How to Manage Debt as a Single Parent in 2019

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When student loan deferment ended for Samantha Gregory, a single mom and founder of site Rich Single Momma, she had one reaction to her payments: sticker shock. “The amount they were asking for was so astronomical, it was bananas,” she said.

As a single mom in debt, these high payments were added to the already steep financial demands of covering household expenses and supporting her children, including one with special needs — all on one income.

Adding debt to the significant challenges of single parenting “puts a strain on not just your finances, but your emotions, your mental health,” she said. “It’s like, ‘I have this burden over my head so how am I going to take care of it and take care of my family?’”

It’s a question any single parent in debt may find themselves asking. There’s no one right answer, but the good news is that there are smart steps a single mom or dad can use to tackle debt. Here are some tested and certified strategies for how to manage debt as a single parent.

8 strategies for a single parent in debt

1. Keep debt on your radar

A key to managing money as a single parent in debt is to keep an eye on what you owe. Gregory warned against letting debt slip in your money management juggling act. “I know for me in the past, I’ve tried to ignore it and hope it would go away,” she said. “But it doesn’t go away. It’s still there, lingering.”

Keep your debts on your radar, so you’re not losing track of them, falling behind on payments or damaging your credit. If you don’t know what you owe, pull your free credit report and look up each outstanding debt you have and record the balance, interest rate, monthly payment and due date. Start a habit of reviewing these accounts regularly.

2. Work with your lender

Once you know what you owe, see if your lender offers any help or accommodations that can make this debt easier to manage.

You’ll have the most options for dealing with federal student loans, as servicers must provide you with options to forbear or defer payments, or switch to a different repayment plan.

Even for other types of debt, it can’t hurt to ask your lender if they’re willing to work with you. They might be open to giving you an extension on your payment, and some lenders will let you skip a payment now and tack it onto the end of your repayment period instead.

3. Claim benefits and support

Help isn’t always easy to come by as a single parent, so make sure you’re claiming the benefits and child support to which you’re entitled.

Federal assistance programs such as Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and school lunch programs can ease pressure on your budget while keeping everyone fed, for example. Other programs can assist with fixed monthly costs such as housing, child care or health insurance. Many state and local programs can offer additional help.

Single parents should also consider filing for child support. If you’re already entitled to such payments but the other parent isn’t paying, or you feel it’s not enough, consider pursuing legal steps to get adequate support for your family.

4. Revisit your budget

As a single parent with debt, living within your means is the foundation of your financial security. Review your budget to see if there are areas you’re wasting money on things you don’t need or use, whether it’s a neglected gym membership or a house you’re realizing is roomier than necessary. Consider lifestyle changes and sacrifices — big or small — that you could make to lower your monthly costs.

Look for ways to free up some of the mental space you’re using for your money, too, Gregory suggested. She likes to automate payments, for example, to ensure they’re going out on time with less effort on her part.

5. Sell your extra time and stuff

To the single mom in debt, Gregory suggested looking for ways to generate some extra cash. “I’m a firm believer in side hustles,” she said. “There are so many options out there available to create a side hustle, start a business or just get another part-time job or work-from-home job.”

Then, “look around your house and if you have something valuable you can sell, sell it,” she said. Doing so can bring a fast cash infusion that can help you stay current on debt payments, or even make an extra payment.

It can be a tough and even emotional to sell some belongings, Gregory acknowledged. But, “It’s just things and they’re replaceable, whereas your peace of mind, your family and kids, and your health are not replaceable,” she said.

6. Make extra debt payments

If you can carve out extra savings, that’s money you can use to pay off your debts faster. One method to do so is the debt snowball:

  • Figure out how much more of your monthly income you can afford to devote to making extra debt payments. Include this as a line item in your budget.
  • Put that extra cash toward your debt with the lowest balance, and make the minimum payment on all of your other debts.
  • Watch the balance on your high-priority debt decrease faster.
  • Once your first debt is gone, “roll over” the funds budgeted for your monthly payment and the extra payment and apply them to the next low-balance debt.

Making extra debt payments will lower your principal faster which will, in turn, lower your interest costs. As a result, this strategy could avoid hundreds of dollars in interest and shave months or even years off your debt repayment.

7. Consider debt consolidation

For a single parent, debt consolidation can be another way to get ahead. Consolidating debt makes the most sense when doing so will lower the interest rates you’re paying.

A credit card balance transfer is one way to accomplish this. You can open a credit card with a 0% introductory rate. Then, transfer existing balances to this new credit card (note that this will often incur a balance transfer fee) and you can repay this debt interest-free.

If you have higher debt balances or prefer a fixed repayment plan, a personal loan could be the way to consolidate debt. To do so, you can take out a new personal loan with the rates, term or payments you would prefer and use the loan funds to pay off and replace existing debts. You can compare various lenders with our debt consolidation comparison page to get an idea of the terms and rates for which you could qualify.

8. Tap your community for support

Managing debt as a single parent can be hard on you because, at the end of the day, paying them comes down to you alone. “In the back of your mind, you’re thinking ‘There’s no one who can help me with this,’” Gregory said.

However, you don’t have to go it alone — there are often people who are ready and willing to help as close as your own backyard. So let them! Family and friends can help you out in a variety of ways, from spotting you cash in a tight month to helping with child care. You can also get assistance from your church, community and local nonprofits or programs.

Even if you don’t always find the help you need right away, asking around can start you on the track to getting the recommendation or referral that leads you there. Gregory also suggested online communities, such as local or single-parent Facebook groups, as a way to crowdsource solutions and get connected with helpful resources.

Pass your debt and money lessons on to your kids

Debt can be a big regret for many single parents. “If I had more information when I was going to college, I wouldn’t have taken out so many loans,” Gregory said.

But these ideas for how to manage debt as a single parent can help you push past regret into action. In doing so, you’ll be creating the financial security that your kids need, all while modeling what good money and debt management look like in action.

Gregory, for example, used her experience with student debt to warn her daughter away from borrowing to pay for college. As a result, “She’s really blessed that she doesn’t have to take out student loans, so she won’t be saddled with that big debt when she graduates from college,” she said.

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Elyssa Kirkham
Elyssa Kirkham |

Elyssa Kirkham is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Elyssa here

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