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The Debt Snowball Method

May 31, 2008
There are several methods that can be used when people want to systematically pay off their debts. One of the difficulties with debt management is that it can be hard to know which debts to pay off first or how to go about paying down various liabilities. There are several schools of thought to help people through this process, and one method that is gaining in popularity is the debt snowball method.

The debt snowball method requires the borrower to first get their debts organized. This process begins by listing all of the debts you owe on a spreadsheet. Some borrowers choose to leave their mortgage off the list, since it's usually a much larger liability than other debts and can't realistically be paid off over a relatively short period of time. The list of debts you create should have payoff amounts, interest rates, and minimum monthly payments. The debt snowball method calls for debts to be organized based on the size of the outstanding balance. For example:

Type of Debt Payoff Amount Interest Rate Minimum Payment

Auto Loan 1 $20,000 5.9% $400 Credit Card $12,000 19.9% $225 Student Loan $8000 6.9% $115 Auto Loan 2 $5000 5.9% $260

In this example, you've placed the debt with the largest overall balance at the top of the list. Your total combined minimum payment on all four debts is $1000. If your budget allows for $1500 per month to pay down debt, the snowball method would prescribe making the minimum payments on the three debts with the largest balances, for a total of $740, and paying the remaining $760 toward the smallest loan balance, in this case Auto Loan 2.

Why does this work? The idea behind the snowball method is that you'll pay off the smallest loans first and be able to cross them off of your list, thus motivating you to stick with the program. The psychological benefits of having only three monthly debt payments instead of four will help you to keep working to get out of debt. After Auto Loan 2 is paid off, your job is to continue paying $1500 a month, this time paying minimums on the first two debts, and putting all the excess toward the student loan, paying it off as quickly as possible and reinforcing the positive feelings of paying off another debt.

Another variation of the debt snowball method is to rank debts not by the size of the payoff amount, but by the interest rate. Proponents of the Interest Rate Snowball method prefer to pay off the loan with the highest interest rate first, helping to make sure that the borrower ends up paying less overall and paying off debts in a shorter period of time.

Both of the above snowball methods will work, but only when accompanied by discipline and a commitment to contribute monthly and stop accumulating new debt. The debt snowball method is a great first step to take before looking for more costly professional debt solutions.
About the Author
Thinking of trying to lower your payments by negotiating credit card debt yourself? Be sure to visit the Debtopedia website to get some helpful tips first.
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