Getting Out of Debt

Woman smiling while putting change into a piggy bank

By: Jennifer McMillen Smith, MSSA, LISW-S, Division of Infectious Disease and medically reviewed by Ann Avery, Infectious Disease Physician at Metrohealth Medical Center

Debt is one of the many crappy parts of adulting. There’s no joy in debt – no amusement park happiness. Just crap. 👎🏽👎🏽 Well, at least (hopefully) the debt isn’t the end of the world, and you can still see the light at the end of the tunnel.

We know how hard it is to stay away from debt when it’s literally everywhere, so our goal is to offer some tips on reducing your debt and moving closer to a better financial place. Hopefully, there is something in this list (or a combination of a few tips) that helps you.


1️⃣ Get started 

This is the most important step and can be the hardest. Get a grasp on what your finances look like. That includes debt of any kind: credit cards, bills, and loans. This is the vital step in making a plan to get out of debt.

2️⃣ Get your credit report

The next step is to check your credit rating and review your credit report for inaccuracies or patterns of your financial behavior. You can get your credit rating the same way lenders and landlords do—from each of the three credit bureaus that report on most consumer credit—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. View your credit score for free to see where you land.

3️⃣ Pay a little more than the minimum payment on credit cards – starting with the one that charges you the highest percentage rate

Figure out how much your monthly minimum payment is (the amount isn’t always the same). If you can, ALWAYS pay the minimum payment but if you have an extra $20, add that to your payment. That extra bit can help tackle interest and get you out of debt much faster.

4️⃣ Think of your debt as a snowball


By “snowballing” payments toward your smallest debt, you’ll eliminate it quickly and move on to the next smallest debt. Here’s how it works. Any time you have extra money, pay it on the same debt while continuing to pay the minimum payments on the rest.

The debt snowball method can help motivate you to focus on one debt at a time instead of multiple, helping you build momentum and stay on track. Maybe it won’t seem as overwhelming when you break it up, paying off one thing at a time.

5️⃣ Add any windfall to the snowball

Whenever you come across a big chunk of money – maybe your stimulus check or tax refund – use that to pay down debt. Rule of thumb to follow: when you come into a chunk of unplanned money, put it towards debt and act as if it was never yours to begin with. Yes, it would be nice to use it on something you want, but you want to be out of debt and this will help you get there faster. (Also, it doesn’t have to be all of the windfall, even part of it will help!)

6️⃣ Refinance

Refinancing debt can lower the interest rate and sometimes allows you to consolidate multiple loans into one. By doing this, you can save hundreds of dollars in interest and help you repay debt faster. You can refinance several things: student loans, auto loans, mortgages, and personal loans.

A debt consolidation loan is an option. This strategy can also come with lower interest rates than your existing debts. If you have credit card debt, you might benefit from doing a balance transfer. This is when you move your existing debt to another credit card that has 0 percent APR for a specific time frame, usually between 6 to 18 months. Then try to pay it off in that time period!

READ ALSO: Simple Ways to Manage Money

Now that we’ve established the action steps to get out of debt, let’s chat about how to stay motivated during it. Getting out of debt can feel overwhelming and it certainly takes commitment. Here are some ways to keep your eye on the prize and help refocus your motivation when you feel like giving up:

  1. Remember, getting out of debt is temporary. Remind yourself that this journey is not going to last forever. Whether it’s a few months, or a few years – the time is going to pass anyway so you might as well start your debt-free journey sooner rather than later.
  2. Give yourself grace! Getting out of debt is HARD! It’s time-consuming. And it takes a ton of self-discipline to say “no” to fun things while you’re throwing money at debt. If you need to go out, shop or grab drinks with a friend every once in a while – that’s okay! Give yourself the grace you need to keep your sanity and motivation going in the right direction.
  3. Create a colorful picture. Okay, this probably sounds very little kiddish, but trust us when we say this method works! Print out a picture of a car or a house and label it with your debt. As you start to pay off debts, start to color the picture in. Visuals are great ways to see your progress at a high level and keep your motivation up!
  4. Post pictures around your place of things you want to buy when you’re debt-free! Want a new car? Print a picture and tape it to your wall. Want a new espresso machine? Post the dang picture of the fanciest one you can find online! Getting out of debt isn’t meant to make you feel like you can’t afford things, but instead that you can once you’re free of debt!


Lastly, not all debt is created equal. Make a plan and evaluate your options. You do have options. Debt doesn’t have to be suffocating. Make small dents where possible and watch your total amount go down. Brace yourself for a long road ahead, but these options should help guide you and get you to a place of peace. You've got this! 💪🏾