Obtaining freedom from debt is something many people strive to meet as a personal goal. No one likes to owe significant amounts of money, yet despite this fact, many people do eventually find themselves stuck under a mountain of debt.
There are many good reasons to clear yourself of debt, which includes, but is not limited, to less financial stress and the ability to spend on things desired rather than on debt that is owed.
If you want to find freedom from debt, here are five steps that can help you meet this goal:
1. Stop Using Credit Cards
Modern society has evolved to become one rooted in instant gratification and electronic money. It's so easy and convenient to engage in cash-free spending and instantaneously be able to buy what you want. The downside to this is it is often also difficult to keep track of what's spent, and if you are not careful, those 'few' purchases can suddenly grow to thousands of dollars owed.
Those who have difficulty with impulse spending or often rationalize that a purchase is justified, deserved or earned, even though there is a lack of funds to pay for the item(s), this is problematic if trying to pay down debt. In order to be successful, a good approach would be to either close the credit card account or lock up the card in a safe place until the balance is paid off. Eliminate the source of the problem and this will go a long way in reducing debt.
2. Pay Off Credit Card Balances
The next step is to focus on paying off credit card balances. Many people erroneously think that paying the minimum balance due on their credit cards is helping them keep on top of their bills; this is a fallacy.
Making the minimum payment on a credit card doesn't do very much in terms of paying off debt. The interest rates will keep a credit card balance at a steady high. Even if no new charges are made, the debt will decrease too slowly to really make a difference with those minimum payments.
The key is to make a promise to yourself to pay more than the minimum each month and do not incur any new charges; it is important to stick to the latter or else the purpose of putting a dent in credit card debt is defeated. Have a plan, set up a budget and only truly buy what is needed (or in cases of emergency).
In addition to monitoring credit used, you'll also want to consider negotiating with creditors, especially if interest payments are high. In some cases, creditors will work with you if you take initiative, resulting in lower financial terms. If successful, your negotiating will help bring down some of those costly payments and get those bills paid off faster.
3. Initiate Small Ways to Save Money
Reducing spending and initiating savings is an important factor in getting out of debt. In addition to setting up a budget and calculating what money is coming in vs. what money is going out, look for small ways to save. To reduce spending, focus on ways you can lower monthly costs. This could be utility bills, grocery tabs, or gasoline; there are many expenses that can be shaved to save a few pennies (or dollars!) here and there.
Engaging in activities such as clipping coupons, watching for sales on needed items or even using piggy banks to save loose change are all small ways to reduce spending and increase savings. While it may seem small at first, over time the amounts saved will add up and you'll see tangible results.
4. Eliminate or Reduce Debt
In addition to credit cards, there are lots of other kinds of debt people often have lingering over their heads. Ways to reduce these larger, and often long-term, debts are to try and pay a little extra on each one to knock down some of the principal so you aren't paying mostly interest.
For instance if you have a mortgage, car payment, personal loan or education loan, see if you can't send a little extra each month to pay down the overall balance. The way to do this is to make your regular payment and then add a separate check that states "principal only" so this money goes towards paying down the debt and is not attributed to interest payments. In the long run, depending on the kind of loan, you may be able to significantly reduce interest paid on the loan if you pay it off early.
ABC News reported in May 2014 finance guru Dave Ramsey also suggests to attack the smaller bills first and get them out of the way1. Ramsey calls it the "snowball method" and acknowledges it is an unconventional way of paying down debt. However, he notes getting rid of the smaller debts fuels energy and motivates to get those larger ones down, showing light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.
5. Consolidate Loans
Some people find success in consolidating their debt into one monthly payment at a lower interest rate. Done successfully, it can go a long way in paying down debt. There are pros and cons to this kind of approach, but if you do your homework and find the right kind of consolidation loan, this can help you pay down debt. In some cases it might be better to consolidate through a personal loan if other usual approaches do not work out2.
Accumulating debt is a lot easier than it is to pay it off. Getting debt-free is not typically an easy task, but it is entirely possible with dedication, commitment and a real desire to be released from those financial obligations. The best proactive way to keep yourself debt-free is to avoid owing significant amounts of money in the first place and practice smart spending.
However, if you do find yourself under a mountain of debt, it is not impossible to get out from under it. It does take a lot of work and usually a good amount of effort in changing and/or rearranging lifestyles. By evaluating your expenses and being careful not to accumulate more debt you can pay down what you owe. Once you've successfully done it, keep up with the lifestyle changes and continue to maintain a budget.
[Related reading: How to Differentiate Between Good Debt and Bad Debt ]