Here at finder.com we understand that debt is almost inevitable, whether it be with credit cards, store cards, mortgages or personal loans. These all add up and sometimes it can be hard to see the way out.
One way to demonstrate how far you have come when paying off your debts is a debt thermometer. Each time you knock off a portion of your debt, you color in a piece of the thermometer.
Download your free debt thermometer
How to use the debt thermometer
One of the main reasons many people give up on their debt reduction plans is that it’s hard to see progress when it feels like they’re drowning it debt far too big to ever pay off. But with the right tools it can be very possible to visualize your way out of debt. The key is to set realistic goals and then find ways to create visual prompts that keep your motivation levels high at the same time. To get started:
- Download the debt thermometer.
- Print off the thermometer.
- Fill in your details.
- Color in how much you’ve paid.
- Visualize your way to a debt-free life!
If you have any questions on how to use the debt thermometer, please leave a comment below.
Create your goals
Your own financial goals will be completely unique to you, so it’s important you work on your own figures and your own desires for your financial future. Think about what debt, or debts, you want to repay and how you plan to achieve this.
For the majority of us, paying off debt takes time and patience. If you can be realistic about your balances and how much you can afford to repay each month, you’ll find it much easier to stay on track. You’ll also find it easier to stay motivated when you know how long it’ll take.
For example: Joan has a $4,000 credit card and a $2,500 store card she wants to pay off. She finds it more motivating to work on clearing one debt at a time, so she checks the interest rate on both cards. The store card has a much higher interest rate, so Joan decides to focus on paying that card off now, so she’ll make the minimum monthly payment on her other credit card until her store card is debt free.
Set a payment plan
If you’ve been paying only the minimum payments due on your debts so far, it’s no wonder you’re struggling to get those debt balances down. You need to work out how you can tighten your budget a little and find a few extra dollars to put towards your debt repayment plans.
Even a few extra dollars a month on top of the minimum payment helps. Be honest about how much you can realistically afford, though — if you end up paying a bill late because you put all of your resources into paying down your credit card, your financial situation will just get trickier.
Change your payment frequency
Did you know the interest on your credit cards and store cards is charged at the end of every day on your outstanding balance? That total interest figure you see on your statement is added up from all those daily tallies.
If you only ever make a payment on your credit card once a month, you’re only reducing your balance once. Yet if you make your payments weekly or every other week, you actively reduce how much you owe, which means the bank charges you less interest as a result.
When you reduce your interest, the amount you pay on your monthly payment goes towards reducing your debt balance instead. Obviously, it makes sense to find ways to make more frequent payments off your debts.
Take your normal monthly payment amount and divide this by 4. Let’s say you normally pay $100 per month. Try to find a way to make payments of $25 on the same day each week instead. You’ll end up paying far less interest overall and you’ll find it much easier to budget as well.
Calculate your time frame
Take the amount of debt you’re focusing on and divide this by the monthly payment amount you can realistically afford to pay.
For example: If you are $2,500 in debt and can only afford to pay it down by $100 every month, it will take 25 months — or two years and one month — until that debt is paid off, not including any interest charges on top of that amount.
Seeing this time frame written down in front of you is usually enough to make some people believe they simply can’t get out of debt on their own. This is where it’s important to go back to step two and re-work your budget again. Even adding an extra $5 per week to your regular payments can speed up your debt reduction plans. Adding $5 every 2 weeks won’t bankrupt you, but it will increase your monthly payments to $120. At that rate, you’ll be debt free in 21 months, so that’s almost four months’ worth of interest you won’t have to pay.
Compare debt relief companies
A debt relief company can help you settle your debts for less, and save you money. However, debt relief may have adverse effects on your credit score, and sink you further into debt if you fail to stick to your debt repayment plan.
Before you sign up with a debt relief company
Debt relief companies typically charge a percentage of a customer’s debt or a monthly program fee for their services. And not all companies are transparent about these costs or drawbacks that can negatively affect your credit score. Depending on the company you work with, you might pay other fees for third-party settlement services or setting up new accounts, which can leave you in a worse situation than when you signed up.
Consider alternatives before signing up with a debt relief company:
- Payment extensions. Companies you owe may be willing to extend your payment due date or put you on a longer payment plan if you ask.
- Nonprofit credit counseling. Look for free debt-management help from nonprofit organizations like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
- Debt settlement. If you can manage to pay a portion of the bill, offer the collection agency a one-time payment as a settlement. Collection agencies are often willing to accept a lower payment on your debt to close the account.
Debt is almost inevitable, but drowning in it is not. If you budget for regular payments and focus on your high-interest debts first, you’ll be heading towards a zero balance before you know it. Our debt thermometer will help you visualize your progress and remind your why you’re setting aside that chunk of each paycheck, and to show you how far you’ve come.
If you’re having trouble managing several debts at once, consider getting a debt consolidation loan so that you only have one account to pay down. But if you’ve assessed your situation, and have come to the conclusion that there is no possible way to repay your unsecured debts within 5 years, you may want to consider exploring debt relief.
Frequently asked questions
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