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The Benefits of Living Debt-Free

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When it comes to debt, most of us have outstanding balances of one kind or another. Indeed, a whopping 80 percent of Americans are living in the red, according to a 2015 Pew Charitable Trusts report — eight in every 10 U.S. adults.

It goes without saying that debt can majorly impact your financial freedom. At one point, Simone Dennis, a 29-year-old health policy analyst in Baltimore, was shelling out in excess of $1,000 a month in minimum payments alone on a combination of auto, student and medical debt.

“I wrote that number down and looked at it every day,” she told MagnifyMoney. “I wanted to escape a life where I was burdened by debt and unable to change my situation because I needed the income.”

In other words, every financial decision she made revolved around her debt. But then she took charge and set her sights on becoming completely debt-free. At the starting line, she owed $65,000 in student loans, had $14,000 left on her car loan and had to contend with another $1,000 in medical bills.

Earlier this month, she reached her goal, wiping out $80,000 in just three years. (We’ll dive into how she did it in a bit.) These days, she’s excited to kick off a life where her income goes toward funding her long-term goals — not the creditors.

The benefits of living debt-free are often life-changing. If your current debt management style is making minimum payments and calling it a day, you might want to perk up and pay attention. Here are all the reasons why living a debt-free life should be your top priority.

What are the benefits of being debt-free?

More funds for your future goals

Unshackling yourself from debt frees up cash that was previously going toward paying down your balances. That means keeping more of your take-home pay. In some cases, it could mean breaking the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck.

Instead of being beholden to creditors, you can use this money to further other financial goals, like building up your emergency fund, kicking up your retirement contributions or whatever else comes to mind. Dennis is using that $1,000 of newfound cash to increase her 401(k) contributions for the employer match. She’s also planning a Mexican vacation to celebrate her accomplishment.

Marissa Lyda and her husband, Jacob, recently crossed the debt-free finish line after paying off $87,000 in student loan debt over a two-and-a-half-year period. This means they finally have some real saving power; getting out of debt has unlocked $750 a month that went toward minimum payments.

“We want to have a full emergency fund and start saving for a good down payment on a house,” Lyda, a 23-year-old accounting specialist in Portland, Ore., told MagnifyMoney. “We’re also putting more toward our retirement accounts.”

You’ll save money in the long-term

You’ll really feel the impact of getting debt-free if you carry any high-interest balances. Let’s say, for example, you have a $3,000 balance on a credit card with an 18 percent interest rate and a $125 minimum monthly payment. If you pay just that minimum, our handy debt payoff calculator reveals that it’ll take you 30 months to get to zero — and you’ll pay $747 extra in interest. These numbers are compounded even further if you have multiple balances and interest rates, which could cost you big time in the long run. (You’re essentially paying creditors to be mired in debt.)

In addition to the immediate financial freedom you can achieve, living debt-free can also majorly supercharge your retirement efforts. Think about it: If you took $400 you were spending each month on debt and redirected it toward a Roth IRA, it would grow to more than $485,000 over the next 30 years, assuming 7 percent annual returns. This mentality could make your golden years a lot more comfortable.

Your health might improve

Another interesting tidbit is that living debt-free may very well be good for our health. Money is the No. 1 stressor in the United States, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2015 Stress in America survey.

Chronic stress can suppress our immune systems and disrupt everything from our digestion to our sleep to our reproductive systems, says the National Institute of Mental Health. There’s also a link between long-term stress and depression and anxiety. It stands to reason that eliminating your debt worries could actually be good for your health.

Risks of debt-free living: How extreme is too extreme?

Conventional wisdom tells us that living without debt is the healthiest way to manage our finances, but this doesn’t mean swearing off credit all together. Doing so, in fact, can work against your financial fitness, according to certified financial planner and senior CFP Board ambassador Jill Schlesinger.

“If you live an all-cash life, then the moment you actually need a loan, you may be in trouble,” she told MagnifyMoney. “It’s highly unlikely you’re going to be able to buy a large asset, like a car or a house, in cash.”

When the time comes to apply for a car loan or mortgage, getting approved — and getting the best rate possible — is wholly intertwined with your credit score. A number of factors go into determining this number. Fifteen percent of your FICO score, for example, is determined by the length of your credit history. New credit makes up another 10 percent; having a mix of credit counts for another 10 percent. In other words, actively using credit responsibly accounts for 35 percent of your credit score. Going completely credit-free translates to a thin credit file that can impact important financing options down the road.

“I totally understand the anxiety of not wanting to live with debt, but going too extreme can be shortsighted,” said Schlesinger, who suggests one of two pathways for maintaining a robust credit score:

  • Use credit cards responsibly: This means paying off your balances in full every month and never carrying a balance. Your credit utilization ratio (i.e. how much of your available credit you’re actually using) makes up nearly one-third of your FICO score. Our experts recommend keeping your credit utilization ratio under 30 percent.Reaching for a credit card instead of cash or a debit card to pay for regular living expenses, like gas and groceries, is a great way to use credit to your advantage, so long as you’re paying off the balance in full every billing cycle. (If you can rack up rewards in the process, all the better.) Making on-time payments also shows future lenders that you know how to handle your credit.
  • Consider a secured credit card: Don’t trust yourself with a credit card? Thankfully, there are other ways to keep your credit score alive and well. Enter secured credit cards. These require the cardholder to put down a cash deposit, which determines their credit line, right off the bat. From there, you can use it like a regular credit card without the fear of digging yourself into a debt hole. Not carrying a balance and making on-time payments is key to boosting your credit as your activity is reported to the credit bureaus.

Eliminating debt: How to start

Pick a strategy

Making the minimum payment across all your open accounts isn’t the most effective way to pay down your debt. Dennis used what’s known as the snowball method to get debt-free as fast as she did. This means she continued making the minimum payments on all of her accounts, except for the one with the lowest balance, which she hit extra hard with bigger payments.

Once the lowest balance is paid off, you take whatever you were paying on that bill and apply it to the next lowest balance. It has a compounding effect, plus you can see your accounts closing one after the other, which can make you feel like a financial rockstar.

“I made monthly ‘mega-payments’ of about $2,700 on the debt with the smallest balance and repeated this method until all my debts were paid in full,” said Dennis. “The quick wins of the debt snowball method motivated me to keep going.”

One side note: While you’ll end up paying more in interest over the long haul, this tactic works wonders when it comes to keeping up motivation, according to The Journal of Consumer Research.

Alternatively, you can tackle your debt by prioritizing the accounts that have the highest interest rates. From a black-and-white, numbers perspective, this is smarter than the snowball method since you’ll ultimately get out of debt sooner and pay less in interest. Not sure which method is right for you? Our Snowball versus. Avalanche Calculator can help you make sense of your options.

You can accelerate your debt payoff journey even more by using balance transfer offers. These let you transfer high-interest balances over to new, lower-interest accounts with super-low promotional rates. These typically come with a 3-4% balance transfer fee, but if you can get an intro 0% card and pay off the balance within the promotional period, you can save big time in the long run.

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Learn to budget

The key to accelerating your get-out-of-debt timeline is freeing up extra cash that you can throw at your debt. This, of course, requires sticking to a budget. Begin by listing out all your incoming money (income) for the month and subtracting all your outgoing money (expenses), which should include monthly contributions to your savings account. (Don’t worry, you can pay off debt and save at the same time. More on this shortly.)

What’s left represents how much you have to allocate toward your debt. If you come up with a negative number, it means you’re running in the red and need to make some lifestyle tweaks to avoid going even further into debt, which brings us to our next point.

Live within your means

Are there any ways to decrease your expenses? Dennis downgraded her cable package and cellphone plan, stopped paying for garage parking, and cooked meals at home in order to direct more money toward her debt. On a more extreme note, Lyda and her husband sacrificed their personal space and moved in with her parents to kick their debt repayment into high gear.

“We felt very suffocated by debt,” she said. “We weren’t making much, our rent was a lot, and our debt was enormous.”

In addition to lowering your expenses, think of out-of-the-box ways to increase your income, like picking up a side gig. Dennis tipped the scales by selling gently used household items on Craigslist and eBay. She also took on a part-time gig at a local yoga studio in exchange for a free membership.

How to maintain a debt-free life

Once you cross the debt-free finish line, celebrations are certainly in order, but you have to be intentional about not backsliding. Ask yourself how you got into debt in the first place. The way you answer is personal, but pay attention so you don’t repeat past mistakes.

Redirect debt payments toward savings goals

To keep you moving in the right direction, Schlesinger suggests immediately taking whatever you were putting toward your debt and redirecting it to some sort of savings vehicle, whether that be beefing up your emergency fund or upping your retirement contributions.

“It’s a great way to prevent falling back into those bad habits, and the more you can automate it, the better; out of sight, out of mind,” she said.

Top off your emergency fund

If you have nothing in your savings account, you’ll likely rack up new debt to see you through unexpected pop-up expenses. Set your sights on socking away three to six months’ of take-home pay in your emergency fund.

This, along with sticking to a budget, living within your means, and using credit responsibly, plays a major role in breaking the debt cycle once and for all. In some cases, your emergency fund could save you from financial ruin. The good news is that you don’t have to wait until getting debt-free to get your savings off the ground.

Debt versus savings: Which comes first?

According to Schlesinger, there’s a common misconception out there that competing money goals represent an either/or situation. But she says that it’s all about changing your mindset so you can fill more than one bucket at the same time.

“When people ask, ‘What should I do: pay off my debt, establish my emergency fund or contribute to my retirement account?’ my answer is always is the same: Yes!” said Schlesinger. “These big goals require some multitasking.”

If you’re actively in debt-payoff mode, press pause and focus your energy on setting the foundation for your emergency fund. Our insiders suggest setting a starting target of $1,000. Once you hit that milestone, go back to focusing on debt until it’s knocked out, at which point you can switch back to building your savings up to the three- to six-month mark.

Retirement savings don’t have to be put on hold, either.

“If you have 22 percent [interest] credit card debt, it’s hard not to make that the priority, but if you have a 401(k) match, you should put in enough to at least get that match; we shouldn’t be leaving free money on the table,” Schlesinger added.

The takeaway? You don’t want to be so laser-focused on paying off debt that you rob your future self of a comfortable retirement.

What you should do when you’re finally debt-free

Now is the time to ratchet up your savings goals. After bolstering your emergency fund, the next rung on the ladder, according to Schlesinger, is dialing up your retirement contributions — which is exactly what both Lyda and Dennis are doing. Schlesinger said the goal should be to max out your accounts.

Once that’s on track, you can start focusing on other savings goals like travel, saving for a down payment on a home, or saving for your children’s college education. Investing should also be a top priority at this point. We’re not talking about individual stock picking. Instead, the sooner you can zero in on low-cost index funds, the better. This will position you to really maximize your investment returns.

The path to getting, and staying, debt-free is rarely a linear one, but staying the course definitely pays off. The key is to strike a balance between using credit responsibly and sticking to a plan that lets you contribute to your other overarching financial goals.

The good news? A debt-free life is totally doable.

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.

Marianne Hayes
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Marianne Hayes is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Marianne here

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The Fastest Way to Pay Off $10,000 in Credit Card 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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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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5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate, 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
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Excellent/Good Credit

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.

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.

Brian Karimzad
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Brian Karimzad is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brian at brian@magnifymoney.com

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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.

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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.

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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