# The Best Ways to Pay Off Your Debt

The best way to pay off your short-term and revolving debtA source of debt, such as a credit card or line of credit, with a stated maximum against which you can borrow and can re-pay at your discretion. More depends on your priorities and what motivates you. Two of the common approaches for determining the order in which to re-pay your loans discussed in financial literacy circles are the Debt Snowball and Debt Avalanche approaches.

Both of these methods apply when you have more than one debt that needs to be re-paid. If you have only one debt to re-pay, the best strategy is to pay it down as quickly as possible, making the minimum payments as often as you can to avoid finance charges which will be added to your principalThe amount of money you borrowed or deposited, excluding any accumulated interest. Some examples include:

• Credit cards: The amount of purchases you have made but not paid on your credit card ... More in addition to the interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More charges on any portion of your balance you don’t pay.

In this post, I’ll describe how the two debt-repayment methods work using some illustrations. I will then help you understand which approach might be better for you or you can put your information in this calculator. For more information about the fundamentals of debt, check out my posts on loans and credit cards.

## What’s Included and What’s Not

The debts covered by this post include credit cards (one kind of revolving debtA source of debt, such as a credit card or line of credit, with a stated maximum against which you can borrow and can re-pay at your discretion. More), personal loans, car loans and other bills that are overdue. While longer-term loans, such as mortgages, are referenced in the budgeting process, I haven’t included them in the debt re-payment examples. If you have unpaid short-term debt, you’ll want to keep up with the payments on these longer-term loans first, but don’t need to pre-pay them. For this discussion, I will assume that you intend to re-pay all of your debts to your current debtholders. That is, you haven’t dug a hole so deep you need to declare bankruptcy and you don’t feel you’ll benefit from transferring some or all of your high-interest rate loan balances to one with a lower interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More (i.e., debt consolidationThe process of transferring balances from high interest-rate loans and credit cards to one with a lower interest rate. By doing so, the payments are lower making it easier to re-pay debts More).

## Debt Snowball

Dave Ramsay, a well-known author on financial literacy topics, proposed the Debt Snowball method for paying off your debts. Under this method, you do the following:

- Identify all of your debts, including the amounts of the minimum payments.
- Make a budgetA plan showing targets for income and expenses over a fixed time period, such as a month or a year. More. (See this post for more on budgeting generally or this one for the first of a step-by-step series on budgeting including a helpful spreadsheet.) Your budgetA plan showing targets for income and expenses over a fixed time period, such as a month or a year. More should include all of your expenses excluding your short-term and revolving debts but including the payments you plan to make on your longer-term debts (e.g., car loans and mortgages).
- Determine the total amount left in your budgetA plan showing targets for income and expenses over a fixed time period, such as a month or a year. More available to re-pay your debts, remembering that you need to be able to pay for the total cost of all of your current purchases before you start paying off the balances on your existing debt. If the amount available to re-pay debts is less than the total of your minimum payments, you may need to look into your options to consolidate or re-structure your debts, get them forgiven or declare bankruptcy.
- Otherwise, make the minimum paymentThe minimum amount you must pay every month.Remember, though, you will be charged interest on the amount of money you don’t pay. More on all of your debts except the smallest one.
- Take everything left over in your budgetA plan showing targets for income and expenses over a fixed time period, such as a month or a year. More from step (3) and reduce it by the sum of the minimum payments in step (4). Use that balance to pay off your smallest debt. After you fully re-pay the smallest debt, you’ll apply the remainder to the next smallest debt and so on.

## Debt Avalanche

The Debt Avalanche method is very similar to the Debt Snowball method, except you re-pay your debts in a different order.

The first three steps under the Debt Avalanche method are the same as the first three steps under the Debt Snowball method. It differs from the Debt Snowball method in that you pay the minimum paymentThe minimum amount you must pay every month.Remember, though, you will be charged interest on the amount of money you don’t pay. More on all of your debts except the one with the *highest interest rateThe percentage which, when multiplied by the face amount or principal of a financial instrument, such as a bond, savings account or loan, determines the amount of interest that will be paid to or by t... More* at any given time instead of the one with the *smallest balance*.

## Examples

I’ve created the two examples to compare the two methods. In both examples, I have assumed that you use a different credit card or pay cash for all new purchases until your current credit card balances are re-paid. That is, to make progress on getting out of debt, you need to not only make extra payments on your existing debts, but also not create additional debt by borrowing to pay for new purchases. It’s tough!

### Example 1

In this example, you have two debts with the balances due, interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More rates and minimum payments shown in the table below.

Example 1 | Balance Due | interest rateThe percentage which, when multiplied by the face amount or principal of a financial instrument, such as a bond, savings account or loan, determines the amount of interest that will be paid to or by t... More | minimum paymentThe minimum amount you must pay every month.Remember, though, you will be charged interest on the amount of money you don’t pay. More |

Debt 1 | $1,500 | 20% | $30 |

Debt 2 | 500 | 10% | 10 |

You have determined you have $100 available to pay off these two debts. The minimum payments total $40 in this example, so you have $60 available to pay off more of the principalThe amount of money you borrowed or deposited, excluding any accumulated interest. Some examples include:

• Credit cards: The amount of purchases you have made but not paid on your credit card ... More on your debts.

#### Example 1: Debt Snowball

Under the Debt Snowball method, you will use the additional $60 a month you have to pay off Debt 2 first, as it has the smaller balance. That is, you will pay the minimum paymentThe minimum amount you must pay every month.Remember, though, you will be charged interest on the amount of money you don’t pay. More of $30 a month on Debt 1 and $70 a month on Debt 2 for 8 months, at which point Debt 2 will be fully re-paid. You will then apply the full $100 a month to Debt 1 for the next 17 months until it is fully re-paid

Under this approach, you will have fully re-paid both debts in 25 months and will pay $428 in interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More charges.

#### Example 1: Debt Avalanche

In Example 1, you will use the additional $60 a month you have to pay off Debt 1 first under the Debt Avalanche method, as it has the higher interest rateThe percentage which, when multiplied by the face amount or principal of a financial instrument, such as a bond, savings account or loan, determines the amount of interest that will be paid to or by t... More, whereas you used the additional amount to pay off Debt 2 first under the Debt Snowball method. That is, you will pay the minimum balance of $10 a month on Debt 2 and $90 a month on Debt 1 for 20 months, at which point Debt 1 will be fully re-paid. You will then apply the full $100 a month to Debt 2 for the next 4 months until it is fully re-paid

Under this approach, you will have fully re-paid both debts in 24 months and will pay $352 in interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More charges.

### Example 2

In this example, you have five debts with the balances due, interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More rates and minimum payments shown in the table below.

Example 2 | Balance Due | interest rateThe percentage which, when multiplied by the face amount or principal of a financial instrument, such as a bond, savings account or loan, determines the amount of interest that will be paid to or by t... More | minimum paymentThe minimum amount you must pay every month.Remember, though, you will be charged interest on the amount of money you don’t pay. More |

Debt 1 | $1,000 | 10% | $40 |

Debt 2 | 500 | 0% | 25 |

Debt 3 | 10,000 | 20% | 100 |

Debt 4 | 3,000 | 15% | 75 |

Debt 5 | 750 | 5% | 30 |

You have $500 available to pay off these debts. In this example, the minimum payments total $270, so you have $230 available to pay off the principalThe amount of money you borrowed or deposited, excluding any accumulated interest. Some examples include:

• Credit cards: The amount of purchases you have made but not paid on your credit card ... More on your debts in addition to the principalThe amount of money you borrowed or deposited, excluding any accumulated interest. Some examples include:

• Credit cards: The amount of purchases you have made but not paid on your credit card ... More included in the minimum payments.

#### Example 2: Debt Snowball

Example 2 is a bit more complicated because there are more debts. As a reminder, under this approach, you apply all of your extra payments ($230 in this example) to the smallest debt at each point in time. In this example, you will make the additional payments on your debts in the following order:

Debt 2

Debt 5

Debt 1

Debt 4

Debt 3

It takes only two months to pay off Debt 2 and another four months to pay off Debt 4. As such, you will have fully re-paid two of your debts in six months. In total, it will take 43 months to re-pay all of your loans and you will pay $5,800 in interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More.

#### Example 2: Debt Avalanche

In this example, you will make the additional payments on your debts in the following order:

Debt 3

Debt 4

Debt 1

Debt 5

Debt 2

It turns out that Debt 2 is fully re-paid in 20 months even just making the minimum payments. Debt 5 is paid off 7 months later again with only minimum payments, followed by Debt 1 2 months later. As each of these debts is re-paid, the amounts of their minimum payments are added to the payment on Debt 3 until it is fully re-paid after 39 months. At that point, the full $500 a month is applied towards Debt 4 which then takes only 2 additional months to fully re-pay. In total, it will take 41 months to re-pay all of your loans and you will pay $5,094 in interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More.

## Comparison

### Dollars and Sense – Two Examples

Looking at the two examples, we can get a sense for how much more interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More you will pay if you use the Debt Snowball method instead of the Debt Avalanche method. The table below compares the two methods under both examples.

Example 1 | Example 2 | |||

interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More Paid | Months of Payments | interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More Paid | Months of Payments | |

Snowball | $428 | 25 | $5,800 | 43 |

Avalanche | 352 | 24 | 5,094 | 41 |

Difference | 74 | 1 | 706 | 2 |

In these two examples, you pay more than 10% more interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More if you use the Debt Snowball method than the Debt Avalanche method, leading to one or two additional months before your debts are fully re-paid.

### Dollars and Sense – In General

The difference in the amount of additional interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More depends on whether your debts are similar in size and the differences in the interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More rates. I’ll take that statement apart to help you understand it.

- If the debt with the lower interest rateThe percentage which, when multiplied by the face amount or principal of a financial instrument, such as a bond, savings account or loan, determines the amount of interest that will be paid to or by t... More is very small, you will pay it off quickly. As a result, there is only a very short period of time during which you are paying the higher interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More on the larger loan under the Debt Snowball method. As such, there will be very little difference in the total amount of interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More paid between the two methods in that case.
- If the debts all have about the same interest rateThe percentage which, when multiplied by the face amount or principal of a financial instrument, such as a bond, savings account or loan, determines the amount of interest that will be paid to or by t... More, it doesn’t really matter which one you re-pay first, as the interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More charges on that first loan will be very similar to the interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More charges on your other loans.

### Dollars and Sense – Illustration

The graph below illustrates the impact of the differences in interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More rates and sizes of two loans on the difference in the total interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More paid. To create this graph, I took different variations of Example 1. That is, you have two loans with outstanding balances totaling $2,000 and the interest rateThe percentage which, when multiplied by the face amount or principal of a financial instrument, such as a bond, savings account or loan, determines the amount of interest that will be paid to or by t... More on the larger debt is 20%.

#### How to Read the Axes

The interest rateThe percentage which, when multiplied by the face amount or principal of a financial instrument, such as a bond, savings account or loan, determines the amount of interest that will be paid to or by t... More on the smaller loan was calculated as 20% minus the increment shown on the axis labeled on the right. That is, the interest rateThe percentage which, when multiplied by the face amount or principal of a financial instrument, such as a bond, savings account or loan, determines the amount of interest that will be paid to or by t... More on the smaller loan for scenarios near the “front” of the graph was 18% or 2 percentage points lower than the 20% interest rateThe percentage which, when multiplied by the face amount or principal of a financial instrument, such as a bond, savings account or loan, determines the amount of interest that will be paid to or by t... More on the larger loan. Near the “back” of the graph, the interest rateThe percentage which, when multiplied by the face amount or principal of a financial instrument, such as a bond, savings account or loan, determines the amount of interest that will be paid to or by t... More on the smaller loan is 0% or 20 percentage points lower than the interest rateThe percentage which, when multiplied by the face amount or principal of a financial instrument, such as a bond, savings account or loan, determines the amount of interest that will be paid to or by t... More on the larger loan.

The loan balance on the smaller loan divided by the total debt amount of $2,000 is shown on the axis that goes from left to right. The small loan is $40 (2% of $2,000) at the far left of the graph and increases as you move to the right to $960 (48% of $2,000) on the far right. Note that, if the small loan exceeded $1,000, it would have become the bigger loan!

#### The Green Curve

The green curve corresponds to the total interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More paid using the Debt Snowball method minus the total interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More paid using the Debt Avalanche method. For example, at the front left, corresponding to the small loan being $40 with an 18% (=20% – 2%) interest rateThe percentage which, when multiplied by the face amount or principal of a financial instrument, such as a bond, savings account or loan, determines the amount of interest that will be paid to or by t... More, there is a $2 difference in the amount of interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More paid. At the other extreme, in the back right of the graph (0% interest rateThe percentage which, when multiplied by the face amount or principal of a financial instrument, such as a bond, savings account or loan, determines the amount of interest that will be paid to or by t... More on a small loan with a balance of $960), you will pay $167 more in interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More ($308 versus $140 or more than twice as much) if you use the Debt Snowball method rather than the Debt Avalanche method.

#### What It Means

Interestingly, moving along only one axis – that is, only decreasing the interest rateThe percentage which, when multiplied by the face amount or principal of a financial instrument, such as a bond, savings account or loan, determines the amount of interest that will be paid to or by t... More on the small loan or only increasing the size of the smaller loan – doesn’t make very much difference. In the back left and front right, the interest rateThe percentage which, when multiplied by the face amount or principal of a financial instrument, such as a bond, savings account or loan, determines the amount of interest that will be paid to or by t... More differences are only $15 and $22, respectively. The savings from the Debt Avalanche method becomes most important when there is a large difference in the interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More rates on the loans and the outstanding balances on the loans are similar in size.

### Sense of Accomplishment

For many people, debt is an emotional or “mental-state” issue rather than a financial problem. In those situations, it is more important to gain a sense of accomplishment than it is to save money on interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More. If you are one of those people and have one or more small debts that you can fully re-pay fairly quickly (such as Debts 2 and 5 in Example 2 both of which were paid off in six months under the Debt Snowball method), using the Debt Snowball method is likely to be much more successful.

## Key Points

Here are the key points from this post:

- A budgetA plan showing targets for income and expenses over a fixed time period, such as a month or a year. More will help you figure out how much you can afford to apply to your debts each month.
- If you can’t cover your minimum payments, you’ll need to consider some form of consolidation, re-financing or even bankruptcy, none of which are covered in this post.
- If you have only one debt to re-pay, the best strategy is to pay it down as quickly as possible, but making the minimum payments as often as you can to avoid finance charges.
- You will always pay at least as much, and often more, interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More when you use the Debt Snowball method as compared to the Debt Avalanche method.
- Unless you have two or more debts that are all about the same size and have widely varying interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More rates, the total interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More you will pay is essentially the same regardless of the order in which you re-pay them. As such, if the sense of accomplishment you get from paying off a few debts will help keep you motivated, using the Debt Snowball method may be the right choice for you.
- If you have two or more debts that are all about the same size and have disparate interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More rates, you will want to use the Debt Avalanche Approach. Because the balances are all about the same, it will take about the same amount of time to re-pay the first loan regardless of which loan you choose to re-pay first! As such, it is better to focus on the interestA charge for borrowing money, most often based on a percentage of the amount owed. More you will save by using the Debt Avalanche approach.

Susie Q is a retired property-casualty actuaryA professional who assesses and manages the risks of financial investments, insurance policies and other potentially risky ventures. Source: www.investopedia.com/terms/a/actuary.asp More and mother of two adult children. As her children were moving from their teens into their 20s, she found she was frequently a resource on many, many financial decisions and she had insights and information she could provide to them. She spent a significant portion of my career building statistical models of all of the financial risks of an insurance company and interpreting their findings to help senior management make better financial decisions. She is the primary author at Financial IQ by Susie Q and volunteers with other organizations related to financial education.