Money Monday: Five Ways to Pay Down Your Debt

African-Americans are significantly more likely to have some type of debt compared to the general population.

According to a recent Prudential Research study, The African-American Financial Experience, African-Americans are significantly more likely to have some type of debt (94%) compared to the general population (82%). Credit card, student loan and personal debt are all significantly higher in the African-American community, according to Prudential, and debt is a major issue even for more affluent African-Americans.

African-Americans have a median household debt of $18,000 (not including home mortgages), approximately 50% higher than the household debt for the general population. Debt exacts an emotional burden as well as a financial one. One in four African-Americans has felt anxiety or depression as a result of debt and about one in 10 have experienced relationship conflict (14%) or low self-esteem (12%) due to debt.

Whether you are getting married, getting your first “real” job or starting a family, there’s no time like the presence to assess your current debt levels and come up with a plan for paying them down. Here are five ways to get started today:

Pay more than just minimum payments. If you can break the habit of writing a check only to cover the minimum payments due you’ll be moving in the right direction. If you can double that $150 payment and make it $300, for example, you’ll go beyond barely covering your interest and fees and be taking a real chunk out of the total amount outstanding on your account.

Make a few sacrifices to get your debt paid down. Look for where the “extra dollars” in your budget are being spent and come up with creative ways to raise money. You might, for example, start using an envelope to collect money you’d be otherwise spending on $5 lattes every day. At the end of one month you’ll have about $150 to send to your credit card company or bank.

Transfer balances to cards with lower rates. Take a look at what you’re paying in fees for every card. If you have one with lower fees than the rest – and if you haven’t hit the limit on that lower-fee card – consider moving your debt balance over and then focusing on paying down the balance on that single card (rather than spreading yourself thin across multiple accounts).

Tap into your savings account (with caution!). Your savings account is probably paying about 1% in interest these days (give or take), but your credit card companies are charging anywhere from 12-24% to lend you money. Consider using a portion of your savings to pay down your debt — without cannibalizing your emergency fund, of course. 

Turn to financial programs for help. Your financial institution may be able to help you get a handle on your debt once and for all. Wells Fargo’s Debt Pay Down Solution®, for example, offers a simple way to help you pay down your high-interest debt. The program helps consumers consolidate debt into a single manageable loan; use online tools to monitor deposits and spending by category; and apply surpluses to monthly loan payments.

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(Photo: John Lamb / Getty Images)

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