A Surprisingly Simple, 13-Minute Plan to Start Paying off a Bunch of Debt

A man wearing a bow tie and suspenders smiles for the camera
Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Initially, I was going to frontload this article highlighting the number of Americans who carry debt — some until they’re six feet under.

But I think we all understand the burden of debt and don’t really need more statistics to rub it in.

Instead, let’s just focus on being positive, proactive and breaking free.

How to Pay Off Debt: A 13-Minute Guide to Get Started

Any amount of debt is overwhelming. And when something’s overwhelming, we tend to procrastinate — or even shut down entirely.

We’re human, after all. Sometimes, the problem can seem so big that the biggest obstacle is simply knowing where to start.

But creating a plan to pay off debt doesn’t have to be too complicated. It’s just a matter of sitting down and focusing; it takes less time than you might think.

If you’ve got 13 minutes to spare, we’ve got a list of tips for putting together a rock-solid plan for paying off your debt.

That’s less time than it takes to get caught up on your friends’ Snapchat stories.

Deep breath. Ready to learn how to pay off debt?

1. Let This Company Pay Off Your Credit Cards

When you think about how much debt you have, you might feel a little anxious.

That’s where a company like Even Financial can be helpful. It can help you find personalized lending options to refinance or consolidate your debt to potentially save thousands dollars in interest.

Even will show you all the lenders willing to help you pay off your credit card and eliminate the headache of paying bills by allowing you to make one payment each month.

You can borrow up to $100,000 (no collateral needed) and compare interest rates, which start at 4.99%. The idea is to secure a loan at a lower interest rate, potentially helping you save thousands. Repayment plans range from 24 to 84 months.

Take, for example, Katherine, who faced $12,000 in credit-card debt. Holding her back? The 15.24% interest rate. By refinancing with a 5%-interest, seven-year personal loan, she saved $12,000 in interest.

If she’d kept on the same road, she would have paid something like $14,000 in interest alone over 25 years. Yikes.

So even if you’re simply curious about what’s out there, know that checking rates on Even Financial won’t hurt your credit score — and can probably save you in interest.

Total time: Three minutes

2. Take a Deep Breath and Look at Your Credit Score

A woman breathes before beginning yoga.
Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

We understand. None of us want to do this.

But did you know that around 25% of Americans have an error on their credit report that is likely bringing down their score? And those poor scores can hinder every part of your financial wellness…

Banks and credit card companies aren’t the only ones that look at your credit score. You may have to authorize a credit check whenever you want to move into a new apartment, rent a car with a debit card or buy a new phone, for example.

So pour yourself a cup of coffee and check your credit score on the free app CreditWise® from Capital One®. You’ll also get a free TransUnion credit report card to show you exactly where your credit shines… and where it could use some improvement.

And don’t be shocked if you find a mistake. Last year, nearly 74% of credit-report complaints were about incorrect information.

“Credit-reporting agencies merely make mistakes, which is understandable, with the millions of pieces of information they process,” says Steve Weisman, a professor at Bentley University and the author of the fraud and identity-theft blog Scamicide.

You can easily file a dispute online. And hey, if it’s truly a mistake, you just took some debt off your plate!

*Advertiser Disclosure: Capital One compensates us when you enroll in CreditWise using the links we provided above.

Total time: Two minutes

3. Get Some Help Paying off Lingering Debts

Got a big tax bill? Medical expenses? Moving to a new state?

Wondering how to pay for it? Well, it’s probably way easier than you think to apply for a personal loan — just make sure you know you can repay it.

A good resource is online lending platform Upstart, which can help you find a loan without relying on only your conventional credit score.

Unlike traditional underwriting models that use only the common FICO scoring model, Upstart’s technology looks at factors like your education and employment history to determine your creditworthiness.

It can help you borrow up to $50,000, potentially with better terms (e.g. lower interest or lower monthly payments) than traditional lenders.

You can use a personal loan for virtually anything — taxes, medical bills, relocation, a dream vacation, home improvements or starting your own business.

Total time: Two minutes

4. Automate Your Savings and Repayment

A man counts his money.
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

An app called Qoins can help you get debt-free without really thinking about it.

Qoins rounds up each purchase you make to the nearest dollar. The app tracks the roundups and makes withdrawals in about $5 intervals that it automatically pays toward a debt account of your choice each month.

Users report saving an average $50 a month to put toward their debts. Once you sign up, Qoins waits a month before making a deposit on a debt account so you have some extra time to save.

Even better: If you download the app now, you’ll get your first month free. It’s $1.99 a month after that — but that’s worth the piece of mind, right?

Want to boost your long-term savings, too?

We love the idea of making that money work for you with a micro-investing app like Stash.

Start with as little as $5, and select how often — and how much — you'd like to invest. Be realistic. Even if it's $5 a month, you're doing something, and that's all that matters. (Note: There's a $1 monthly fee for balances under $5,000 for Stash users.)

And because it's automatic, you likely won't miss the money. Plus, you'll be surprised with a nice little nest egg of savings — which can go toward paying off your debt if needed.

And hey, when you sign up, you'll snag a $5 bonus to make your first investment!

Total time: Five minutes

5. Find Some Hidden Cash

Before you start hashing out a plan to tackle your debt, it might make you feel better to find areas in your life where you can save. Then you can funnel that money directly toward those outstanding balances.

Sure, a lot of us know how to save money on groceries, but what about everything else?

Try digging up some extra cash with Paribus — a tool that gets you money back for your online purchases. It's free to sign up, and once you do, it will scan your email archives for any receipts. If it discovers you’ve purchased something from one of its monitored retailers, it will track the item’s price and help you get a refund anytime there’s a price drop.

If you want some more ideas on how to set up a passive stream of money — big or small — read this guide.

Total time: One minute

It’s 13 minutes later and look at you! You’ve laid out a solid plan to tackling your debt!


Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. When it comes to finances, she’s a professional procrastinator.

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