Your Spending Habits
Getting out of debt is great, but it's pointless if you don't fix your spending habits. You'll need to make a strict budget and stick to it.
Start by calculating your total income and writing down your monthly expenses. Then add up your total debts and figure out how much you can put toward the debt every month while staying current on all other bills.
Joe Resendiz is a Research Analyst at ValuePenguin, where he focuses on personal finance and credit research to assist consumers. Previously, Joe specialized on public sector and infrastructure financing at Goldman Sachs. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a BBA in Finance.