There’s an app for pretty much everything these days. Apps that capture the audio and video feed from baby monitors. Apps that help you find the cheapest gas. Even apps that help you track your workouts. Basically, if a human does it, there’s an app associated with it.

That includes personal finances, where apps have been created that can help you track your spending, your savings and even your debt. Just like apps in other categories though, some are great and others are, well, meh. And like any tool, apps are only helpful if you use them. That running app isn’t going to help you stay in shape if you don’t actually run, for example. And that app aimed at helping you pay down your debt isn’t going to get you in better financial shape if you don’t actually make the payments. Or if you keep racking up new debt. You get the picture.

So, with all this in mind, is a debt management app really helpful? The answer is, it depends. Mostly it depends on you. Here’s why.

 

Success With Apps Depends On You

Everyone is different. Just as certain fitness routines work for some people and not for others (for example: I hate group exercise classes. Nope, nope, nope.), certain budgeting and debt management approaches work for some folks and not for others.

Do you love to sit down with a cup of tea and look over all your bills, your bank statements and adjust your monthly budget using pen and paper? An app may not be right for you.

Do you instead prefer spreadsheets and tracking every single penny all in one location? Again, an app may not be right for you.

 

Apps Can Save You Time & Money

If, however, a pedantic approach like those above leaves you yawning, you may want to consider some personal finance apps, especially if you like to see your progress at the press of a button. They can offer new insights into paying down debt faster, thus saving you money by reducing the amount of interest you end up paying. From paying down your credit card debt or your student loan debt, to increasing your savings and even automating your monthly bill payments, apps can be an efficient way for people who hate thinking about money to be better at doing just that.

Now for the hard part: Choosing an app that works best for you and your financial needs.

There are a lot of apps out there and not all are created equal, so it’s a good idea to do a lot of research. That includes reading user reviews, expert reviews, comparing free and paid apps, and even downloading apps to see if you like the interface before fully committing by linking your financial information. Do you have any friends who love their app? It can’t hurt to ask around a bit.

 

Stick With the Fundamentals, Always

As we pointed out earlier, apps aren’t magic. They’re only as effective as you are, so once you find the app or apps right for you, it’s important to maintain (or start) responsible financial behavior. That means creating and maintaining a monthly budget, keeping your spending at a reasonable level, maximizing your earnings, making regular contributions to your emergency fund and retirement savings, and paying down any debt you may have as quickly as possible (here’s a great explainer on effective ways to pay down your debt).

Regardless of how you manage your money and track your progress of paying down debt and building up savings — be it an app or multiple apps, pen and paper or a massive spreadsheet — your success will depend on your ability to stick to the fundamentals above. Any app that helps you do that is one worth considering.

 

[Editorial Disclosure: PayDownMyDebt.com is a service that provides people with tools to pay down their debts through automatic payments. The purpose of this article, however, is not to encourage users to purchase that service. This article is educational and journalistic in nature and aims to help people learn how to pay down their debt, whether they use our site, another, or go it alone.]

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Getting your financial life in order isn’t always a difficult thing to do, though it does require some effort on your part. How long it will take and what will be involved frequently depends upon how good you are at managing money, what your income looks like, how much debt you may have and numerous other facts like unexpected expenses.

One of the simplest (and most important) things you can do to get your finances in shape is to create a budget. It’s the cornerstone upon which everything else is built, providing you with the foundational knowledge of what your monthly or even annual cash flow looks like, so you’ll have a clear picture of what it’s going to take to save more, spend less and pay down your debt as quickly as possible.

As simple as a budget may be, it can seem daunting if you’ve never done it before. With that in mind, we’ve put together the basics of how to build a budget. The tools you choose to use to help you manage it (and your money), are completely up to you. There are simple-to-use spreadsheets available online (we’re particularly fond of the budget spreadsheet available for free in Google Sheets), automating tools that help you pay your bills on time, and even apps that help you keep your spending in check, etc.

Here’s how to build a basic budget so you can take control of your financial life:

Step 1: What's Your Monthly Income?

To put together your budget, you need to know exactly what you’re working with. Start out by figuring out your after-tax income. If you receive a regular paycheck, you’ll want to use that amount as your income, but don’t forget the big picture. Do you have automatic deductions for your 401(k), health and/or life insurance, additional savings? Be sure to add those back in so you have a true picture of what your savings and expenditures are.

Once you’ve done this, you’ll want to log all of your expenses – things like your rent and other bills that you’re required to pay every month. If your bills don’t meet or exceed your income, congratulations! You have what’s known as discretionary income, which you can choose to spend or start using to pay off things like student loans, credit card bills or put into savings.

 

Budget Tips:

Step 2: Set Your Goals

What are your goals in establishing a budget? Do you want to pay off debt? Increase your savings? Just have a better handle on where your money is going?

Decide what your long- and short-term goals are so you can use your budget to direct exactly where your money goes. Do you want to pay off $5,000 in credit card debt within a year? How much money will you need each month to make that happen? Do you need a plan like the Debt Snowball Method to help you pay that debt off? Establishing your priorities and setting deadlines will help ensure your budget is a tool that works for you and not just a place where you track what you do with your money.

And don’t forget that you should be putting away a little into an emergency savings account. You don’t want an unexpected bill or job loss somewhere down the road to turn into a financial hardship.

 

Budget Tips:

Step 3: Find Tools That Fit You

As we said before, choosing the tools that work best for you is important. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution here, so you’re going to need to do a bit of research. In general, though, you need a piece of paper at a minimum, or an automated spreadsheet for optimal efficiency to record your spending. Keep in mind that tools that automate as much of your budget as possible will make saving and paying bills a breeze, so you won’t have to think about it so often. A tool like Pay Down My Debt can help. You may also want to consider the aid of an accountability partner or online support group, so that you’re held accountable for choices that blow the budget.

 

Budget Tip:

Step 4: Don't Cut Out All the Fun

A budget is a lot like a diet: It’s good to set goals and parameters, but if you cut out all the stuff you love, you’re not going to stick to it, especially not for the long term. Building a budget is as much about creating good habits as it is spending less and saving more. So let yourself do a little shopping, go out with your friends, take that weekend trip. Just build it all into your budget so you can plan for these expenses and adjust accordingly.

 

Budget Tip:

Step 5: Revisit & Revise

Your income, expenses – and even your priorities – will change with time. Your budget also should change to reflect your new money goals. Revisit your budget every few months to start, and tweak it as needed.

 

Budget Tip: 

[Editorial Disclosure: PayDownMyDebt.com is a service that provides people with tools to pay down their debts through automatic payments. The purpose of this article, however, is not to encourage users to purchase that service. This article is educational and journalistic in nature and aims to help people learn how to pay down their debt, whether they use our site, another, or go it alone.]

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Qualifying for loans of pretty much any kind will have an impact on your credit. Your credit accounts go on your credit report and how you manage your accounts determines whether your credit score is good, bad or average. Pay your bills on time and it can improve your scores. Fall behind or go into collections and your credit scores will likely fall.

Because of the way credit accounts affect credit scores, it stands to reason that someone leasing a car would think that making their payments on time and in full would have a positive effect on their credit rating.

Sadly, that wasn’t the case for some people who recently leased vehicles through Uber’s Xchange Leasing program. The program was setup for Uber drivers who may not have great credit but still needed clean, late-model cars to help them earn cash picking up Uber fares.

The leasing program was geared toward drivers who had poor credit or no credit history at all, and had few other means of buying a new car. A lot of these drivers reportedly thought leasing through the Xchange program would help them improve or even establish credit. Sadly for many, that hasn’t been the case.

According to a recent report by Quartz Media, Uber “never told drivers that leasing from Xchange would improve their credit.” The program, billed as a flexible financing solution, offered drivers no mileage caps, like a traditional leasing program would.

“Xchange leasing did not claim that participation in Xchange would improve credit scores,” an Uber spokesman reportedly said in an emailed statement.

In spite of that, many drivers assumed the leases would help them not only make money, but regain their credit standing. But when they checked their credit scores, they weren’t seeing any change. It turns out, Xchange wasn’t reporting their accounts to the three major credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.

 

Build Your Credit By Being Careful

If your credit is not so hot, chances are there are plenty of offers out there to give you credit at less-than-stellar interest rates. Some can be helpful to building or establishing credit as long as you manage them responsibly. But before accepting any kind of credit account, it’s important talk to the company making the offer and ask if they report to the major credit bureaus. Get their answer in writing. Require it. If they don’t make those reports, your account won’t do anything to improve your credit scores.

If they do, use your new account wisely so that you can improve your credit. If you have accounts with substantial balances – whether credit cards, student loans or even your mortgage – it could also help to enlist the assistance of a service that help you automate your payments so they’re made on time every month, further improving your credit scores. Whatever credit choices you make, paying down your debt is one of the most important things you can do to improve your credit scores and your financial health in general. 

 

 

[Editorial Disclosure: PayDownMyDebt.com is a service that provides people with tools to pay down their debts through automatic payments. The purpose of this article, however, is not to encourage users to purchase that service. This article is educational and journalistic in nature and aims to help people learn how to pay down their debt, whether they use our site, another, or go it alone.]

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If you’re like most Americans, you don’t check your credit scores or even your credit reports. Even after a major data breach at Equifax this year that could have exposed more than 140 million consumers’ personal data, only about a quarter of U.S. adults bothered to check their credit score or credit report for possible fraud, according to a CreditCards.com survey.

For many consumers, it’s a case of just not thinking their credit is important. They’re not currently trying to buy a car or a home or apply for a new credit card, so what does it matter, right? Wrong.

 

Bad Credit Can Cost You…

Not knowing where your credit stands can come back to bite you in many ways. It doesn’t just affect you when you’re applying for a loan or a credit account. Scammers can use your credit to open fraudulent accounts in your name and wreck your credit in the process. On top of that, your credit standing can actually increase the costs of things like automobile insurance, renters insurance and other financial vehicles if it’s bad enough.

Just like lenders, insurance companies want to know what kind of risk you pose. They’ll look at your driving record to see if you’ve had any accidents or tickets, but in most cases, they’re also going to be looking at your credit scores, though they call them your “insurance scores.” In fact, there are only three states, Hawaii, California and Massachusetts, that do not allow insurance companies to consider your credit scores in setting your coverage premiums.

What bearing could your credit history possibly have on your insurability? It turns out that insurance actuaries (the folks who crunch all the numbers at insurance companies) have found a correlation between your risk factor and your credit scores. The better you handle your finances, the better the chances that you’ll be a responsible driver.

 

…And So Can Debt

All of this means that, if you’re not responsible with your finances – if you make late payments on your credit cards, carry a significant balance from month-to-month, have let an old cable bill go to collections – your insurance premiums will likely be higher. More importantly, bad credit can keep you from reaching your financial goals.

 

How to Improve Your Credit…

Of course, you can’t improve your credit if you don’t even know where you stand. To increase your credit scores, you’re going to have to check them. You can get absolutely free credit reports from many reputable online providers like Credit Karma, Credit.com and others. Caveat: If someone wants your credit card information to provide your credit scores, it’s a good idea to move along. You don’t need to provide that information to get your scores.

You can also get your free credit reports from the three credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, through the website AnnualCreditReport.com. There are a lot of other sites that will charge you or try to get you to purchase other products. Again, there’s no need to pay for anything to get this information.

 

…By Paying Down Your Debt

Once you know your credit scores and have reviewed your credit reports, you can look for ways to improve your credit standing. Are there errors that could give your scores a bump? Fix them. Are there negative accounts listed that are older than seven years? Request that they be removed.

Once you’ve gotten rid of blemishes that shouldn’t be there, it’s time to address legitimate items that could be dragging down your scores. If you’re carrying a lot of debt on credit cards, it’s a good idea to look at ways you can pay them down. Here’s a great explainer on how to pay down your debt fast. You can also consider getting a balance transfer credit card to consolidate your outstanding credit card bills and pay them down without all that extra interest accruing. Here’s how to pick the right balance transfer credit card for your financial situation.

It may seem overwhelming if you’re looking at a mountain of debt, but you can do this. Having a monthly budget can help you take control of your money, which allows you to take control of your future. It’s a good idea to take it one step at a time, but somewhere along your journey, you’ll be able to take a look at all the money you’re saving on credit card interest, insurance premiums and other items because you took those first, critical steps.

[Editorial Disclosure: PayDownMyDebt.com is a service that provides people with tools to pay down their debts through automatic payments. The purpose of this article, however, is not to encourage users to purchase that service. This article is educational and journalistic in nature and aims to help people learn how to pay down their debt, whether they use our site, another, or go it alone.]

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Being organized is a key factor to success in pretty much any aspect of life, even simple, everyday things. Think of your closet. If you can’t find that pair of shoes that goes perfectly with your outfit because they’re buried under a pile of clothes in the far corner behind your hamper, well, you may end up wasting 10 minutes looking for them, making you late to meet your friends. Or you may just bag your favorite outfit altogether and end up wearing something you like less and feel less confident in.

The same is true for your finances. Being organized is the only way you can take control and be successful with your money. That requires creating a budget. It’s especially important if you’re in debt and are becoming even more so. Like keeping track of those shoes in your closet so you don’t waste time trying to find them, knowing how much your bills are and when they’re due will ensure you don’t waste money by accruing late payment fees, racking up interest charges or going into default. If you’ve never created a budget before, try our handy explainer on the basics of building a budget.

Here are five ways a budget helps you pay down your debt:

 

1. You Can Pay Your Bills On Time

If you’re constantly struggling to remember when your bills are due, your budget can help you track that. Writing down all your due dates or entering them into a spreadsheet can help you quickly see exactly how much is due and when (as long as you keep that paper or spreadsheet handy!).

Better yet, once you’ve created a budget, you’ll have a clearer view of your cash flow situation, which means you can see just how much money you’ll have available to pay those bills. At that point, you can consider automating some of your payments to ensure they aren’t forgotten. And if you see any cash flow shortages during the month that will make it hard to pay your bills on time, you can contact the lender or company to see if they can change your due date to a point in the month when you’re more flush with cash.

 

2. You Can Rein In Your Spending

Being honest in your budget is absolutely crucial. Lying to yourself about your spending habits simply makes no sense. So, if you’re spending $15 a day on lunch, don’t pretend you aren’t or your budget isn’t going to work.

Once you’ve pinpointed all of your spending, it’s much easier to see where you can cut back so that you have more money to pay down your debts. Set a goal of how much money you want to save each week and then figure out where it can be cut.

Do you really need subscriptions to all of those movie and television services? Can you make your own coffee in the mornings instead of buying it?

 

3. You Can Review Your Income

If you’re in debt, it means you’re spending more than you’re earning. If your budget shows that you’re just not able to cut back on how much you’re spending each month, it’s time to look at ways you can bring in more income. Figure out how much extra you need each month and then get to work finding a solution for your budget gap. Do you have a skill that can help you earn extra money on your days off? Could you ask your boss for a pay increase? Can you work more hours?

 

4. You Can Formulate a Plan

It’s hard to come up with solutions when you don’t know exactly where the problem lies, but, as we’ve shown above, a budget can help you see clearly exactly why you’re not able to get your finances in order. Once you can see where all of your money is going and just how much you owe, you can implement a plan for getting out of debt once and for all.

Two common methods used to do this are the debt snowball and debt avalanche methods. We’ve put together a handy explainer that can help you implement the right method for you.

 

5. You Can Enjoy Your Progress

Just like that feeling you get when you get your closet in order, with everything hanging or folded neatly and easily found when you want it, you’ll feel a major sense of accomplishment and ease as you track your monthly spending and watch your debt become less and less (and your credit score go up and up!). In fact, it’s even better than getting your closet organized.

[Editorial Disclosure: PayDownMyDebt.com is a service that provides people with tools to pay down their debts through automatic payments. The purpose of this article, however, is not to encourage users to purchase that service. This article is educational and journalistic in nature and aims to help people learn how to pay down their debt, whether they use our site, another, or go it alone.]

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We’ve written before about the basics of paying down virtually any kind of debt. We’ve even offered step-by-step instructions on how to pay off debt permanently. But there are also some simple, everyday tips that can help you save significant amounts of money so that you can pay off your debts even faster.

You’ll hardly notice these things, but they’ll help you save at least $25 or more each week, which means you can apply that extra cash to things like your credit card payments, your auto loan or even your mortgage.

Here are five practically painless ways to save money and pay down your debt fast.

 

1. Pack Your Lunch

Depending on where you live and your eating habits, this can be a huge savings. If you’re spending $15 on lunch every day, this simple step can save you a ton, even if you’re buying a $5 frozen meal instead. Instantly, you go from spending $300 a month to $125. You can save even more if you make your own food or take leftovers.

Give yourself a challenge: See just how little you can spend on your lunch each day for the next month, and put the difference in a jar. You may be amazed. Even an extra $25 a month goes a long way, especially if you’re using it to pay more toward your credit card debt each month (you can also consider paying off your credit card debt using a balance transfer credit card). 

 

2. Ride Your Bike or Walk

This isn’t an option for everyone, obviously, but if you live close enough to work or wherever it is you need to go, grab your bike helmet and give it a go. Strap on your rollerblades. Grab your skateboard. Or just put on your walking shoes. If you drive just five miles to and from work each day, you could save yourself hundreds of dollars a year by making this change.

If you live too far from work for this to be an option, try carpooling with a neighbor or taking public transportation. You’ll still see some savings.

 

3. Cut Back on Smoking & Drinking

Not only is this good for your wallet, it’s also good for your health. A person smoking a pack of cigarettes a day spends about $40 a week based on an average price of around $5.50. That amounts to nearly $2,000 a year. It’s literally money up in smoke.

Cutting back on booze is also a quick way to save money. If you drink two glasses of wine per day at home, it’s probably costing you around $7. That’s nearly $50 a week.

 

4. Consider a Gym Alternative

If you’re like most people with a gym membership, you’re probably not going frequently enough to get your money’s worth. No, we’re not telling you to stop working out. Being healthy is important (and can also save you money in the long run). Instead of spending the $20 or $30 bucks each month, though, try working out at home using free exercise apps or online videos. Or go for a run or walk. Staying in shape doesn’t have to cost you money.

 

5. Stop Eating Out So Much

It’s so easy to just go grab some food at a restaurant instead of cooking, especially when you’re tired from a long day of work. But eating at home can save you a ton of money. According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American household spent more than $3,000 on eating out in 2015 and just $4,015 on groceries. By cutting restaurant meals by just half, the average family could save more than $100 a month based on these figures.

Whatever ways you choose to save money in order to pay down your debt, it’s important to have a plan for how you’re going to do it. That starts with a monthly budget and then sticking to it. And while it may not sound like fun, it’s an important step toward reaching your financial goals. Your future self will thank you for it.

 

 

[Editorial Disclosure: PayDownMyDebt.com is a service that provides people with tools to pay down their debts through automatic payments. The purpose of this article, however, is not to encourage users to purchase that service. This article is educational and journalistic in nature and aims to help people learn how to pay down their debt, whether they use our site, another, or go it alone.]

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If you’ve ever built a snowman in winter, you understand the concept of a snowball growing larger as it rolls through snow. It’s especially true for snowballs rolling downhill. They gain momentum and size as they descend. Well, the same concept can be used for paying down your debts.

The debt snowball concept is simple. Start by paying off your smallest debt first, so you gain momentum, then move on to the next smallest and the next. If you’re sick and tired of being in debt, it’s one of the easiest ways to get control of your finances and to pay down your debt without any outside help.

To get started, it’s a good idea to take a look at your total monthly income and all of your bills and create a budget to see exactly where you stand. If it turns out you’re spending more per month than you’re actually bringing in, you may want to look at ways you can reduce your spending and/or how you can bring in more cash (here’s how one woman paid off $8,000 in credit card debt in just nine months).

Once your budget is in place, you’re ready to figure out action plan so you can attack your debt methodically. One way to do that is the debt snowball method. We’ve put together a worksheet that you can download and print. 

Below, we’ve broken down exactly how the worksheet works, plus provided you with some tools to help you put your plan in place.

 

How the Debt Snowball Method Works

  1. Using our handy spreadsheet, you’ll start out by listing your debts, smallest to largest based on the total amount outstanding.
  2. Next, you’ll list your monthly minimum payments for each debt.
  3. Then, based on the numbers from your budget, you’ll add how much extra you can pay each month toward the debt listed first.
  4. Finally, you’ll calculate how many months it will take you to pay off (you’ll need to include interest, so using a debt payoff calculator like this one can be helpful in figuring out just how long it will take).

Once your first debt is paid off, you can begin to apply your minimum payment for your first debt, along with the extra amount you were paying toward it, to your second debt. Once that debt is paid off, you can then apply your minimum payments for the first and second debt plus the extra to your third debt, and so on. Here’s an example:

As you can see in this example, it will take 11 months to pay off the first credit card if you pay an extra $200 per month over the minimum amount due (this is, of course, without incurring any further debt on this card). You’ll then take that $235 and add it to the $65 minimum payment you’ve been making on the second credit card. That will take an additional year to pay off. Then you’ll move to the next largest debt, and so on.

The debt snowball method is great for people who need the positive reinforcement that quick results can provide. There are some drawbacks, however. Compared to other debt elimination methods, like the debt avalanche, for example, the debt snowball is a little slower and can end up costing you more money in interest payments. But, if it’s incentive you need to help you stick to your money goals, the debt snowball method can put you on the right path.

You can read more here about the debt snowball and debt avalanche methods of paying down debt to decide which method you think is right for your financial needs.

[Editorial Disclosure: PayDownMyDebt.com is a service that provides people with tools to pay down their debts through automatic payments. The purpose of this article, however, is not to encourage users to purchase that service. This article is educational and journalistic in nature and aims to help people learn how to pay down their debt, whether they use our site, another, or go it alone.]

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Buying a new car can be an exciting experience if your finances are in order and you can take your time shopping for the vehicle you like best. On the flip side, it can be a stressful experience if you need a new car right now and aren’t sure how you’ll pay for it.

If you’re in the latter position, you may be worried about coming up with a down payment, wondering if the car you can actually afford is safe and reliable, and whether your credit will get you a good interest rate if you need to take out a loan.

On top of these considerations is also the cost of insurance, which can easily add the equivalent of an extra three, four, five or more monthly car payments each year to your overall costs. Your premiums depend on numerous factors, including where you live. For example, the average annual cost of auto insurance nationwide is $1,318, according to Insure.com, an independent consumer insurance website. But if you live in Michigan, the most expensive state for insurance, that average jumps to $2,394 per year. If you live in Maine, though, your average insurance costs will run far less at just $864.

 

How to Lower Your Insurance Costs

The good news about your insurance premiums is that you can control many of the factors that add to the costs, beyond where you choose to live.

“Insurance rates vary depending on a driver’s record, age, miles driven, whether you’ve had any accidents or traffic infractions,” Loretta Worters of the Insurance Information Institute said. “The fewer claims you have, the better your prices will be.”

That’s because your insurance premiums are based on risk. So, If you take part in risky behaviors and get caught – such as having a DUI, having been involved in an accident or had traffic tickets for speeding, your insurance will be higher.

“The best way to reduce your insurance costs includes driving safely, taking driver training courses and improving your credit by paying your bills on time,” Worters said.

Here are more details on the four things that affect your insurance premiums the most, and how you can minimize their impact.

 

  1. Your Driving Record

Avoiding accidents and traffic tickets are perhaps the most important things you can do to keep your insurance costs in check. And if you get a speeding ticket, for example, take advantage of any driver safety classes you can take that will get the ticket dismissed from your record.

 

  1. Buy Practical Vehicles

The general rule is, the more expensive your vehicle, the more your insurance premiums will be. That’s not always true, but you can typically expect high-end luxury cars to be more expensive to insure.

 

  1. Drive Less

This is a tough one for a lot of people who commute long distances for work. But the fact remains that you’re probably going to pay more for insurance if you commute 60 miles one way than if you commute five miles. If you can, live closer to your work or talk to your boss about working remotely a couple of days a week to help reduce your costs. Bonus for your boss: That drive time could be used working.

 

  1. Consider Your Credit

In most states, your credit is an important factor in determining your insurance premiums, so keeping your credit in good standing (unless you live in California, Hawaii or Massachusetts, where credit scores are not used in determining insurance premiums) can have a tremendous impact on your annual insurance costs and how you budget for them.

 

Finding the Right Coverage

Whatever your financial situation, keeping your insurance premiums low while still getting quality coverage and service requires doing some comparison shopping.

“The best way to know if an insurance quote is a good deal is to compare different companies,” Worters said. “You don’t just want to go by price alone, however. While that’s important, you also want to make sure the insurance company is financially healthy to pay your claims.

“You can compare insurance quotes online to get an idea of what the costs are,” Worters continued. “You can also speak with an insurance professional if you have specific questions.”

By doing all you can to keep your risk factors at a minimum and find the best possible rates, you’ll spend less to insure your vehicle. That means you can put that money toward paying off your auto loan faster (here’s an explainer on how to pay down your debt faster for virtually any kind of debt), or putting extra money into your retirement or other savings. Either way, it helps to ensure your continued financial health.

 

[Editorial Disclosure: PayDownMyDebt.com is a service that provides people with tools to pay down their debts through automatic payments. The purpose of this article, however, is not to encourage users to purchase that service. This article is educational and journalistic in nature and aims to help people learn how to pay down their debt, whether they use our site, another, or go it alone.]

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You hear it all the time: Save, save, save for retirement. It’s solid advice, but maxing out your retirement contributions doesn’t do you a lot of good if you’re also maxing out your credit cards and paying interest on that debt month after month after month.

Of course, it’s even worse if you’re skipping your retirement contributions altogether just so you can pay your monthly financial obligations. That’s why paying off your debt, especially revolving debt like credit cards, is an important first step in retirement planning. Just ask one of the millions of retirees who still have debt hanging over their heads.

A recent study commissioned by Bankers Life Center for a Secure Retirement found that only 23% of retirees report being debt free. The study also found that nearly a third (28%) of middle-income Baby Boomers nearing retirement spend more than 40% of their monthly income toward debt. That’s not a great scenario for building up adequate retirement savings. Fortunately, there’s hope.

“It is never too late to improve the outlook for your retirement financial security,” Scott Goldberg, president of Bankers Life, said in a prepared statement. “Beginning to pay down debt and developing an action plan are critical first steps toward a secure retirement.”

With those words of advice in mind, let’s take a look at how you can start paying down your debt as soon as possible so that you can begin maxing out your retirement savings.

 

Avoid Lifestyle Inflation

For many people, earning more income as they advance in their careers means they’re able to afford a nicer lifestyle. A bigger house or a nicer car is great, but not if you already aren’t able to pay off things like your credit card payments every month, make extra payments toward your mortgage or automobile loan or have an emergency fund in place. Chances are if you aren’t doing those things because your bigger, better life is so expensive, you’re probably also not saving enough for retirement. Try to keep your lifestyle in check until you’ve built up significant savings and are maxing out your retirement savings.

 

Prioritize Your Debt

There’s good debt and bad debt. Things like mortgages and student loans fall into the first category and credit cards fall into the second. If you have a mortgage, you can focus on trying to pay it off as quickly as possible to save money on interest, but it’s a good idea to do so only if you’ve paid off your credit card debt first. (Here are five signs you should be paying more toward your mortgage.) That’s because significant credit card debt can negatively impact your credit scores, which means you’ll pay more for borrowing on everything from your mortgage to automobile loans.

You can start working on prioritizing your debt a couple of different ways. Here’s a handy explainer on how to prioritize your debt and get rid of it once and for all.

 

Let Your Retirement Savings Take a Back Seat — Temporarily

It may seem counterintuitive, but focusing on your debt today and your retirement savings tomorrow can help you be better prepared and save more for retirement. So, if you’re strapped with some debt, you can consider temporarily reducing your retirement savings to the minimum amount that lets you max out any employer contributions you may have, and focus the difference on paying off your debt.

With some dedication, you can keep your spending reined in, your debt at a minimum, your emergency fund fully stocked and your retirement savings on track.

 

[Editorial Disclosure: PayDownMyDebt.com is a service that provides people with tools to pay down their debts through automatic payments. The purpose of this article, however, is not to encourage users to purchase that service. This article is educational and journalistic in nature and aims to help people learn how to pay down their debt, whether they use our site, another, or go it alone.]

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Whether your debt has three, four or even five zeroes attached to it, you’re going to need to follow some simple basics in order to successfully pay it off. That’s because paying off debt requires planning, endurance, safety precautions and taking it one day or one step at a time.

To successfully pay off your debt also requires lifestyle changes that you can maintain for years or even a lifetime. It’s really the only way to keep your debt in check and your financial life on the right trajectory.

Here are six debt management basics that can help you establish good money habits, get out of debt and stay that way.

 

1. Budget

Yes, the B word. Budgets are about as boring as watching paint dry for a lot of us, but they’re an absolute necessity if you want to be in control of your finances. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. It can literally be a piece of paper with two columns showing your income and outgo each month.

By writing everything down, you can assess whether there are things you can live without, cut them from your budget and apply that money elsewhere, like your credit card payments, student loan payments or even establishing an emergency fund.

 

2. Resources

At the end of the day, you can be the most frugal person you know and, if you aren’t bringing in enough money to make ends meet, you’re never going to get out of debt and get ahead financially.

This can be tough for many people, but really assessing how you can bring in more money each month is genuinely helpful. Should you ask for a raise at work? Do you have any skills that would let you earn extra income through a side hustle? What about additional education? Is it financially worthwhile to seek a degree in your chosen field, or to get additional certifications or training? (Here’s how one financial blogger brought in more money and paid off her debt quickly.)

Consider your options and your available time and get to work on your own personal plan to earn more income.

 

3. Safety Net

Sure you can put all your money toward paying off any existing debt you may have, but if you don’t have a safety net like an emergency fund or at least a savings account, chances are good that one unforeseen major expense will put you right back in debt. So, before you start paying off all your debts, make sure you can build your future self a nice little cushion, because that rainy day will come along and you’ll be happy you were prepared when it does.

 

4. Plan of Attack

Once you’ve put all the previous basics in place, you can focus on knocking out that debt. To do so, you’ll need a plan of attack. There are any number of ways to do this, but two tried-and-true methods are the debt snowball and the debt avalanche approaches. Here’s a handy primer on how to pay off debt.

 

5. Outside Help

If you’ve tried repeatedly to pay down your debt and haven’t been completely successful, you may need to ask for help. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available, including tools that can help you automate your debt payments. If you’re seriously in debt and are considering serious action like bankruptcy, you may wish to seek the advice of a credit counselor. As with any financial advice, it’s important to do your research and ensure the person you’re speaking with is qualified, licensed and isn’t going to charge you an exorbitant amount of money.

 

6. Perseverance

Finally, to get rid of your debt once and for all — and to stay out of debt in the future — you’re going to need to be diligent. Just like losing weight and then gaining it all back again, going back into debt can be frustrating. But by establishing good spending and savings habits by applying these debt management basics, you’ll be putting yourself on a path to a debt-free life.

 

[Editorial Disclosure: PayDownMyDebt.com is a service that provides people with tools to pay down their debts through automatic payments. The purpose of this article, however, is not to encourage users to purchase that service. This article is educational and journalistic in nature and aims to help people learn how to pay down their debt, whether they use our site, another, or go it alone.]

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