Letting your debt payments snowball

Young college-age woman rolling giant snowball to make snowman
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The debt snowball method has you starting with your smallest debts.

In the debt snowball method, you concentrate on paying off your account with the lowest balance first, and only pay the minimum monthly payments on the others.

Once you've disposed of the smallest debt, you move on to the one with the next smallest balance. You work your way up (snowball your way) to tackling your biggest and baddest debts.

This method allows you to start with relatively quick wins and build up your confidence, which can be very helpful if you have debt fatigue or need to recharge your motivation.

You might be able to dump your first debt in just a couple of months, which can make your feel really good about yourself. (Way to go!) But you might be vulnerable to big interest charges on the other accounts.

Letting debt avalanche away

Huge real avalanche in the French Alps with the moon and blue sky
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In the debt avalanche method, you focus first on your high-interest debt.

It takes patience and discipline to stick with the debt avalanche method.

Instead of focusing first on your smallest balance, the debt avalanche method has you start by gunning for the debt with the highest interest rate. You make only the minimum payments on the others.

This approach might help you pay off your debts faster and at a lower cost, because you'll be reducing your interest charges.

But with this method, it may be more difficult to see progress if your high-interest balances are your bigger debts that take longer to clear away.

To help you stay on your payoff track, make sure you have an emergency fund set aside to deal with any surprise expenses that might arise.

Debt snowball vs. debt avalanche: which debt payoff method should you use?

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You have to determine which method will work best for you.

Snowball or avalanche? The right method for you is the one that you’ll stick to. Both options are wins, since they help you get rid of your debt.

So, do the math and dig into the numbers, but also consider the psychology. Which strategy is likely to keep you motivated?

Though the avalanche method would likely save you hundreds of dollars in interest, Forbes reports that multiple scientific studies have found consumers are more likely to pay off debts using the snowball method.

Your choice ultimately depends on the amount of debt you have, your goals, your personality and your situation. There's no one right or wrong answer, just one goal to keep in mind: achieving your financial freedom.

About the Author

Doug Whiteman

Doug Whiteman

Editor-in-Chief

Doug Whiteman is the editor-in-chief of MoneyWise. He has been quoted by The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and CNBC.com and has been interviewed on Fox Business, CBS Radio and the syndicated TV show "First Business."

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