When it comes to life’s biggest stressors, debt management has to be near the top of the list. When you’re in over your head financially, you feel out of control and hounded by the seemingly constant reminders that you don’t have enough. Want to live a longer, more fulfilled life? Ditch the debt. David Gobel, co-founder of the Methuselah Foundation, which focuses on extending the human lifespan with research into regenerative medicine, agrees that stress reduction is important for longevity. “Get out of debt as soon as you can and stay out of debt,” he says, to eliminate “obligation and a loss of control.” That being said, every case is different when it comes to debt management. But there are some fundamental tactics you can use to ease the burden.
Realize the Difference Between Good Debt and Bad Debt
While there are plenty of financial experts who will say any debt is bad debt, that’s not necessarily the case. A loan is often vital to obtain the degree needed for a high-paying job. And you usually take on debt to start a business or to own a home or car. Without that debt you’d miss out on those opportunities. But that’s not the same thing as racking up massive credit card debt on flying lessons, weekend trips to Vegas or the latest sneakers simply because you have room on your credit card. Two questions will help you determine if your debt is good or bad. Then make a list of all the debt you’re currently holding, so you can tackle the bad debt. Knowing exactly what you’re responsible for is the key to success here. Plus, once you’ve got it out there in black and white, it may not seem as insurmountable as it did before.
Evaluate Your Student Loan
Your student loan definitely falls under the “good debt” category, but still, the average college graduate in America is carrying $30,000 in student loan debt. Your interest rate is typically low but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to make it easier for you to repay. Look into refinancing your student loan—NerdWallet crunched some numbers and found the average student loan borrower could save about $1,145 by refinancing.
Try Negotiating Your Interest Rates and Terms
Plain and simple, the lower your credit card APR, the less interest you have to pay and thus, the faster you pay off your credit card balances. It’s as easy as asking. It doesn’t work every time, but when it does, you can save hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars with a five-minute conversation. Ramit Sethi, author of Powerful Telephone Scripts, offers up this simple script:
You: “I’ve decided to be more aggressive about paying off my debt, so I’d like to lower my APR. Other cards are offering rates at half what you’re offering. Can you lower my rate by 50 percent or only 40 percent?”
Credit Card Rep: “After reviewing your account, I’m afraid we can’t offer you a lower APR. We can offer you a credit limit increase, however.”
You: “That won’t work for me. Like I mentioned, other credit cards are offering me zero percent introductory rates for twelve months as well as APR’s of half what you’re offering. I’ve been a customer for X years, and I’d prefer not to switch my balance over to a low-interest card. Can you match the other credit card rates, or can you go lower?”
Credit Card Rep: “Let me pull something up here. Fortunately the system is suddenly letting me offer you a reduced APR. That’s effective immediately.”
Pay Off High APR Credit Cards with a Balance Transfer
(or Debt Consolidation Loan)
If you own more than one credit card, you’ve likely received an offer in the mail about consolidating your credit card debt into one low-interest bill. This is typically offered via a debt consolidation loan or a transfer to a new high-limit credit card. Taking out a loan to pay off your other debts often ends up costing you way more than it should and, according to the finance experts at NerdWallet, is best suited as a last resort. A better option would be to apply for a 0% interest credit card. But in both cases, you’ll have to pay a fee for transferring your debt (but those, too, can be negotiated).
Tackle Overwhelming Debt With the Snowball Method
If you find having multiple debts frustrating and overwhelming, then you’d benefit from eliminating the overall number of creditors. The snowball method has you paying the majority of your available money to one creditor (often with the smallest balance) while making the minimum payments to the rest. Once the smallest debt is paid off, you proceed to the next slightly larger small debt above that, so on and so forth. The end result? A psychological boost from seeing results sooner, in that you’ll reduce both the number of creditors owed (and, thus, the number of bills received) and the amounts owed to each creditor.