How to pay off debt

Man with glasses and laptop at a table leaning back and happy.
OCCU  -  02.15.2022

After more than two years of living through a pandemic, we’ve all had to do things we’d rather not do. Canceling plans. Virtual calls to visit with family and friends. Changing our everyday routines.

And with incomes dropping and inflation rising — many of us have had to take on some extra debt to get by.

Now that you’ve got a handle on this pandemic living (sort of), maybe it’s time to start re-evaluating your money situation and repairing what COVID may have done to your finances. First things first: Let’s look at paying off some of that pandemic debt.

When we talk about debt, it’s easy to attach all sorts of negative baggage to the word. Debt can feel heavy, intimidating and difficult to shed — especially if you’re shouldering student loans and wondering how to resume making your payments when the emergency forbearance period ends in May.

But debt isn’t as difficult to pay off as you might think. Just like savings, it’s a task best tackled with steps over time. It helps if you think of it as something you need to manage rather than something you need to get rid of. By chipping away at it month after month, you can grind down your debts and start reclaiming your income for other important life goals.

When you boil it down, managing debt is just a matter of setting priorities that govern how you spend your monthly income.

Priority #1: Cover your monthly expenses

The first step to managing your debt is to stop taking on new debt — particularly if you’ve been using it to help cover your monthly living expenses. Your top priority is to make sure all the necessities get paid, including rent or mortgage payments, bills and food.

Priority #2: Make your minimum debt payments

Next, look at the minimum monthly payments for all your debts. Ensuring that these get paid on time will help protect your credit and keep you in good standing with your lenders. It will also prevent you from paying extra in interest and late fees, which can add up over time.

Priority #3: Determine your debt repayment budget

Once your living expenses and minimum debt payments are taken care of, figure out how much of your income you have left over to put toward paying down the principal. Since your minimum monthly payments go primarily toward interest while barely making a dent in the principal, it’s these extra funds you add each month that will determine how quickly you’re able to pay down your debts.

Priority #4: Decide which debt to pay down first

If you have multiple sources of debt, such as student loans, credit cards, or an auto loan, you’ll need to decide where to focus your efforts first. There are two common methods typically used to pay off debts:

  1. Snowball method: Some people prefer to start with the smallest debt first and work their way up, which can help you pay off individual debts more quickly.
  2. Avalanche method: Others recommend starting with the debt that has the highest interest rate (usually a credit card), which saves you money on interest in the long run.

Paying down debt isn’t something that happens overnight — particularly during a pandemic. Just think of it as a marathon rather than a sprint. Keep taking one step after another, and eventually you’ll get where you want to go.

And remember, our team is always here for you. If you find yourself in a situation with your debt and you’re not sure where to turn – don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We have lots of financial assistance options and a team that’s ready to help support you.