Step-by-step guide for taking a leap toward your debt-free dreams

(NEW YORK) — Patrice Sosoo has big dreams for 2020. On her vision board, she wants four main things out of this year: simplicity, calmness, beauty … and most importantly, to pay off her debt.Like many people, Patrice is working to pay off her student loan debt. After graduating college in 2008, her student loans totaled $97,000 and have since increased to $130,000 due to interest. While she’s worked to pay the minimum each month and continued to live her life, prioritizing having a family, buying a home and pursuing her dream job, it came at a cost. “Having that student loan debt over my head just felt like a dark cloud,” Sosoo told ABC News’ Good Morning America. So, Patrice decided to take a leap this year and tackle her debt once and for all.To help Patrice leap towards her debt-free dreams, Good Morning America set her up with finance expert, Sallie Krawcheck of Ellevest, a digital-first, mission-driven investment platform for women. Before launching Ellevest, Krawcheck built a successful career on Wall Street as the CEO of Merrill Lynch, Smith Barney, US Trust, Citi Private Bank, Sanford C. Bernstein and CFO for Citigroup.Now, as the CEO and co-founder of the investment platform, Ellevest, Krawcheck has made it her mission to help women take charge of their finances and is sharing her advice so everyone can conquer their debt. Read her tips to tackle debt below: Sallie Krawcheck’s step-by-step guide to conquer debt:1. Get to know the 50/30/20 rule More of a guideline than a rule, the 50/30/20 framework helps you divvy up your take-home pay into three buckets: 50% goes to needs (bills, groceries, housing, minimum payments, etc.); 30% goes to wants (drinks with friends, streaming services, vacations, etc.); and 20% goes to Future You (debt payments over the minimum, saving, and investing). Some costs might overfill your “needs” bucket. If you’re carrying debt, have kids, and/or are dealing with life, “needs” might be the biggest — or only — bucket for a while, and that’s OK. 2. Negotiate your needs Even if your “needs” exceed 50% of your take-home pay, it’s a great way to determine whether or not you’re spending above your means. Living below your means is the biggest key to paying off debt, and most people don’t do this. Take a look at your bills: Can you bring your cable bill down by switching to a smaller package with fewer channels? Are you paying for more internet bandwidth than you need? Can you lower your monthly low-interest loan payments by setting up autopay? Getting your “needs” bucket as low as possible is the best way to set yourself up to put as much as you can toward Future You. 3. Organize your debt Make a list of all your debts. That means each student loan, each credit card, each car loan, etc. Write them down along with their interest rates and balances. 4. Decide what to pay off first The higher a debt’s interest rate, the more it costs you, so that can help you choose. Pay off any debts with an interest rate greater than 10% ASAP, starting with the debt with the highest interest rate and then working your way down. A lot of the time, those minimums are only designed to pay off the interest, plus maybe a very small piece of the actual amount you owe. By making bigger payments, you can lower the underlying balance more quickly and pay off the debt faster. 5. If you have money in savings, use it The idea of emptying your savings might feel counterintuitive and uncomfortable, but the math says to do it. High-interest rates will cost you way more than you’d earn in a savings account. Just keep about $1,000 for emergencies. 6. Make a plan to pay off the rest There are two ways to pay off debt. First is the one we typically recommend: the “debt avalanche” method. With this approach, put your entire “extra” payment on the credit card balance that has the highest interest rate. Knocking that debt out first can save you the most money on interest. After that one’s paid off, then focus on the balance with the second-highest interest rate, and so on. Another option is the “debt snowball” method. This method works exactly the same as the avalanche method, except you focus on the debt with the smallest balance first, and then moving to the second-smallest. This method doesn’t reduce interest payments as quickly, but the idea here is that it will take the least time for you to pay off the smallest balance, and the sooner you can check off a win, the more momentum you might have to keep going. 7. Try to lower your interest rate Call and ask your credit card issuer to lower your interest rate. Before you call, gather the facts: How long you’ve had an account, how many on-time payments you’ve made in a row, how much you’ve paid in interest in the past year. Also poke around online to see if there are other credit cards out there offering lower rates. If they say no due to a low credit score, work on raising your score and try again. 8. Consider balance transfers There are lots of credit cards with balance transfer offers. That means if you move your credit card debt from your current provider over to them, they’ll give you a super-low (or maybe even 0%) interest rate for a while, as a promotion. If you think you’ll be able to pay off your balance before the promotional time limit is up, then transferring your balance could save you a lot of money. 9. See what else you can redirect to debt If you’re going to start paying more than the minimums, you’ll either need to redirect some of your monthly budget (as in, cut back somewhere, using your values to help you decide what stays and what goes) or boost your income (or both). Maybe you start freelancing a little bit, for example, and decide to put all your income from that right on toward your debt. You could also use second-hand sites or apps to sell clothes, furniture, or other belongings you don’t use anymore. Along the way, use any unexpected money like bonuses or tax refunds to help pay your debt off faster. And if you get a raise, try to keep living on the amount you were making before, and put the extra money toward your debt. (One thing I don’t recommend, though, is missing out on an employer 401(k) match because of debt. If your job offers a match, make sure you’re investing enough to take full advantage of it — that’s free money.) For debts with interest rates between 5–10%, still make those extra payments, but it’s OK to put some money toward your other goals (like saving up an emergency fund) at the same time, too. And if the interest rate is lower than 5%, just pay the minimums until that debt’s paid off — historically, investing has been a better use of your money.Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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