Money & Career

6 ways to get out of debt fast

By: Jasmine Miller

©iStockphoto.com/Svetlana Damjanac Author: Canadian Living Credits: ©iStockphoto.com/Svetlana Damjanac

Money & Career

6 ways to get out of debt fast

By: Jasmine Miller

When it comes to tackling debt, most of us know what to do: Spend less, save more. But if it were really that simple, Canadians wouldn't be so mired in red ink. Stephanie Holmes is a Nova Scotia-based financial advisor and author of Diffusing the Debt Bomb and $pent, who recognizes that there is no easy answer to any debt problem.

Holmes offers small tweaks that will help you speed up your repayment and get out of debt faster.



6 ways to get out of debt:

1. Pay bills every pay day
Most debt statements are due monthly, but most salaries are paid every two weeks. So pay part of every bill, every time you get paid. Benefit: smaller amounts feel more manageable and the chance of missing a payment (and incurring a penalty and more interest) is reduced.

Automate bill payments so that you pay your creditors without having to write a cheque or log on to an online account.

Ratchet it up a notch: Let's say your credit card minimum payment is $100. Pay $60 every two weeks and you'll make more headway with over payments you barely notice.

2. Change your debt structure
When it comes to debt vehicles and the lending institutions that have extended them, "the fewest number possible means the least amount of effort and stress," says Holmes.

If you want to get out of debt, get rid of the retail credit cards, since they have onerous interest rates compared to those from major lenders. Two credit cards should be enough; close the rest. You'll pay less in annual fees.

3. Start a debt 'snowball' plan
Make a list of your debts (excluding your mortgage), starting with the smallest balance and ending with the highest. Make the minimum payments on all your debts, but make an extra payment on the one with the smallest balance. When that debt is paid off, divert the payment you were making on it to the next debt on the list. By the time you get to the second and third debts, you'll be making significant payments to the principal, which is the only way to actually eliminate a debt.

Holmes recommends the website WhatsTheCost.com. "I love it," she says. "It's a neat little calculator that when you press 'solve', it gives you a table so you can literally see how fast you could pay off that debt." When a debt is paid off, close the account associated with it.

The success of snowballing is based on the assumption that you can afford the minimum payments on all your debts. (If you can't, consider credit counseling.)
4. Start a debt 'stacking' plan
Make a list of your debts (excluding your mortgage), starting with the one that has the highest interest rate. Make the minimum payments on all your debts, but make an extra payment on the one with the highest interest rate. When that first debt is paid off, divert the payment you were making on it to the next debt on the list.

Since most credit card interest is compounded, you will save money focusing on interest rates. If, however, you need quick gratification, the encouragement of small successes (a credit card statement that finally reads "balance: $0"), to commit, 'snowballing' might be more lucrative for you.

Bottom line: pick the plan you can stick to. That's the one that will help you get out of debt fastest.

5. Sign up for an 'all-in-one' account
All-in-one accounts replace the traditional scenario of a mortgage and separate checking and/or savings accounts with a single account that includes your mortgage and into which your salary is deposited.

"It's a giant line of credit with checking and savings accounts attached," says Holmes. The advantage is that deposits earn interest every day. These small amounts add up and are automatically applied to your debt.

You do have to be disciplined though, because "you're walking around with a debit card attached to your house," says Holmes. Here's what she does to protect herself: "Every week, I move a certain amount automatically to my checking account held at a different institution," she says. That is the money she spends -- no more -- leaving the rest in the all-in-one.

"It creates a vicious cycle in the right direction," says Holmes. "Every penny of interest is going toward debt repayment."

6. Rent things
"Let go of the idea that owning is better," says Holmes. This is especially true for depreciating assets, the largest of which is probably your car. It's unrealistic to think people will go from commuting to taking public transit, but in larger cities, long-term car rentals or car co-ops can be cheaper than owning.

If you can find a monthly rental for the same price as your lease payment, and use insurance attached to one of your credit cards (many include this coverage as a standard feature; car co-ops include insurance in their rates), you'll save money that can be diverted to paying down debt.

This also applies to tools that pile up at home. How often do you use that drill, reciprocating saw and palm sander? You'll clear out square footage by off loading these items on CraigsList. You'll also make a dent in your debt (by putting the money you get on the principal) and free up enough cash to rent the items if you need them again. (You won't need them again.)
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Money & Career

6 ways to get out of debt fast