I don’t know about you.
But I started my debt payoff journey because I was sick and tired of the never-ending payments.
I was tired of feeling like I was stuck with my student loans. I was tired of feeling like my “new normal” was thousands of dollars in debt.
Here’s the thing:
You’re not alone. And you definitely aren’t the only one who struggles with feeling stuck.
I’m proof that it’s possible to learn how to pay off debt fast with low income. And today I want to share the 13 things I did to become debt free in less than 2 years.
Because if I can do this, then so can you.
Ready? Let’s dive in.
Step 1 | I Tallied Up My Debt
Adding up debt can feel overwhelming, intimidating, and maybe even scary.
But think about it:
If you don’t get clear on your numbers, then you risk staying stuck like a hamster in a wheel. And that’s an easy trap to fall into.
For a long time, I had anxiety about my debt. I knew “about” how much debt I had, but I wasn’t exactly sure.
So when I got up enough backbone to face it, I sat down and tallied up every. single. penny.
I had $76,453.49 worth of debt from student loans, credit cards, my car loan, and medical bills.
This is a tough first step. But if you can get past it, then you’ll have a much higher chance of becoming debt-free.
Sit down and add up all of your debt. Focus on 2 things:
1. The balance
2. The minimum payment required
What’s your total?
Step 2 | I Started Saving While I Spent
Do you like to keep things simple?
You don’t always have time to clip coupons, but you love saving money.
Use a cashback app like Rakuten to save money on everything you buy.
If you’re unfamiliar with it, Rakuten is a rewards program that gives you cashback when you shop online.
I’ve earned over $1,000 since 2013. And last year, when my oven decided to kick the bucket, I got $63 back from that purchase alone.
So here’s what you do:
Sign up for an account and use the search bar to find the store you want to shop at. For my visual readers, here’s how that looks:
As you make purchases, you’ll get cashback.
Note: Our Rakuten link gives you $10 for signing up.
Step 3 | I Lowered My Interest Rates
Let’s face it.
Lenders make a ton off the interest they charge.
You know that feeling of realizing most of your payment went to interest instead of principal?
Yeah, that feeling sucks.
Sorry, let me rephrase.
So when I first graduated from college, I had no idea what student loan refinancing meant. But most of my debt was student loans, so I started doing my research.
I remember googling things like, “how to get out of debt when you are broke” and reading every financial book I could get my hands on.
That’s when I found Credible. Credible matched me with a loan that allowed me to refinance my student loans and lower my interest rate.
Refinancing also lowered my monthly payment.
So what is student loan refinancing?
When they refinance your loans, it means they pay off your existing loan(s) and give you a new loan with a lower rate. And if you have multiple loans, then they get combined into a single loan. This makes it easier to keep up with your bills.
My Credible loan lowered my interest rate from 6.03% to 4.96%. And according to their research, Credible users save an average of $18,886 over the life of their loan.
They also gave me an extra 0.25% interest rate deduction because I used auto-pay. By doing this step alone, I saved myself $3,816 in interest.
So just because you can’t pay off the entire balance right away, don’t settle for a high-interest rate.
(Especially if you’re learning how to pay off debt fast with low income)
Either move your balances to a lower rate card or use Credible to lower your interest rates.
Note: If you need more info on Credible, then check our full Credible Review
Step 4 | I Fired My Bank
Have you checked your bank statements lately?
I’m not saying any names. But at my last bank, there was a fee for every. single. thing.
A maintenance fee. A card swipe fee. A fee for not keeping a certain balance. And I knew I needed to cut unnecessary expenses, so I switched to a Capital One 360 account.
With Capital One, you don’t have to worry about the hidden fees that cripple your budget. Plus, they use an overdraft line of credit instead of overdraft charges.
Step 5 | The Debt Snowball Method
By this point, I had heard about Dave Ramsey.
(He’s a financial expert that’s not afraid to give you a kick in the ass when you need it)
He introduced me to the Debt Snowball Method.
So here’s the deal:
You need a debt payoff plan in place. Otherwise, you risk getting overwhelmed and falling off the wagon.
I recommend the Debt Snowball Method because it’s simple. Here’s what you do:
List all your debts from smallest balance to largest balance. Start paying AS MUCH as you possibly can towards the smallest debt.
Make minimum payments on everything else.
Once the smallest debt is paid off, move to the next smallest debt. Keep working your way up until your debt-free.
My smallest debt was the $75 I owed to Target. I was able to knock that out within the first month. And for the first time in a long time, this meant I actually felt like I was making progress on my debt.
And it showed me that learning how to pay off debt fast with low income wasn’t as bad as I once thought.
Step 6 | I Made Biweekly Payments
Want to know one of my favorite tricks to paying off credit cards?
Split your payments into two each month. This means you’ll have an extra payment go towards your debt each year.
Why? Because the biweekly method equals out to 26 half payments – or 13 full payments made each year, compared to 12 full payments made on a monthly payment plan.
So here’s what worked for me:
I split my monthly bills in half and paid every other week. For example, if I was paying $600/month, then I split it into $300 every 2 weeks.
So are you ready to see the biweekly method in action? The graph below shows the traditional payment method in green and the biweekly method in orange:
See how the loan balance reduced faster with the bi-weekly method?
This trick is effortless. Just change the way you make the payments.
Make sure that your lender implements your payments correctly.
For example, you need those second payments to go towards your balance instead of forwarded towards your next bill. You can double check by logging in and checking your account or by calling your lender.
Step 7 | I Sold My Car
Let’s face it.
Wasting money on something that sits idle 90% of the time isn’t the smartest idea. What am I talking about?
Here’s the deal:
I had $18,565 left on my car loan. And if there’s one thing I learned from The Total Money Makeover, it’s this:
The total value of all your cars shouldn’t be more than half of your annual income.
And most people who are learning how to pay off debt fast with low income realize they’re driving a car they can’t afford. Thankfully, my car wasn’t more than half my annual income, so this didn’t apply to me.
But I decided to sell it anyway.
Why? Because I hated the idea of being stuck with my debt any longer than I had to. I knew that if I could cut my car loan in half, then I’d be one step closer to becoming debt free.
So once I found a buyer for my car, I went to my local credit union and got a loan for $9,000. I used this to buy a cheaper used car.
And just like that, I saved myself thousands of dollars.
Step 8 | I Got a Personal Loan
When you find yourself on the wrong side of credit card debt – personal loans can be a BIG help.
My credit score was right above average, so my bank offered me a lower interest rate than my credit card company did.
So I consolidated all my credit card debt into that personal loan. I locked in a lower interest rate and lowered my monthly payments.
If you remember from step 2, this is similar to how I saved money on my student loans with Credible.
If you can’t find a bank or credit union that’ll give you a personal loan, I recommend going through Credible instead. They offer personal loans and student loan refinancing.
Step 9 | I Started Using Cash
Did you know that people who use cards waste 12%-18% more money than people who use cash?
When I found that out, I knew I had to try it. So I started with these cash envelopes because they were cheap and easy to label.
I was hooked.
So then I bought the SavvyCents wallet because it’s durable and makes managing money a breeze. After 3 months, I had increased my savings by 20%.
Think about it:
Swiping a card doesn’t sink in as much as handing over your hard-earned dollars.
Cash systems have a built-in accountability system, too. Because when you’re out of money, then you’re out of money. No more inflating your lifestyle with credit.
Step 10 | I Threw My Tax Refund At My Debt
Because what better way to use money that you weren’t planning on having anyway?
My company doesn’t offer bonuses, but if they did, then I would’ve thrown that at my debt too.
Step 11 | I Moved
Nowadays, I’m a homeowner (I never thought I’d be able to say that) but back then I was a renting a 2-bedroom, 2 bath apartment.
My apartment was in a great area, had a nice view – and did I mention it had an amazing swimming pool?
Yeah, well…while all that stuff was fine and dandy, the truth is – I couldn’t afford that apartment.
Why did I need 2 bedrooms just for me?
I was full speed ahead in my debt-free journey. I was doing whatever it took to finally get that massive burden off my back.
I downsized to a 1 bedroom, 1 bath apartment in a good area, without the view, no pool, and no gym. This alone saved me hundreds of dollars each month. And no, I didn’t even miss that pool.
Step 12 | I Got a Side Hustle
Do you need extra money? There are two things I tell people who are learning how to pay off debt fast with low income:
Spend less or earn more.
And ideally, you should try to do both.
So here’s what I did:
I started teaching English online with VIPKid. This meant every morning before work, I was teaching English to Chinese kids. This put an extra $1,000 to $2,000 in my pocket each month.
Best of all?
I was able to do it from home.
So if you’re interested in applying to VIPKid – then you can read more about it in Kristen’s article:
Step 13 | I Said ‘No’ A Lot
You know how it is.
It’s hard to say no to friends and family, isn’t it?
I get it. But even though it’s not always easy, you have to learn to say ‘no.’
I passed up vacations, dinners, and wasting money. I scaled back my lifestyle in every area.
I focused on the BIG picture.
Because I knew I’d be happier in the long run if I was able to get this debt behind me once and for all.
I started cooking more at home using recipes that I found in this cookbook.
I quit going to the movies and started using Amazon Instant Video instead. Little by little, these things added up.
And over the course of 19 months and these 13 steps, I finally became debt free.
Let me be the first one to tell you:
Being debt free is awesome. And I know this feels like a s-l-o-w journey, but quitting won’t speed it up.
You can do this.
So, commit to the process. To focusing on your goal. To getting that burden off your back.
Start making tiny ripples. That’s how change begins.
Are you ready?