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Pay Down My Debt

Ways to Control Your Spending and Expenses to Reduce Debt

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Updated December 7, 2018

Getting out of debt is a special kind of challenge. Paying down any substantial amount can seem insurmountable, especially in contrast to how easy it probably was to rack up.

Small amounts of overspending can add up fast. Spending a mere $5 more than you can afford every day will result in almost $2,000 in credit card bills after just one year — and that’s before accounting for the sky-high interest rates that will compound your obligation. And of course, big bills can appear out of the blue — an emergency medical expense or a job loss can drive you into debt fast.

Regardless of whether small purchases are adding up or you have a financial emergency crop up, your finances are in hot water if you are spending more than your income. Even if you are able to tighten your spending and pay what you owe, you’ll be back in debt in no time if you don’t fix the underlying problem, which could include:

  • Carelessness with money
  • Unmanageable fixed expenses
  • Unstable income

Here are some tips to help you cut spending and get out of debt by steadily paying down your bills.

5 ways to trim spending and pay down your debt

1. Set up an ‘I love me’ plan

One of the best ways to reduce spending is to get a handle on where all your money goes and set limits on how much you can spend on each of your needs and wants. This may sound like a familiar concept, but it can help to reframe how you think about budgeting.

“I know everybody hates the ‘b’ word,” said Sonya Smith-Valentine, president and financial confidence expert at Financially Fierce, a financial training company. “But I don’t call mine a budget. I call mine an ‘I love me’ plan. In that plan, I’m trying to find every way possible to love me and keep my money in my pocket.”

Not sure where to get started? Check out these strategies for managing your money.

Still, the skinny of it all is this: You need to understand how much money is going in and out of your pocket every month. That means putting down in writing:

  • Your monthly income
  • Your recurring monthly costs (e.g. rent and insurance payments)
  • Your typical spending on extraneous things (e.g. going out for drinks)

Once you have those numbers in writing, you can start thinking about how you’ll approach paying down your debt. You’ll also be able to see which expenses you can start trimming, whether that’s negotiating your bill payments or cutting back on eating out.

2. Identify and trim discretionary expenses

The first and most important way to bring your expenses down below your income is to cut discretionary spending. It’s easy to spend too much without realizing how much is flying out of your wallet. A coffee here, a new pair of shoes there; a movie ticket, a week’s worth of groceries, a car payment.

Some of your expenses are necessary (the groceries). Others are fixed and non-negotiable (the car payment), and even more are discretionary (the movie ticket). Some of your spendings may be downright frivolous (expensive chocolate) or even wasteful (bank fees you can’t account for).

Look for obvious things to painlessly cut. For example, you may consider:

  • Buying generic-brand products instead of luxury products
  • Forgoing a trip to the movies in favor of a home rental
  • Cooking at home more often

With a little-determined effort, you can probably cut your spending noticeably without feeling too much pain.

Keep your eyes off ads and hands off your credit cards
Preventing yourself from making bigger purchases can take some real willpower. Online shopping can be a danger to those who have trouble keeping spending under control. One easy way to reduce temptation on this front is to unsubscribe from marketing emails that stores send you.

“Those emails are effective,” said Smith-Valentine. “Sometimes it’s just, ‘Oh, that shirt is pretty.’ It’s not that you need another shirt; your closet is full. It was 30% off. Unsubscribing from those emails can do wonders.”

It can also be helpful to delete your credit card information that’s stored in the website of stores you buy from often. If it’s more difficult to place an order, you’re less likely to give in to temptation.

Another way to keep yourself from buying when you shouldn’t is to put all your credit cards but one low-limit one in an inconvenient location. Simply deprive yourself easy access to all that juicy, enabling credit.

“The commercial is, ‘What’s in your wallet?’ That’s a good question. Take it out — you don’t need it,” said Smith-Valentine. “If I’m only walking with the $1,000-limit one, not the $8,000-limit one, I can’t get into so much trouble.”

3. Eliminate these ‘invisible’ costs

Nothing’s worse than paying for things you no longer want or need to be paying for, or are paying for by mistake. Keep an eagle eye out for these recurring costs that may be eating into your budget.

Subscription services
Many consumers are signed up for at least one subscription service, whether that’s cable service, a magazine, or the gym. It is particularly easy to sign up for digital services, too, which could put you at a higher risk of forgetting about an unwanted subscription.

And don’t forget about subscription services that offer a free trial period. Signing up for one and then forgetting to cancel your subscription could spell trouble for your budget.

Bank fees
There’s no good reason to be paying fees on a checking account, whether they’re monthly fees, overdraft fees or ATM fees. But these can be hard to spot and remember.

Smith-Valentine described to MagnifyMoney her own bank fee experience. “I noticed a fee going back a couple months and I was like, ‘Why am I being charged this $25 per month fee?’” she said. “I called the bank and they said, ‘Oh, we’ll eliminate the problem.’ It would have been about $300 for the year.”

That said, a quick call to your bank could have the fee reversed — but do you really want to be forced to keep your bank on a short leash? You may instead want to consider switching to a free checking account instead.

High credit card rates
It can never hurt to call your credit card company to see if they’ll lower your rate, especially if you’ve made on-time payments for the last year. They’ll be more likely to oblige if you pay a bit more than the minimum each month. For example, if the minimum is $25, pay $35 or more.

You may be able to secure a rate as much as a percentage point lower than your current rate, or potentially even more. One percentage point may not sound like a lot but, according to Smith-Valentine, “that’s still quite a bit of interest, depending on what kind of balance you’re carrying.”

Smith-Valentine also said that she’s seen people get their credit card company agreeing to rate reduction as high as 5%, just by asking.

4. Tackle these fixed expenses

Of course, not all expenses can be so easily managed. Most people have quite a few fixed expenses that they need to handle every month — mortgage payments, car payments, and student loan payments, for example. Some of these you won’t be able to budget, but others might have some wiggle room. You can even overhaul some of these if you’re willing to do what’s necessary.

One way of reducing your mortgage cost is refinancing your mortgage. Are current loan rates favorable? If your interest rate is at least a half-percentage point higher than current rates, it may make sense to refinance. Keep in mind that refinancing comes with fees usually totaling $3,000 to $5,000, so you’ll want to do the math to make sure it makes sense for your situation.

It goes without saying that if you can’t afford your monthly mortgage payment, refinancing isn’t an option, and there’s no way for you to increase your income, you may need to reconsider your living situation. That could mean getting a roommate or downsizing.

It’s a good idea to limit your rent payments to 25% of your gross monthly salary. One of the advantages of renting is that it gives you more flexibility than a homeowner, so if you’re spending too much, find out what’s required to break your lease and start looking for a place you can afford. If you lose a security deposit or have to double up on rent for a month in order to move out early, it may still be worth it if you’re able to secure far lower rent that you can keep for the long-term.

Car payments
It may be difficult to get rid of an automobile you can’t afford. A car depreciates substantially the minute you drive it off the lot, so if you financed the entire car you likely owe more than your car is worth for a while right after you buy it. Once your loan amount is just a bit below the possible sales price, you can sell it and find a cheaper option.

Until then, if you have good credit and your loan balance is less than your car’s value, you can look into auto loan refinancing. Credit unions often have great deals in this space — they are often easier to deal with, and they tend to have incredibly low interest rates and none of the junk fees.

“Most people don’t realize you can refinance car loans as well,” said Smith-Valentine. “People should look into it especially if they have a higher interest rate.”

Insurance policies
Are you overpaying on your insurance? That’s a question you need to consider. There are so many insurance purveyors out there that shopping around can bring you quite a lot of savings, especially for auto insurance. Progressive, for example, could be a good option for comparing auto insurance rates.

Regarding life insurance, if you have a whole life insurance policy, you are almost certainly paying too much. The purpose of life insurance is to make sure that people who depend on you can pay for their needs if you die. Life insurance is not designed to be a way to save for retirement or to give your children an inheritance. That means term life insurance is almost always the best option.

Student loans
There are a few things you can do to change the amount you pay on your student loans. Look into getting on an income-driven repayment plan, which will match the amount you pay to how much you make. You can also refinance your student loans with a private lender if you have a relatively high interest rate.

If you have multiple student loans with different interest rates, it may be possible to combine them into one federal or private student loan. But while you may be able to qualify for a lower rate by refinancing or consolidating with a private loan, you’ll miss out on federal benefits. On the other hand, you may only consolidate federal student loans with a federal Direct Consolidation Loan, and the rate you get will be the weighted average of the loans you consolidate. Further, the Department of Education does not offer refinancing.

Other debt payments
If you took out a personal loan or charged up your credit cards to cover medical expenses or other costs, you may be frustrated by the interest you’re paying. High rates could make it harder to get out of debt.

In these cases, you may consider refinancing your debt or taking out a debt consolidation loan. Both refinancing and consolidating debt could help you get a lower interest rate and other more favorable terms. Consolidating debt has the added benefit of combining multiple debts into one. That means you’ll have just one monthly payment to handle instead of multiple monthly payments.

LendingTree, which owns MagnifyMoney, offers a debt consolidation loan tool you could use to explore your options for debt consolidation. You’ll need to enter personal information before seeing whether you qualify for any loan offers. Still, the tool could help you see what rates and terms you qualify for from reputable lenders.

5. Address the core issue

This last tip may be the hardest of the bunch: It’s all about ensuring you have long-term success with your finances.

Many people change their spending habits in minor ways or only temporarily and then expect their debt problems to resolve. But if your spending goes right back up after your short-term belt-tightening, or your income can’t cover recurring expenses you can’t negotiate, your problems will continue unabated.

That means you have two good options for ensuring long-term:

  • Increase your income (asking for a raise, for example)
  • Tightening your budget — and really sticking to it

This latter option may be the hardest to digest.

“It’s truly a mindset issue; you’ve got to truly shift your mindset,” said Smith-Valentine. “You’re not going to be successful at getting out of debt and reducing your spending if your mindset is still of the belief that you’re going to live your life exactly the way it is now.”

Despite the reams of information available out there to help people deal with their finances — including this post — millions of people are still in financial trouble. Obviously getting out of debt takes more than information; the mindset shift about how to approach spending is the missing ingredient for many.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Katherine Gustafson |

Katherine Gustafson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Katherine here

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Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Disclosure : By clicking “See Offers” you’ll be directed to our parent company, LendingTree. You may or may not be matched with the specific lender you clicked on, but up to five different lenders based on your creditworthiness.

Before you read on, click here to download our FREE guide to become debt free forever!

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Updated – January 10, 2019

Digging out of credit card debt can feel frustrating, intimidating and ultimately impossible. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be any of those things if you learn how to take control.

Paying down debt is not only about finding the right financial tools, but also the right psychological ones. You need to understand why you racked up credit card debt in the first place. Perhaps it was a medical emergency or a home repair that needed to be taken care of immediately. Maybe you’d already drained your emergency fund on one piece of bad luck when misfortune struck again. Or maybe you’re struggling with a compulsive shopping problem, so paying down debt will likely result in you accumulating more until the addiction is addressed.

You also need to understand what motivates you to succeed. Do you want to pay down your credit card debt in the absolute fastest amount of time possible that will save more money or do you want to take some little wins along the way to keep yourself motivated?

Here’s a couple strategies consider as you learn the best way to handle credit card debt — and pay it off quickly.

2 common credit card debt repayment strategies

These repayment strategies can help you pay off credit card debt quickly. Keep in mind, you can use these strategies even for non-credit-card debt:

  • Debt avalanche: Focus on paying off the credit card with the highest interest rate first. Then, work your way down. This strategy can save you money on interest and get you out of debt sooner.
  • Debt snowball: Pay off your smallest debts first. Doing so can motivate you to continue making payments as you climb out of debt.

You don’t necessarily need to pick the repayment strategy that gets you out of debt the fastest. After all, if your repayment strategy doesn’t keep you motivated, you may not stick to it.

Using a personal loan or balance transfer credit card

As you seek to repay your debt, you could consider a personal loan or balance transfer credit card with a lower interest rate than on your existing debt. Transferring your debt to one of these financial products could help you reduce long-term interest costs.

But you’ll first need to learn whether or not you’re eligible. Your credit score will play a big role in determining your eligibility for a personal loan or balance transfer card. Use our widget below to figure out if a personal loan or a balance transfer is the best option for you!

What’s the best option for me?

Please enter information below and we’ll provide the best option to consolidate your credit card debt!

If you have a credit score above 640, you have a good chance of qualifying for a personal loan at a much lower interest rate than your credit card debt. With new internet-only personal loan companies, you can shop for loans without hurting your score. In just a few minutes, with a simple online form, you can get matched with multiple lenders. People with excellent credit can see APRs below 10%. But even if your credit isn’t perfect, you might be able to find a good loan to fit your needs.

Not sure what your credit score is? Click here to learn how and where to find out. If you know your credit score needs some work but not sure of what can be done, click here.

If you have a score above 700, you could also qualify for 0% balance transfer offers. We will talk more about balance transfers below but this option is the best way to pay off credit card debt if you’re able to qualify for a 0% APR balance transfer credit card.

A credit score of less than 600 will make it difficult for you to qualify for either option. If you have a credit score less than 640, struggling to make monthly debt payments and would like to explore your options to reduce your debt by up to 50%, then please click our option below to customize a personal debt relief plan.

Custom Debt Relief Plan

Now let’s talk about the financial tools to add to your debt repayment strategy in order to dig out of the hole.

Let’s say you have $10,000 in credit card debt, and are stuck paying 18% interest on it.

You already know that putting as much spare cash as you can toward paying down your debt is the most important thing to do. But once you’ve done that, so what’s next?

Use your good credit to make banks compete and cut your rates

You could save $1,800 a year in interest and lower your monthly payments based on several of the rates available today. That means you could pay it off almost 20% faster.

Here’s how it works.

Option One: Use a Balance Transfer (or Multiple Balance Transfers)

If you trust yourself to open a new credit card but not spend on it, consider a balance transfer. You may be able to cut your rate with a long 0% intro APR. You need to have a good credit score, and you might not get approved for the full amount that you want to transfer.

Your own bank might not give you a lower rate (or only drop it by a few percent), but there are lots of competing banks that may want to steal the business and give you a better rate.

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MagnifyMoney regularly surveys the market to find the best balance transfer credit cards. If you would like to see what other options exist, beyond Chase and Discover, you can start there.

promo-balancetransfer-halfIt also has tips to make sure you do a balance transfer safely. If you follow them you’ll save thousands on your debt by remaining disciplined.

You might be scared of a balance transfer, but there is no faster way to cut your interest payments than taking advantage of the best 0% or low interest deals banks are offering.

Thanks to recent laws, balance transfers aren’t as sneaky as they used to be, and friendlier for helping you cut your debt.

Sometimes the first bank you deal with won’t give you a big enough credit line to handle all your credit card debt. Maybe you’ll get a $5,000 credit line for a 0% deal, but have $10,000 in debt. That’s okay. In that case, apply for the next best balance transfer deal you see. MagnifyMoney’s list of deals makes it easy to sort them.

Banks are okay with you shopping around for more than one deal.

Option Two: Personal Loan

If you never want to see another credit card again, you should consider a personal loan. You can get prequalified at multiple lenders without hurting your credit score, and find the best deal to pay off your debt faster.

Personal loan interest rates are often about 10-20%, but can sometimes be as low as 5-6% if you have very good credit.

Moving from 18% interest on a credit card to 10% on a personal loan is a good deal for you. You’ll also get one set monthly payment, and pay off the whole thing in 3 to 5 years.

Sometimes this may mean a higher monthly payment than you’re used to, but you’re better off putting your cash toward a higher payment with a lower rate.

And you’ll get out of debt months or years faster by leaving more money to pay down the debt itself. If you want to shop for a personal loan, we recommend starting at LendingTree. With a single online form, dozens of lenders will compete for your business. Only a soft credit pull is completed, so your credit score will not be harmed. People with excellent scores can see low APRs (sometimes below 6%). And people with less than perfect scores still have a good chance of finding a lender to approve them.



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If you don’t want to shop at LendingTree, you can see our list of the best personal loans here.

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Brian Karimzad
Brian Karimzad |

Brian Karimzad is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brian at

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How to Manage Debt as a Single Parent in 2019

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.


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.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Elyssa Kirkham
Elyssa Kirkham |

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


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