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If you’re in debt, you’re not alone. Americans increased their total debt balances to 17.05 trillion in the first quarter of 2023 from 16.9 trillion at the conclusion of 2022. 

Getting out of debt can be tricky and sometimes confusing as there’s a ton of advice on what to do. Whichever methods you ultimately decide to use on your financial journey, here’s what not to do.

Mistakes to avoid when trying to get out of debt

Knowing what the common mistakes are — and how to avoid them — can help you have realistic expectations and make deft-relief plans that work. 

The first common mistake is thinking there’s a solution with immediate results.

“Unfortunately, there isn’t a quick fix to getting out of debt overnight, but [by] understanding where you are currently [and] creating a plan and sticking to the plan, you’ll work towards becoming debt free,” says Naima Bush, a chartered financial consultant in Washington D.C.

Other mistakes include the following:

  • Not changing your spending habits. If you’re struggling to pay off debt, you probably need to change your spending habits. If you limit your spending, you can dedicate more money towards paying back your loans. That also means not falling back into old habits like building up debt again once you pay it off.
  • Closing credit cards after paying them off. When you pay off a credit card, you might have the desire to close it so you can better avoid temptation. But it’s usually a mistake to close a card. That’s because your credit score is partially based on the longevity of your accounts. Holding on to long-standing accounts is good for your credit score. Keep the card open and use it sparingly or, if you’re worried that the temptation will become too strong, keep it tucked away and out of sight.
  • Neglecting your emergency fund. Don’t get so focused on debt payoff that you deplete or neglect an emergency fund — which can keep you from getting into more debt in the future. Build an emergency fund as you pay off your debt if you don’t already have one. That way, you’ll be prepared so an emergency won’t send you back to the starting line. 
  • Getting discouraged. If you go hard, making sacrifices to pay off debt quickly and aggressively, you may lose motivation as time drags on. In most cases, paying off debt is not a sprint, but a marathon. Pace yourself to stay on track. “Stay the course and build on the progress that you already have,” says Bush. 
  • Not getting help when you need it. Though uncomfortable and even scary, dealing with debt is a reality many people face. There’s no reason to struggle alone. If you’re looking for help, consult a resource like the .

Best ways to get out of debt

Like most financial goals, there’s no one right way to get out of debt — but that doesn’t mean you should approach it haphazardly. “Have a plan in place,” advised Bryan Huhn, CFP and founder of Reflective Wealth in Dallas. “Not just a plan to pay off debt, but a plan that helps you create a vision of what you want your life to look like. With a good plan, making debt payments actually feels good.”  

The best strategies for debt repayment depend on your unique situation, but there are some general tips to keep in mind when forming your plan.

Use the debt snowball or debt avalanche method

Try a common debt payoff strategy like the debt snowball method or debt avalanche method. These methods involve paying off your smallest debt or your highest-interest debt first, respectively, while paying minimums on everything else. 

Each strategy has its merits. The debt snowball method can keep you motivated with quicker wins, while the debt avalanche method can save you money in the long run. Choose the strategy that makes the most sense to you.

Consider refinancing or consolidating your debt

If you have debt with high interest rates, you may be able to save money by refinancing or consolidating your debt. Refinancing involves securing more favorable terms — like a lower interest rate — for your debt. Debt consolidation allows you to lump all your debts into one payment. Debt consolidation loans typically offer competitive interest rates, though you’ll need a good credit score to get the best loans.

Allocate any raises, bonuses and windfalls to debt repayment

If you’re focused on getting out of debt, make a rule that any extra cash in your bank account will go toward repayment. For example, if you get a raise, don’t add more expenses to your budget. Instead, funnel the extra cash toward paying off debt. You can apply the same idea toward bonuses, commissions and any other windfall you receive.

Increase your income

Though easier said than done, increasing your income is one of the best ways out of debt, yet you might not know how to do so. A good place to start is by looking at job sites. Sites like Indeed and Glassdoor can show you jobs in your field that pay more. They can also open a new door to plenty of other jobs that will help enhance your income. 

Decrease your expenditures

Consider any expenses you can lower or even completely cut so you can pay more toward your debt. For example, can you eat out less and cook more meals at home? Shop second-hand?    Even short-term sacrifices can add up and go a long way toward repaying your debt more quickly. Larger costs may be worth looking at too. Could you sell your vehicle and use public transportation? 

How to pay off debt fast

If you’re determined to pay off debt fast, follow these three steps.

  1. Look at the whole picture. This part might not be fun, but it’s vital. Research how much you owe to whom and what the interest rates are. 
  2. Pick the best debt strategies for you. Based on your whole picture, figure out what’s possible and what’s best for you. It can literally pay off to have a game plan and tackle debt strategically. 
  3. Stick with it. Remember that paying down debt is typically a long-term race, not a short sprint. You need to be able to live relatively comfortably and be happy as you work towards your financial goals.  

Finally, it may seem obvious, but whenever possible, pay more than the minimum monthly  payments on your debt. Whenever you end up with excess cash in any budget category, throw it at your debt. The more you can do this, the faster you’ll get out of debt. 

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

The most obvious — and usually best — option for getting out of debt is to pay it back in full. Using a strategic debt repayment method, refinancing your debt and exceeding your minimum monthly payments are a few ways to speed up the process.

There are other ways of getting out of debt, including debt settlement and bankruptcy. But these strategies are last-resorts for Americans who are under crushing amounts of debt.

The 10/20 debt rule (which is sometimes flipped and called the 20/10 debt rule) is a guideline to help consumers avoid taking on too much debt. The rule suggests you should spend no more than 10% of your monthly take-home pay on consumer debt payments while spending no more than 20% of your annual take-home pay on debt. These guidelines don’t include mortgage payments.

If you want to be debt free in six months, you’ll need to start by gathering information. For each of your debts look up the amounts you owe, the minimum payments and the interest rates. Plug this information, along with your six-month deadline, into a debt-payoff calculator, which you can easily find online. The calculator will show the monthly payments you’ll need to make to be debt free in six months.

There aren’t grants dedicated to debt relief, but there are grants for other purposes that can help free up money for debt repayment. Some examples include housing vouchers, food and health programs, energy assistance programs and student loan grants.

If you’re really struggling, you can always get help in the form of credit counseling. Organizations like the can help.

If you’re trying to get out of debt on a low income, a few strategies can help. Try the debt snowball method. This can keep you motivated, especially with wins early on. You can also try to increase your income; ask for a raise, find another job through research and job boards or start a side hustle. And do what you can to improve your credit score, which can help you lock in better interest rates on any future loans you need, including, potentially, a debt consolidation loan.

Blueprint is an independent publisher and comparison service, not an investment advisor. The information provided is for educational purposes only and we encourage you to seek personalized advice from qualified professionals regarding specific financial decisions. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

Blueprint has an advertiser disclosure policy. The opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Blueprint editorial staff alone. Blueprint adheres to strict editorial integrity standards. The information is accurate as of the publish date, but always check the provider’s website for the most current information.

Emily Batdorf

BLUEPRINT

I'm a personal finance geek with a knack for words. I love making the world of personal finance more accessible to all people -- whether that's explaining the benefits of high-yield savings accounts, comparing budgeting strategies, or sharing the ins and outs of opening a Roth IRA. Recently, my work has appeared on Forbes Advisor.

Jenn Jones

BLUEPRINT

Jenn Jones is the deputy editor for banking at 91Ӱ Blueprint. She brings years of writing and analytical skills to bear, as she was previously a senior writer at LendingTree, a finance manager at World Car dealerships and an editor at Standard & Poor’s Capital IQ. Her work has been featured on MSN, F&I Magazine and Automotive News. She holds a B.S. in commerce from the University of Virginia.

Maddie Panzer

BLUEPRINT

Maddie Panzer is the Updates Editor on the 91Ӱ Blueprint team. Prior to joining the team, she studied journalism at the University of Florida. During her studies, she worked as a reporter for the New York Post, WUFT News and News 4 Jacksonville. She was also editor-in-chief of her school’s magazine, Orange and Blue. Maddie holds a B.S. in Journalism.