By Connie Schlosberg
When the calendar says it’s the first of the month, do you get excited about the opportunities that may arrive with the new month, or do you have panic attacks on how you are going to survive another month living in debt? If it’s the latter, read on. We’ll share the order in which you should pay your debt to keep you afloat.
But first, let’s talk about the two best methods for paying down your debts!
Pay Down Your Debts
There are two key successful methods for paying off debt:
1. Start with your lowest balance first.
First, review your debt – all of it! This includes credit cards, medical bills, and student loans. Organize your debt from the lowest to highest balance. Start with your lowest balance debt first, disregarding the interest rate. Once the lowest balance debt is paid, select the second-lowest balance debt, and so on until all your debt is paid off.
Financial experts call this the “snowball method.” According to research, people struggling with debt have made significant strides in eliminating their debt using this method. Paying off your smaller debts is more achievable and inspires you to keep paying off the rest of your debt. Small successes can equal big payoffs on the road to becoming debt-free.
To fully understand how much debt you owe, try this debt analyzer tool.
2. Pay the highest interest rate first.
With this method, you will organize your debts from highest to lowest interest rates and concentrate on paying off the highest interest rate debt first. When that debt is paid off, tackle the second-highest interest rate debt, and so on.
What’s the purpose of this method? By paying off the highest interest rate debt, you help keep the debt from ballooning into the stratosphere to where it becomes harder to pay off the debt. Also, paying off the high-interest debt first keeps you from owing more overall on the debt. If you pay off the highest interest debts first, you reduce the total amount that you will owe on your way to becoming debt-free. From a total debt owed standpoint, this method is the most logical.
Caveat: If you continue to add to your debt while trying to pay it off, your efforts will be futile. Your first goal is to stop adding debt to the pile!
So Which Expenses to Pay First?
If you are beyond the point of no return with managing your debt, the two methods above will not be enough. In fact, these methods may not be doable at all. Instead, here's what you need to do immediately: start with your high priority expenses first. These are:
1. Food and Medicine
Are you familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? You need to take care of your basic needs first above all else. These expenses are at the top of the list. So please earmark your income to buy food for you and your family. This also applies if you take medicine or need medical care (the type that requires pre-payment). This doesn’t include medical bills.
2. Mortgage or Rent
You need to live somewhere practical, where you are able to keep paying your mortgage or rent payments. Real estate taxes and homeowner’s insurance falls within this priority, if it’s not already included in the mortgage. Likewise, homeowner association fees should be deemed a high priority. If you don’t pay these expenses, you could lose your house and/or have a lien put on your mortgage.
3. Utilities: Electricity, Oil, Gas, Water
Pay your utility bills, even if it’s the minimum payment to avoid disconnection. You should call the utility companies to see if they offer budget billing or if you qualify for hardship assistance. You don’t want to be left in the cold or the dark.
4. Auto Loans/Leases and Insurance
Pay these expenses if you live in the suburbs or country and need a car to get to work. Make sure you stay current with your insurance payments. If not, the creditor could purchase expensive insurance at your expense that may give you less protection. Also, in most states, it’s illegal not to have auto liability coverage.
5. Income Tax
In a letter, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Regardless of your debt situation, you must pay any income taxes you owe. This includes filing a federal income tax return even if you are unable to pay any tax due.
6. Child Support Payments
If you are obligated to pay child support, this debt is a must-pay. If you don’t pay it, your wages could be garnished, and you may even get prison time for non-payment. We’re certain you don’t want that to happen!
In our next article, we’ll discuss which debt is considered lower priority when you are in dire straits and need to get a handle on your debt and financial life. However, you don’t need to go it alone. Many organizations can help you manage your debt. But at DebtMD, we’ve narrowed the playing field to provide you with the best solutions from companies you can rely on and trust. Take the Smart-Debt Analyzer quiz, and check out the solutions who best fit your needs.