NEFE’s On Your Own will be retiring on Dec. 30, 2019.

For more resources and tools, visit

Free Yourself From Debt

(Expert Tips)

Ready to finally tackle that debt? Here are some insider tips from an expert. And remember, no matter how bad you think it is, there is always hope. Every journey starts with the first step.


Start with looking at exactly how much you owe, says Accredited Financial Counselor® Laura Walton. “A lot of times I talk with people who are feeling totally discouraged, but once we sit down and look at the numbers, it's not so bad.”

Write down all of your expenses and income. Then determine how much money you can set aside each month to pay off debt. If you can only make minimum payments, then that is your plan. If you have even $10 extra a month, put it toward your debt.

“Written plans are generally more successful than plans that are just in your head,” says Walton. “Plus, once you have it in writing, you don't have to constantly rewind the problem. As long as you stick to your plan, you know you're going to be okay.”

Financial advisors agree there are basically two great approaches to choose from when it comes to paying off your debts — the Avalanche and the Snowball.


Pick the debt with the highest interest rate and make paying it off a priority. Say you have $40 left over after all your expenses each month:

  • In month 1, make minimum payments on all your debts except the one with the highest rate of interest. For that one, pay the minimum payment plus $40.
  • Do the same the next month, but remember that as you pay down that highest-rate debt, your minimum payment will go down. So in month two, you might actually have $45 extra to add to that monthly payment.
  • Keep up that process until you pay off that debt, then repeat with the next highest-interest debt on your list.
Young fashionable woman celebrates being debt free.


Pick the smallest debt and throw everything you have at it. Beyond choosing which debt to tackle first, it’s similar to the avalanche process:

  • Apply as much leftover income as you can to a single debt at a time, but stay focused on the smallest debt.
  • Once you’ve paid off that one, turn your focus to the next smallest debt. Each time you pay off one of your debts, feel the rush of success!
Girl near the waterfront celebrates being debt free

The good news is that you can’t choose a wrong plan because both the Avalanche and the Snowball Approach work for different reasons.

“Mathematically, the avalanche system is going to save you more money,” says Walton. “But if you're someone who needs an immediate hit of success, then the snowball system is better for that feeling of quickly paying off some smaller balances.”


Contact your creditors directly and ask them to lower your rates. It’s a step people often skip, but it can make a big difference in how soon you’ll be debt-free.


The people around you are some of the best tools you can utilize. Choose a friend or family member who knows your payoff goals and will check in on your progress. If you have a significant other, you can be each other’s money buddy, but it’s still a good idea to have someone on the outside looking in and offering extra support.


Get creative and find ways to reward yourself that stretch beyond your normal routine. It’s OK to splurge a little bit, as long as it doesn’t undo the progress you have made. Give yourself permission to enjoy your success. You deserve it!

As always, we’ve got your back. — The On Your Own Team End of article insignia

[Laura Walton is an Accredited Financial Counselor® and the Executive Director of TCI Foundation, a privately funded nonprofit created to give people no-cost, unbiased financial education and one-on-one advising through its College of Personal Finance and Financial Stewardship Program.]

[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by On Your Own, the National Endowment for Financial Education or any of its affiliate programs.]