How to Pay Off Debt

If you’re in debt and trying to determine the best way to pay it off, you have several different options. In addition to a couple do-it-yourself strategies, your other choices include a debt consolidation loan, credit counseling, debt settlement, a cash-out refinance, or bankruptcy.

If you’re wondering “which one is right for me?”, the answer depends on how much you owe, what type of debt you have, and a few other factors. Keep reading to find out which option is best for your particular situation.

Strategies to Pay Off Debt

Since everybody has a unique situation, the debt solution that may work for you may be the wrong choice for someone else. Below is a brief overview of six of the most common solutions for paying off debt. Which ones seem like they might be the right options for your type of debt?

How It WorksDebt RangeDebt TypeProsCons
BankruptcyUndergo a legal process where your assets are examined and used to pay off debts or a debt repayment plan is designed.>50% of your incomeCredit card, personal loan, medical, utility, business, taxes
  • Relief from collection activity

  • Discharges or wipes out your debts

  • Short process (3 – 6 months for Chapter 7)
  • May put your assets at risk (Chapter 7)

  • Long-term, negative impact to your credit score

  • Strict qualification requirements (Chapter 7)
Cash-Out RefinanceRefinance your mortgage and borrow money to pay off debt simultaneously.>$10,000Credit card, personal loan, medical, business, private student loan, auto loan
  • Lower interest rate

  • Lower monthly payments

  • More time to pay off debt
  • Home ownership is required

  • Required fees

  • Increases risk of foreclosure
Credit CounselingWork with a credit counselor to create a debt management plan (DMP) that reduces your credit card interest rates.<$10,000Credit card, personal loan, medical, business, taxes, student loan, mortgage
  • Minimal credit score impact

  • One, convenient monthly payment

  • Relief from collection activity
  • Long-term commitment

  • Credit card accounts will need to close

  • No reduction in principal debt
Debt Consolidation LoanRoll multiple debts into a single, lower payment with a loan.>$5,000Credit card, personal loan, medical, business, taxes, student loan
  • Could get you out of high interest debt sooner

  • Fixed payment schedule

  • Easier to track payments
  • Upfront costs may be involved

  • May not provide a long-term solution if you have a spending problem

  • Good credit required
Debt Settlement (What We Do!)Hire a company to negotiate with your creditors and reduce what you owe.>$10,000Credit card, personal loan, medical, business, department store
  • May significantly reduce your total debt

  • Affordable program payments

  • Faster than minimum payments
  • Collection activity may escalate

  • Negative impact on your credit

  • Fees are involved
Do-It-Yourself Focus on paying off one debt at a time, creating a budget that allows you to have extra cash each month to do so.<$5,000 Credit card, personal loan, medical, business, taxes, student loan, mortgage, auto loan
  • No required investments

  • No impact on your credit

  • Complete control of the process
  • Requires motivation and persistence

  • No interest rate or principal reductions

  • Takes time and energy to plan and execute

Choosing the Right Solution for You

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, take time to dig deeper into the details of each debt solution. Doing your research will help ensure that when you finally decide on how you’re going to pay off your debt, you’ll have a better chance of success.

Bankruptcy

Although Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy are two different debt solutions, they are both legal options that may help you if are over your head in debt. If you have little to no disposable income (money left over after you’ve paid your taxes and necessary expenses), Chapter 7 may be an option. Chapter 7 bankruptcy involves selling most of your possessions so that your existing debts can be repaid.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy could discharge your debt so that you no longer have to pay it back and provide you with relief from debt collectors. However, understand that Chapter 7 bankruptcy may cause you to lose some assets such as your home or car.

In the event you have sufficient income and do not qualify for Chapter 7, you may have to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Chapter 13 bankruptcy may allow you to make a single, consolidated payment toward your debts through repayment plan that typically lasts three to five years. While Chapter 13 may put a stop to collection activity and the foreclosure process, it could strain your budget.

It’s important to note that certain types of debts cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. These include student loans, child support and alimony, and tax debts. Bankruptcy can, however, assist you with credit card debt, medical bills, and other unsecured debts.

Since bankruptcy may cause you to lose your valuable assets, will remain on your credit report for 7 to 10 years, and make it difficult for you to borrow money and get approved for a loan, you should consider all possible alternatives before filing for it.

If you’re putting basic necessities such as groceries and gas onto credit cards, paying one credit card with another, are facing interest rates that have increased due to missed payments, and/or wages that are going to be garnished, bankruptcy may be the way to go.

Is Bankruptcy the Right Solution for You?

Read more about the benefits and risks of bankruptcy

Cash-Out Refinance

If you own your home, a cash-out refinance lets you replace your existing mortgage with a new one with a higher balance. You use the new, higher mortgage to you pay off your previous lower balance mortgage and keep the cash difference between these two loans. Then you use that cash to pay off your debts. Essentially, a cash-out refinance is a strategy that could allow you to cash out on some of your home equity at a relatively low interest rate and apply it toward your high-interest debt. Sometimes, you could even lock in a lower interest rate than your original mortgage loan.

Keep in mind that if you go this route, you’ll need to pay the various costs associated with refinancing. These include home appraisal expenses, closing costs, and other fees, which may add up to thousands of dollars. So before pursuing ta cash-out refinance, do the math and make sure the fees still make it worth it.

If you have high-interest credit card debt, debts from personal loans, student loan, or auto loans, and are confident you’ll be able to make your payments, this may be a good option. However, if you are not a homeowner and/or are worried you won’t be able to make your payments on time and do not want to risk foreclosure, a cash-out refinance probably isn’t right for you.

Pros and Cons of Refinancing

Read more about whether you should refinance

Credit Counseling

Credit counseling agencies are typically non-profit organizations that help consumers learn about budgeting and money management, among other things. If you’re in heavy debt, a credit counseling agency may offer a Debt Management Plan (DMP) to help you get out of debt and save on interest.

When you enroll in a Debt Management Plan, the credit counseling agency works with your creditors to lower the interest rates on your debts, making it easier for you to pay down your balance. Then, you make monthly payments to the credit counseling agency and they send the money to your creditors on your behalf.  

If you opt for a DMP, you may have to pay an enrollment fee plus monthly fees to the credit counseling agency. However, since credit counseling may protect you from becoming delinquent on your payments, these fees may be worthwhile.

If you’re able to afford more than your monthly payments, have less than $10,000 of debt, and/or one credit card, credit counseling may be a good option. However, if you can’t afford to pay more than your monthly minimums, you may want to consider an alternative solution for paying off your debt.

Looking for a Credit Counseling Agency?

Learn more about credit counseling

Debt Consolidation Loans

The purpose of debt consolidation loans is to combine multiple debts into a single, manageable, low interest payment. This solution involves obtaining a fixed-rate loan and then using the money from the loan to pay off your debts and then pay back the loan over a set period of time. Debt consolidation loans could streamline the debt payoff process, giving you a clearer path to when you could pay off your debt.

Since a debt consolidation loan allows you to make one single payment to take care of all your debts, it could reduce your risk of missing or being late on payments, which could help improve your credit score. It could help you pay off unsecured debts like credit card debt and medical debt as well as secured debts like student loan debt.

While debt consolidation loans offer many advantages, they also come with a few drawbacks. The most notable drawback is the fact that it won’t prevent you from continuing bad money habits. Instead, it enables you to continue using credit cards that may have been the cause of your debt in the first place. Another drawback is that you typically need to have good credit to qualify for a debt consolidation loan at an interest rate low enough to make it worthwhile.

If you have a large amount of debt (at least $10,000), are looking for a way to organize your debt, want to simplify the process of paying it off, and feel confident you can avoid using the credit cards you are trying to pay off, a debt consolidation loan might be right for you.

Debt Consolidation Options

Learn how to consolidate your debt

Debt Settlement (What we do)

Also known as debt resolution or debt negotiation, debt settlement is a method of negotiating with your creditors to settle for less than the outstanding balance of your debt. You can do this on your own, or use professional debt settlement services like Freedom Debt Relief to help settle your debt for you.

During a debt settlement program, you can expect to make a monthly deposit into a special account. As your account balance increases, the debt settlement company will contact your creditors to negotiate lower settlements. When your debt is settled, you’ll be required to pay a fee that typically ranges from 15%-25% of the enrolled debt.

While debt settlement could give you the chance to save big and settle your debt in as little as 24 to 48 months, it could negatively impact your credit score and put you at great risk of receiving phone calls and letters from debt collectors. Also, there are no guarantees that a debt settlement company will be able to negotiate your debt for significantly less, since some creditors simply do not negotiate with debt settlement companies as a rule.

If you are unable to make your minimum payments and have thought about credit counseling or bankruptcy, debt settlement may be a wise choice for you. Since debt settlement can only help you with unsecured debts, you should look elsewhere if you’re concerned about your mortgage or auto loans.

How Does Debt Relief Work?

Learn more about debt relief programs

Do-it-Yourself

Not every debt solution requires you to hire a company or professional. You may be able to address your debt problems on your own through a do-it-yourself (DIY) debt solution. A DIY debt solution involves using online and offline tools and resources to understand how much you need to pay each month to save on interest and pay off your debt by a certain date.

An example of one of these methods is through debt snowball or a debt avalanche, which could help you know when you could be debt free if you use this method. With the debt snowball method, you pay off your smallest debts first, then work on paying off the larger ones. With a debt avalanche, you pay off your debts with the highest interest first, no matter what their balance is. There are pros and cons to both of these methods, but they work best if you choose one and stick with it.

How To Pay Off Debt Yourself

Find out how to tackle debt by yourself.

If you are self-motivated, serious about becoming debt-free, and willing to put time and effort into a DIY debt solution, this may be the right strategy for you. You could use it to pay off virtually any type of debt you owe and take control of your financial health. In addition, a DIY debt solution doesn’t require any upfront costs and shouldn’t harm your credit score.

But if you are already having a difficult time paying just the minimum balances on your accounts and/or are overwhelmed with the entire debt payoff process, you may want to pursue a different option.

Get Help Finding the Right Solution for You

As you can see, there are a variety of debt solutions that could put you on the path to the debt-free life you’ve always wanted. These include DIY, debt consolidation loans, credit counseling, debt settlements, home refinances, and bankruptcy.

Need help finding the right solution for you?