How to Get Out of Debt Fast – a Step by Step Guide

by Ryan Guina

The most powerful force in the financial universe is compound interest, and if you are in debt, that force is working against you. Need proof? Grab a copy of all your bills and do this quick exercise to see how much interest you are paying on debt. The result will probably shock you and hopefully serve as motivation to learn how get out of debt once and for all!

Facing a mountain of debt is never an easy task. It can be confusing deciding where to start and how to attack it. Thankfully, there are a lot of great resources that can help you make these decisions.

How to get out of debt fastI have a great resource on my site for you to reference on the teachings of Dave Ramsey, who specializes in getting out of debt, staying out of debt, and planning for a prosperous future. The lessons are about his Baby Steps to Financial Peace. Reading the entire Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps series is a good place to start to get some great ideas on how to get out of debt and become financially free.

How to Get Out of Debt

The principle of getting out of debt is easy, but in practice, like becoming rich, it takes time and dedication. The basic principles of getting out of debt are:

  • Recognize the Debt Problem
  • Commit to Getting Out of Debt
  • Get Support
  • Establish an Emergency Fund
  • Accelerate Debt Payments

So let’s get started on how to tackle that debt:

Recognize the Debt Problem

One of the most important aspects of making any lifestyle change is recognizing the need for change; this is especially true of habits that have become ingrained in our lifestyle. If you didn’t try that exercise linked in the first paragraph, I highly recommend it. Knowing how much interest you are paying will change the way you view debt.

Another powerful exercise is to complete a debt analysis which lists all your creditors, debt balance, interest rates, minimum payments, and how long it will take you to pay off the debt. Knowing and understanding the details of your debt situation is integral to this process.

Understand your financial situation – start with a budget: The most important thing you and your family can do at this point is understand your financial situation. Once completing the previous exercises, I mentioned, you should now have a better grasp on where you stand financially. Now it is time to start up a budget. My friend Lynnae wrote a great primer about how to build a budget for the first time. There are many tools you can use to help you make a budget, but if all you have is paper and a pencil, that will work fine. You just need to do it.

Money Management Tip: Using money management or budgeting software can help you visualize this and make the job easier. You may find the following products helpful for your needs: QuickenYou Need a Budget, Mint.com, and free online money management tools.

Commit to Eliminating Debt

More important than recognizing the need for change is actually following through with it. This commitment can be broken down into two important steps: Stop using credit and start paying down your loans.

Stop Using Credit. Cut up your cards, freeze them, lock them in a safety deposit box, close accounts, or do whatever it takes to stop taking out more loans. Reevaluate planned purchases. For example, if you have a lot of consumer debt and were planning using a loan for a major purchase such as a new house or car, consider renting or buying an older model car with cash until you have eliminated your debt.

Start Paying your Loans. Make sure you are paying at least the minimum payment on all loans, otherwise you will be subjected to late fees, penalties, higher interest rates, and possibly a lower credit score. The ultimate goal is to accelerate debt payments and pay as much as possible above the minimum payment. But for now focus on being current on all loans.

Reduce Your Interest Rates. You may be able to contact your credit card companies and ask for a reduction in interest rates; some companies are willing to reduce interest rates provided you make on time payments. Another option is to do a 0% balance transfer, which allows you to transfer your credit card debt to a 0% interest credit card. Here is a list of featured balance transfer cards.

Get Support and Get Your Family on Board

Making big lifestyle changes can be difficult for one person. That’s why it’s a good idea to get an accountability partner or someone you can check in with. The moral support can go a long way toward keeping you on the right path.

On that same note, it’s essential that your family is on board. What is difficult for one person can be impossible if someone is working against you. Having your family working with you can make it easier to set and keep expectations, avoid excessive spending, and make progress. You can even use this as an opportunity to get your family involved with finding creative ways to cut expenses, earn side income, hold a garage sale to raise funds that can be used to pay off debt, and more.

Establish an Emergency Fund

What does saving money have to do with paying off debt? Everything. An emergency fund is an essential part of the commitment to no longer using credit because it gives you a cash on for unexpected expenses. Using your emergency fund instead of credit cards or other loans will help you get out of debt more quickly. It is a good idea to keep your emergency fund in an online savings account where you can receive high interest rates and maintain access to your money.

Accelerate Debt Payments

This is the step where we really start to gain ground on your debt elimination. Paying extra on your loans can help you save hundreds or even thousands of dollars compared to making minimum payments. In fact, the new credit card rules stipulate that credit card companies must disclose how long it will take to pay off your loans with minimum payments and what your payments should be to pay off credit card debt in 3 years.

Highest Interest Rate vs. Lowest Balance. There are two schools of thought regarding which debt to pay first, the highest interest rates or the smallest balance. Paying extra on the debt with the highest interest rate will save you the most money in the long run, but it may take longer to notice a difference when you are making multiple payments each month. Making additional payments on the loan with the lowest balance gives a psychological boost because you eliminate a credit card loan or other debt more quickly using this method. Both methods are successful, so use the method that you prefer.

Snowball Your Debt Payments. The debt snowball is a debt reduction method popularized by Dave Ramsey. Simply stated: Pay extra on your loans and when you eliminate one loan, add the amount you were paying to the next loan on your list and repeat. In this method, your payments “snowball” and you will eliminate your loans more quickly.

Advanced Debt Reduction Strategies

As you repay your loans you will probably notice that your credit score improves because you are making regular, on-time payments and your credit utilization decreases. If you have a good credit score, you can probably qualify for a 0% balance transfer card which allows you to transfer credit card debt to a 0% APR credit card. This is an advanced debt reduction strategy because it requires opening a new credit card. This should only be used if you are committed to getting gout of debt and will not use the credit card for new purchases. Another advanced debt reduction strategy is a do it yourself debt consolidation plan, which can reduce your interest rates and simplify the repayment process.

All in all, getting out of debt will not only free up money for you on a monthly basis, but it will make living day to day easier not having the burden of debt collectors and high interest rates. So get started today on eliminating that burden in your life and live a little happier!


Published or updated October 19, 2016.
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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 eric

“Make sure everyone is on board”

This is CRITICAL when it comes to finances and marriage. For the first year of my marriage my wife and I had differing goals and understandings. It seemed like every time the budget allowed a few extra dollars my wife wanted to rush off and spend it instead of paying off a credit card, or making an extra payment. Great Bullet point, I can’t emphasize its importance enough!

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2 Dividend Growth Investor

It might also make sense to automate your debt repayment out of your paycheck. And if you ever get a raise, live as if you haven’t in order to avoid lifestyle inflation..

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3 Kristen

I quit using credit cards a little over two years ago. I don’t have one right now at all. I had a lot of debt that I had accumulated when I was younger and I was stuck in that vicious cycle of pay a little off, charge a little more, get nowhere reducing my debt.

It was really hard (and a little scary) at first to not have a credit card. But I finally started making progress paying off the bills and just making better spending choices the whole way around. It’s a relief to know that how much I owe is decreasing and I’m getting ahead instead of just treading water. I’m definitely celebrating when I make the final payment and owe no credit card debt.

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4 Until Debt do US part

Great post. From my experience the most crucial element of success is getting everyone in the family on board. It is vitally important that the people around you, your friends and family, are fully behind you and understand what you are trying to do.

The last thing you need is for a conflict to develop between you and your partner as you try to cut back and repay your debts. It can be tough.

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5 Ryan

Agreed, Until Debt… If people aren’t on the same page, the battle is over before it starts. It can indeed be tough, but it is well worth it!

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6 MoneyEnergy

I think the most important thing to do is create a plan to get out of debt and stop spending money you don’t have. Don’t waste your efforts trying to pay off your credit cards and other debt just to get back into debt again a year later. It’s like a diet this way. You need a long-term plan that will allow you to NEVER fall into debt again (i.e., beyond being able to pay your cards off in full each month), otherwise this is nearly wasted energy. So in order to lose weight, you first have to stop taking in more fat.

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7 Kristine

We’ve used the DOLP method, which means dead on last payment, to get out of debt. It was created by David Bach to organize your credit card bills in the most efficient and effective order to pay them down.

DOLP=credit card balance balance divided by minimum payment. When you use this method, it shows you which credit card you can pay off the fastest (the lowest DOLP number). You pay as much as you can on this credit card, and the minimum payment on the other cards. Once paid off, you move what you paid to credit card #1 to credit card #2 (the second lowest DOLP number).

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8 Daddy Paul

Good article. Debt can be a real monster which eats your lifestyle and well being. I say pay down on the highest interest first. Look at your debt as one large pile and attack the biggest expense first.

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9 James Mason

Try the accelerated payment plan…start off with whatever that you can afford monthly that can be considered as “extra”. add this amount to your min. payment on the lowest balance card monthly; once its paid, take this payment along with that card’s minimum payment and pay the next card off. before you know it if you’re like me, you’ll be paying a couple thousand monthly on your larger balances, like that mortgage payment etc. its working for me and in about 5 years the only debt that I’ll have are the ones yhat you can never pay off, i.e. phone, cable, utilities, etc. good luck!

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