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How to pay off debt fast: The ways I paid off $80k in 3 years

I paid off $80,000 of credit card and student debt in just three years. Here are 11 tactics I used to pay off debt fast and regain control of my money.
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How much debt do you have? At first, debt repayment seems impossible. In my case, nearly everything I earned went to my debt payoff plan.

But I utilized a number of tactics to make extra payments, which ultimately helped me pay off debt fast. It was part smart personal finance and part hustling. But, as a result, I was able to clear my debt balances and regain control of my money.

Use the debt snowball method

Use the debt snowball method when you have multiple debts to pay off.

With a debt snowball, each month you’ll make the minimum payments on all of your debts. Then, pay any additional money you have to put toward your debt repayment to your smallest debt. When that debt is paid off, you take all of the monthly payments you were paying to debt #1 and pay it to the next smallest loan. (Now that payment is much larger, hence the “snowball”).

A debt snowball is motivating because you see some of your debts be paid off entirely as quickly as possible. Note, however, that a debt snowball is the not the fastest nor the most cost-effective debt repayment strategy.

An alternative to a debt snowball is a debt avalanche. With a debt avalanche, you’ll put extra payments to the debt with the highest interest rate first. The upside to the debt avalanche method is that you’ll pay less interest in the long run and, possibly, be debt free a month or two faster.

Get a debt consolidation loan for credit card debt

If you have high-interest credit card balances, a debt consolidation loan can be a lifesaver. As long as you have average-or-better credit, you may be able to get a personal loan at a lower interest rate than your credit cards, which often have the highest interest rate.

Debt consolidation loans are great for two reasons: First, you’ll save money on interest the minute you use it to pay off your credit cards. Better yet, a personal loan comes with a single monthly payment and a fixed repayment period (usually three or five years). That means you’re making fixed payments each and every month and know exactly when your debt will be paid off. And, if you come into money along the way, you can always pay off the debt early without prepayment penalties.

Compare today’s lowest interest rate personal loans here.

Also, use our loan payoff calculator to see how different payments and interest rates affect your loan.

Consider home equity loans

If you’re a homeowner, home equity loans or home equity lines of credit are a good alternative to personal loans for debt consolidation. You may be able to borrow money from home equity in larger amounts and at a lower interest rate than a personal loan.

The downsides to home equity loans and lines of credit are 1) a lengthier application process and 2) the fact that the loan is secured by your home. Credit card bills, for example, are unsecured. So if you fail to pay them back, the bank can sue you but can’t automatically take your property. With a secured mortgage like a home equity loan, the bank can (and will) foreclose upon your house if you don’t pay them back. Something to consider.

What about balance transfer cards for credit card balances?

A balance transfer credit card is another payment strategy for consolidating high-interest credit card balances. With a new balance transfer card, you can you move your debt from one credit card to the new one which will feature a low (often 0%) introductory APR.

Though balance transfer cards can save you a lot in interest, they tend to keep you in debt. When you transfer balances, it’s too tempting to only pay the minimum payment or even start using the credit card you just paid off again. Also, balance transfer credit cards often require the very best credit scores to qualify.

Refinance, if possible

If you have a student loan, auto loan, or any kind of mortgage, always look to see if you can save money by refinancing your loan.

Refinancing will make sense when interest rates today are lower than they were when you first took out the loan(s). Even if interest rates have not changed (or even if they’ve gone up), if your credit scores or credit utilization ratio have improved significantly, you may qualify for a lower interest rate than before.

Student loan refinancing can be an opportunity to consolidate multiple student loans into one monthly payment, in addition to paying off the debt faster.

Earn all the extra money

If you’re like me, part of why you’re struggling with high interest debt or balances on multiple credit cards is because you had a hard time spending less than you earn. So now, if we want to get out of debt, we need to spend much less than we earn so we have money to make our monthly debt payments. Therefore, it’s nearly impossible to become debt free without earning extra money.

Get a second job

In addition to my 9-to-5 job, I worked nights and weekends at Starbucks. How might you earn extra money?

I put all of my Starbucks earnings (and tips) toward my debt repayment strategy. Yes, it was exhausting—but it added up to between $800 and $1,000 extra dollars a month.

Scroll for extra cash

Though it may seem too good to be true, you can actually earn extra cash by taking online surveys.

Every day, big companies are looking for real people to respond to questions to help with their market research. Now let’s be honest: You’re not going to get rich answering questions about which brands of soap you prefer—the actual payout from taking online surveys usually works out to minimum wage. But, if you have time to kill, you can earn a few bucks an hour with just your laptop or your phone

Though you’ll be spending less while trying to pay off debt, you will need to buy some things along the way. Rewards programs that pay a fraction of your purchase back can be a way to find some extra dollars here and there.

Swagbucks pays you swag points for every $1 you spend. You can redeem the points for gift cards quickly and you earn a $5 bonus after you earn your first 2,500 SB points.


Swagbucks is perhaps the web’s no. 1 venue for taking surveys, watching videos, and playing games for cash online. The platform is well-built, well-reviewed, and available for Android, iOS, and through your internet browser. 

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Use cash back credit cards

Although it may be surprising, I continued to carry one credit card while I was paying off debt. Although misusing credit cards is what got me into debt in the first place, by the time I was in payoff phase, I understood the error of my ways. I had been overspending money I didn’t have. Although many financial experts issue an ultimatum to anyone who has overspent on their credit cards — that you MUST cut them up—I do not like relying on debit cards or cash for all of my everyday spending.

Yes, there are times when both are convenient. But if you have the resolve NOT to spend more money than you have on a credit card, why wouldn’t you use one?

With the right credit card, you can earn between 1% and 5% cash back on most purchases and—even better—you get the peace of mind from knowing there is a buffer between you and a hacker who might get ahold of your card.

Sell unused frequent flyer miles

On a related note, if you’ve collected a substantial amount of frequent flyer miles, there are websites that will buy them from you. Like anytime you sell something to a third-party broker, you get far less than the miles are worth, but if you’re in debt, cash is far more important than a few frequent flyer miles.

I will say that this is a somewhat sketchy move, as the airlines prohibit it. I didn’t actually sell my miles; rather, I exchanged them for points that could be used for gift cards at places like Amazon. This site describes how selling frequent flyer miles works (and the risks).

Start a business

I started Money Under 30 at about the same time I began working a second job at Starbucks. (A luxury of the young, single, and childless, I realize). But within a few years, my blogging was earning enough money that it seemed like a better use of my time than an hourly part-time job. Without a doubt, blogging helped to pay off my debt.

I sold my crap

I left this one for last because it’s (hopefully) the most obvious. But seriously, if you have stuff sitting in your closet or basement that you haven’t looked at in six months, sell it! That could be money in your pocket you can use to pay off debt.

For months, I had multiple listings on eBay selling back many of the impulse purchases I financed with credit cards. Of course I lost a big margin on them, but getting some of that money back and putting it toward my debt was better than having my stuff collect dust (and devalue further).

Take a look at your biggest expenses

If you’re like most people, your housing payment and car payment (if you have one) are your two largest monthly expenses.

Can you save money on rent?

In hindsight, one of the stupidest money moves I made when I was young was renting an apartment by myself despite being in credit card debt. I did that for about a year before I realized how boneheaded it was. When I later moved in with a few random Craigslist roommates, I cut my rent in half! My room was tiny, but I was either working or out with friends, so I was barely home.

Moving is stressful, and taking on a roommate if you like extra room isn’t always enticing, but the money is real—and it adds up a lot faster than trying to cut out coffees and lunches.

Can you drive a cheaper car?

The same is true for your car. If you have credit card debt or any kind of debt you want to pay off, it’s not the time to be driving a newish car with a $500+ loan or lease payment. This is very much the time to be driving a used Japanese econbox that you can buy with cash or finance for less than $500 a month.

Yes, making that trade is going to hurt your ego. But it could be your very best move if you want to pay off your debt faster.

Plan for unexpected expenses

Unexpected expenses are often a contributor to credit card debt. And just because you’re now on a mission to pay off debt, it doesn’t mean unexpected expenses can’t come up again.

You should always have an emergency fund, even when you’re in the middle of debt payoff. The big difference is, when you’re paying off debt, an emergency fund of about $1,000 (or two week’s worth of expenses) should be sufficient. When you’re debt free, you’ll want to save between three and six months’ worth of expenses.

This mini emergency fund will help ensure you have cash on hand if any unexpected expense comes up. This will help you avoid overdraft charges in your checking account or turning to more credit card spending.

What about a debt relief company?

When you’re struggling with a lot of credit card debt or other debts, you’ll likely start paying attention to ads from debt relief companies. Be careful.

There are several kinds of companies that promise to help you pay off high interest debts. They may advertise:

  • Debt relief
  • Debt management
  • Credit counseling
  • Debt settlement

Most of the time, companies advertising debt relief, debt management, or credit counseling attempt to negotiate your interest rate with your creditors and then consolidate your minimum payments into one monthly payments that you make to the debt relief company instead of your credit card banks.

Debt relief companies may be able to reduce your interest rates and possibly even your minimum payments. But working with them may hurt your credit score and may or may not ultimate be helpful in paying off debt faster. You should know that these companies usually can’t help with student loans and other debts other than revolving debt like credit card debt.

A debt settlement company works differently. A debt settlement company will call your creditors and attempt to get them to reduce the amount you owe entirely. This process will definitely harm your credit report. Also, in order for it to work most successfully, you’ll need to have large chunks of cash on hand to pay off your debt in full for the settled amount.


Paying off debt quickly isn’t easy, but with some hustle and creative thinking, you can pay off credit card debt faster than you think.

About the author

David Weliver

Founder of Money Under 30, David has over 20 years of experience as a personal finance journalist covering credit cards, banking and investing.