Debt strategy #1: Research
Sometimes the first step is simply acknowledging that you're in debt. Your research can start with finding out exactly how much money you owe and to whom you owe it. This includes:
-Your line of credit
-Your credit cards
-Your student loans
-Any personal debt owed to friends or family
Once you have totalled your entire debt, then it's time to discover how much you're paying in interest, and how long it will take to pay the debt off. Your statements should include the total amount you owe, the interest rate and the length of time it will take to pay off your debt if you just pay the minimum.
Debt strategy #2: Tools
A spreadsheet is the best place to track your progress paying off debt. If you don't have spreadsheet software on your computer, free tools are available online, such as Google Docs, which has web-based spreadsheets that are shareable.
Also look for websites that offer calculators to help you understand your debt. For instance, the debt cost calculator from Credit Canada has you enter your balance, interest rate and minimum payment, then tells you how long it will take to pay the card off at that amount, and how much total interest you'll pay. Warning: The results can be scary, but the fun part is to play around with an increased monthly payment to see how much more quickly a debt can be repaid.
Once you've decided on your tool or tools, the next step is to enter in all your information: the amount of money owed, the interest rate and your minimum payments. Then you can calculate the time it will take to pay off your debt.
The numbers may be shocking when you finally see them on paper, but this is the opportunity to really take control of your debt and even increase your payments. Take a look at your budget and see where you can find an extra $5, $10 or $20. Enter the new amount into your tool or spreadsheet. You might be surprised at how that small increase can reduce your length of payment.
Debt strategy #3: Expertise
Everyone can use a little professional advice, especially if you're still learning about personal finance and money management. Consider going to the library and borrowing books or getting an unbiased expert opinion by booking an appointment with a financial counsellor, such as through the Consolidated Credit Counseling Services of Canada. The counsellor will offer advice on the best ways to pay off debt. You just have to decide on an action plan and stick to it.
The final thing you need to do is stick to your strategy. All the tools and information in the world aren't going to help you pay off your debt if you don't learn, plan and take action. Making the decision to pay off your debt in a smart, efficient way is the best financial decision you'll ever make -- and you might be surprised how quickly you can make it out of debt and start living debt free.