What’s the Best Way to Pay Down Debt in a Post-COVID Economy?

A young man sitting at home stressed by his mounting debts.
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For many people, one of the top financial priorities in a post-coronavirus economy will be paying down debt. A poll conducted earlier this year by Creditcards.com found that 51% of American adults with credit card debt added to it during the pandemic. That was up from 23% in May 2020. Of those polled, 44% specifically blamed the pandemic for adding to their debt loads.

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Getting debt under control should be one of the first things you focus on as life returns to normal, experts say. A good first step is including debt payments in your monthly budget.

“If you took on $25,000 of debt, you can’t manage your finances like you don’t have $25,000 of debt to pay off,” Tania Brown, a Certified Financial Planner and coach at SaverLife, told CNBC this week. “That means that people should come up with a game plan for paying off debt with one of many strategies, such as paying off high-interest debt first or focusing on the debt that’s easiest to get rid of quickest.”

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People who are behind on essential living expenses like rent, mortgage and utility bills should prioritize those. But when it comes to credit-card debt, it’s a little trickier. Should you pay off the biggest bills first? The smallest ones? Or those that carry the highest annual percentage rates?

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As Ramsey Solutions noted in March, two popular strategies for paying down debt are the debt avalanche method and the debt snowball method. The avalanche method involves paying off your debts in order from the highest interest rate to the lowest, regardless of the balance. With the snowball method, you pay off debt in order of the smallest balance to the biggest, regardless of the interest rate.

Both strategies have the same goal: helping you become debt-free. But many experts side with the snowball method, partly because of the psychological lift you get when you see a credit card paid in full.

“When you pay off that smallest debt first, you get a taste of victory,” Ramsey Solutions noted. “And that feeling of success is the momentum you need to tackle the next debt with a vengeance.”

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In contrast, the avalanche method might require spending months or even years paying off a high-interest credit card, especially if it has a high balance. This means you miss out on the feeling of accomplishment from seeing a debt disappear.

Before deciding which method to use, look at your own personal financial situation and figure out which will benefit you the most. If you use the snowball method and leave a large balance of higher-interest debt for later, you’ll end up paying a lot more in interest than if you attacked the higher-APR debt first, Harlem World magazine reported. If your priority is to save money on interest — and you have the finances and mindset to pay down high-balance, high-APR cards first — then debt avalanche might be the best choice.

Another strategy is to transfer high-interest balances to cards with lower interest rates, or to new cards that offer 0% interest for a set period of time, usually a year. But you have to be careful here. The key is making sure you pay off the debt before the promotional period ends or you could be stuck with an astronomical APR when the interest charges kick in.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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