Are you a single mom who wants to pay off debt for GOOD?
If you live with consumer debt, you are not alone. According to U.S. Federal Reserve data U.S. households have on average $15,863 in credit card debt and $33,090 in student loans, while the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reports that a full 52 percent of credit bureau filings are for medical debt.
On one hand, if you find yourself drowning in debt, rest assured you are not a weirdo. But don’t use this fact as an excuse not to work like crazy to pay off your debt. If you live month-to-month owing others money, then the money you earn is not really yours. You are enslaved to your debt.
This affects your relationships, mental health, career choices. Scraping by to may loan payments prevents many families from ever building wealth. That is a stressful, exhausting way to live. I know – there have been times in my life when I had as much as $10,000 in credit card debt, and I left college with $20,000 in loans (in 1998 — $29,300 in today’s dollars).
The upside to the personal debt crisis is that there are tried and true methods for getting rid of it – and plenty of analog and tech resources to help.
A step-by-step guide to getting out of debt for single moms
1. Be honest with yourself about your personal finances
If you are stressing about your debt and credit, likely you are avoiding the facts of your financial situation. Below I will show you how to easily manage all your debt, bills and income, but first you have to deal with the emotional side of this problem.
- Be honest with yourself about how your money situation makes you feel. Living paycheck-to-paycheck is really stressful, right? Moving money around each week to make sure some bill clears is a shameful waste of energy and time. Living beyond your means is scary. Not having control of your money is embarrassing. Own all those feelings. They are normal, and they are real.
- Face the facts about how you got here. It is easy to blame your parents for not teaching you about money, or the federal education system for failing to make personal finance mandated schooling, or banks for ripping people off, or your boss for underpaying you, or your ex for screwing you in the divorce, or your friends for pressuring you to overspend.
- Ultimately, you are responsible for your money. You are smart and resourceful, and trust me: dumber people have gotten out of debt and even gotten really stinking rich. You can figure this out, and I will help you. But first you have to own your responsibility in this mess.
- Focus on the future. Think about how incredible it will feel to have all your bills set up on autopay, and never think about them because there is plenty of cash in the bank. Imagine how amazing you will sleep knowing you and your kids' future is secure. Visualize how powerful you are each day as you make decisions about your career, your children, your home and your life.
2. Make a list of all of your debts and expenses
Time to look the personal finance monster in the eye and lay out the FACTS.
Collect statements for each and every one of your debts: credit cards, medical bills, student loans, car note, mortgage, home equity line, personal loans from your parents or cousin.
My two favorite apps to help make this as simple as possible are PersonalCapital and Tiller. Each of these apps automatically pulls in all your income, assets (like equity in your home, savings and retirement accounts), and debts. No matter what your financial goals are, it is so handy, so satisfying to see all these numbers in one place, and watch them move to meet your goals, day after day.
Create a list of all your debt, including interest rates, monthly minimum payments and any deadlines. Personal Capital's monthly goals feature is a good place to start.
3. Create a monthly budget of all your expenses and debt payments
Learn more about Tiller in my review. It is time to get serious, cut out any extra spending, and lower your overhead. Remember: Overspending is how you got in this pickle in the first place. Imagine how AMAZING it will feel to be debt-free! Check your student loan information at the National Student Loan Data System.
4. Choose a method for paying off debt: Pay off smallest, or highest interest debt first?
Debt snowball method, or debt avalanche payoff = lingo for the two main methods for paying off debt.
What is the debt snowball method?
Debt snowball is a debt repayment method to pay off credit cards or loans with the lowest balances first. Finance guru Dave Ramsey made the debt snowball method popular, and for good reason: The advantage is that you get the psychological and emotional thrill of paying off accounts quickly. Imagine if you could actually remove a whole credit card account from your PersonalCapital account?
Here is how to use the debt snowball method:
- List your debts from smallest balance to largest balance — regardless of interest rate.
- Make minimum payments (set up autopay) on all your debts except the debt with the smallest balance.
- Pay as much as possible on your smallest debt.
- Repeat until each debt is paid in full.
In the example below, this mom has $44,500 in combined credit card, car and student (“Other”) debt:
Using the snowball debt payment method you can see here how quickly she was able to pay off her debt, compared with if she were to simply pay the minimums on each of these four accounts:
In fact, using the snowball debt program, she slashed her debt to $0 in 3 years, 7 months, compared with 13 years!
This quicker, more aggressive repayment saved her $4,853 in interest.
:What is debt avalanche?
This is a method Pay off accounts with the highest interest rates first. The big perk of this method is that you save more money by depleting high-interest debt sooner.
Here is how to use the debt avalanche method:
- Using Tiller or even using on the back of an envelope, write down all your debts, including the interest rate (or APR).
- Arrange the debts from the one with highest APR, to the lowest.
- Aside from #1, with the highest interest rate, set the rest of your student, credit card, auto and other debts on autopayments for the minimum amount due.
- Put all your extra money into paying off debt #1 first: tax returns, bonus at work, raises, gift money, side gig income.
- Once that debt is paid off, move to #2. Repeat until all the debts are paid off.
Here is an example of the avalanche debt method:
As an example, a single mom you know budgets $500 towards debt payoff. She uses Tiller to document her debt goals and strategy, and create a budget. Her loans include:
- $1,000 due on a credit card debt with a 20% interest rate
- $5,000 left on her student loans, with an 8% interest rate
- $1,250 monthly car payment at a 6% interest rate
To keep things simple, let's say each debt has a minimum monthly payment of $100.
This mom will set her car and student loan payments to the minimum of $100 each.
The remaining $300 of her monthly debt budget is devoted to her highest-interest debt: the credit card at 20%. The card debt will be entirely paid off by the third month. Whoo hoo!
Now, the extra $300 (plus the current $100 minimum = $400 monthly) goes toward slashing the second-highest interest-bearing debt: the student loans. That will be paid off after 1 year and 1 month. Yay!
Finally, all $500 goes to the debt with the lowest rate of interest, the car loan, which will be paid off three months later.
5. Negotiate rates
How to negotiate your credit card rates
Another way to get a better rate on your card is to call your current credit card company and simply ask for a better rate. Here is a script:
“Hi, as you can see I am a longtime cardholder, and I love using your product. I am committed to paying off my debt and improving my credit history, and I'd love to stay with you. However, I need a better rate on my balance. Based on my research I can get a [insert honest quote you received from another card] rate. Can you match it or do better?”
Negotiate medical and other debt
Call the holder of any outstanding medical bills and negotiate.
This article from The Balance offers great tips for negotiating medical bills.
6. Research lower credit card and loan rates
Depending on your credit score, you may qualify for credit cards with lower rates.
First, see if you qualify for a 0% balance transfer. This post on MagnifyMoney is a good place to start. This is a great way to pay off debt, and save a lot of money on interest along the way.
It only works if you are very organized, read all the fine print, and make sure you pay the premiums on time, and either pay off the balance or transfer the balance before the end of the promotion period. But be honest with yourself: If you are not good with this kind of bookkeeping, this might not be a good option for you.
If you are married or live with your partner, get them involved. Lay these out on the kitchen table. In paper. Feel them in your hands. Look the in the eye. I’m talking 100 percent transparency.
7. Sell stuff to earn money to pay off debt
As long as you are cleaning out debt, you might as well also cleanse your closets, drawers, garage and basement. Declutter your home, sell unwanted stuff, and put that extra cash towards your debt paydown program.
- Sell your old gold, silver and diamond jewelry at CashforGold
- Unload that wedding ring or engagement ring at Worthy
- Sell old electronics, iPhones, iPad, books, DVDs
andCDs at Decluttr
- Unused clothes, shoes, handbags
andaccessories go to ThredUp
8. Get a side job, and put that money towards debt
Then, when the loans are all put to bed, this new income stream goes towards savings, investments, vacations, a home — the sky is the limit!
FlexJobs is my favorite job board for all positions that are work-at-home, remote, telecommute, remove — full- and part-time. Check out FlexJobs. (Remember to use FlexJobs promo code FLEXLIFE to get a discount.)
Here is a roundup of some of my favorite work-at-home jobs that can be done part-time, or full-time. Including
- Virtual assistant
- Social media manager
- Travel consultant
- Corporate event planner
- Coder / progammer
- Clinical research coordinator
9. Consider professional help to pay off debt
If you’re totally overwhelmed with the debt-pay-off process, or truly believe that you cannot dig out of debt on your current income, get professional advice.
- Large sums of medical debt that you have no immediate way of paying off
- So many loans and credit cards that you can't manage on your own
- Poor credit, which means high interest rates, which makes payoff even harder, and you don't know where to start to stem the chicken-and-egg problem.
A credit counselor will help you create a debt repayment plan, which may include debt consolidation – in which case the credit counseling agency will consolidate all of your debt into a single payment that is at a lower interest rate than all of your debt combined. Two places to start your search for a reputable credit counselor:
- National Foundation for Credit Counseling
- Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies.
How to get professional help to pay off debt
Get your credit score
Some debt counseling programs may not work with you if your credit is low. So, check your credit score and get your free credit report, mama!
How to increase your credit score
If you found your credit score is low — below 700 — then you likely will find it hard to qualify for a debt consolidation loan, a new credit card, or an interest rate reduction from your current bank.
You need to improve your credit score fast.
Thankfully, there are some steps you can take now to improve your credit score.
Correct errors on your credit report
Legally, every person in the United States is entitled to correct errors on your credit report. It is not uncommon for your score to be hurt by old debts that have actually been paid off (but still appear on your report), debts or bankruptcies that are not yours, or legitimate debts that erroneously are reported multiple times.
Getting these red marks off your credit report is within your legal rights, but it can be a huge pain in the butt. If you are strapped for time and patience, it can be worth the investment to pay a reputable credit repair company to take over this task for you.
The Credit People is a great, low-cost credit repair company that has helped more than 100,000 people fix their credit and move forward with their lives. Fees start at $19.
Lend money to yourself to raise your credit score
One company that I am a huge fan of is Self Lender. This company issues you a loan backed by a Certificate of Deposit, or a CD, for a modest fee. Then you set up automatic payments, which are deposited into the CD. Once the loan has been repaid, those savings are yours to keep. And since the payments have been made regularly, your credit score gets a strong boost.
As an example, Self Lender suggests the following scenario: Let’s say you want to borrow $1,000 in a credit-builder account for a duration of 12 months.
In that case, you would pay $12 upfront and $89 each month for 12 months, for a total cost of $1,080. At the end of the loan term, you would get the loan amount ($1,000) paid to you in cash plus the interest from your CD. Since the CD rate paid is currently only .10% APY, you would only earn $1.00 in interest, however. In other words: In this scenario, it cost you $88 to rebuild your credit over a year, plus you walk away with $1,000 cash savings. BAM!
How Self Lender works:
- Apply for Self Lender. If approved:
- Self Lender extends a with a reasonable interest rate, which you can use for debt consolidation (or other expenses).
- You pay this loan back monthly, and it is paid into an interest-bearing CD, or certificate of deposit. This is your money that you are saving!
- At the end of the term, your credit score is boosted, thanks to your awesome, timely payments.
- The CD is then released to you. BAM, you now have a savings account!
Consider all of the options for getting professional help to pay off debt
When to consider debt consolidation
If you’re drowning in high-interest debt or tired of paying multiple bills each month, debt consolidation is a smart solution to consider. Whether your debt includes credit cards, student loans, medical bills or car payments, juggling these expenses can be stressful — or even impossible.
By consolidating your debt into a single, new loan, you can reduce your debt burden down to a single payment each month and potentially lower your interest rate, too.
But, which company should you trust to handle your debt consolidation?
Whether you have too many loans, credit card debt, or a combination of the two, there are many reputable debt consolidation companies that can help.
By researching companies and moving forward when you’re ready, you could be in a much better place – financially and emotionally – by this time next year.
Keep reading to learn more about the top debt consolidation companies and how they could help.
Purefy (by PenFed)
Purefy, the student loan refinance tool from PenFed Credit Union, is a great product if you are juggling student loans, and/or are seeking to lower your rate — which are excellent.
Purefy's fixed rates start at 3.25%, and variable rates at 2.69%!
Purefy's application process is easy and quick taking less than 15 minutes — with loans processed within 3 to 14 days.
- Competitive rates
- No application fees
- Loans up to $300,000
- Received 4.5 (out of 5) stars from NerdWallet's student loan refinancing scoring
- High customer service rating. You are assigned a personal advisor.
- Earn $200 for every friend you refer!
While LendingTree doesn’t offer debt consolidation loans itself, it does connect users with a wide range of lenders that compete for your business via low-interest rates and beneficial terms.
LendingTree lenders offer easy-to-access personal loans with low rates and equally low ongoing fees.
Terms for their personal loans are also fairly short on average (1-5 years), making it possible for you to pay down consolidated debt quickly.
While loan amounts for various LendingTree debt consolidation products vary, you can typically borrow up to $35,000.
LendingTree also works with lenders who offer loans to people with bad credit, although interest rates may be higher.
LendingTree Summary of Benefits
- LendingTree makes it easy to compare loan rates and terms across several reputable lenders
- Receive your funds in less than 24 hours
- Competitive interest rates
- Some loans have no fees
- Easy online application process
If you’re tired of juggling multiple bills with interest rates all over the map, a SoFi personal loan may be the answer to your prayers.
This company offers debt consolidation loans from $5,000 – $100,000 with fixed rates that may be much lower than what you’re paying now.
SoFi also makes it easy to apply and get approved online.
Further, this lender offers loans for people with good or excellent credit.
SoFi Summary of Benefits
- No origination fees or prepayment penalties
- Get a 0.125% discount on an additional SoFi loan
- Live customer support 7 days a week
- If you lose your job, SoFi will pause your payments temporarily
- SoFi borrowers raised their credit scores by an average of 17 points after paying off credit card debt
If you’re considering options outside of a traditional debt consolidation loan, you may want to consider Lending Club.
This platform offers loans that are crowdsourced by investors – not by traditional banks. As a result, loans are offered to people in nearly any credit score range, and rates may be lower than you can qualify for elsewhere.
Like other lenders on this list, Lending Club makes it easy to apply online.
After submitting some basic information – including the reason for your loan application – you’ll find out whether you qualify and the type of rate you’ll receive.
Keep in mind, however, that many Lending Club loans come up with an upfront processing fee of 1% – 6% of the loan amount.
Lending Club Summary of Benefits
- Borrow money from investors and not a bank
- Apply online in minutes
- Receive a fixed rate loan with a fixed monthly payment and fixed payoff date
- Borrow up to $40,000
- Get your money in as little as 7 days
- No prepayment penalties and no hidden fees
Prosper is another crowdsourced loan platform that lets you borrow money from investors instead of a bank or traditional lender.
While loan terms can vary, Prosper typically offers loans that last up to 5 years with fixed interest rates and a fixed repayment term.
The fact that Prosper has already loaned out $9 billion dollars to 600,000 people since its founding in 2005 shows it is already a mainstay in this industry.
While traditional banks have plenty to offer in the debt consolidation space, many borrowers turn to Prosper for ease of use, low rates, and simple repayment terms.
Prosper Summary of Benefits
- Answer a few simple questions to access your lowest rate instantly
- Receive your funds via direct deposit within 3-5 business days
- Consolidate all your credit card debt and other high-interest debts in a new loan
- Interest rates vary based on creditworthiness
- Easy online application process
National Debt Relief
National Debt Relief is one of the top-rated debt consolidation companies in the country, and their ratings really speak for themselves.
As of this year, the company had achieved top ratings from TopConsumerReviews, TopTenReviews, Consumers Advocate, and Consumer Affairs.
The company is BBB-accredited, and they promise to help you consolidate your high-interest debts into a new loan via their easy online loan application process.
You can also qualify for a free quote online with no obligation to move forward.
National Debt Relief Summary of Benefits
- Get free financial counseling and guidance from debt relief experts
- Secure a new loan with a lower interest rate
- Large loan amounts and flexible repayment terms
- Find a loan that is tailored to your needs
- Improve your credit score with regular, on-time payments
PersonalLoans.com has grown from a smaller player in this field to a dominating force within the debt consolidation industry.
This company connects borrowers with a wide range of debt consolidation loan products with competitive interest rates and fair loan terms, plus the ability to apply online and from the comfort of your own home.
Like LendingTree, PersonalLoans.com doesn’t offer loans itself. Instead, it partners with peer-to-peer lenders to offer a marketplace where you can view and compare multiple loan offers.
Most people who apply find they are eligible for several fixed rate loan offers with repayment timelines of up to 72 months.
Loan amounts range from $1,000 up to $35,000, and an origination fee of 1% – 5% is charged to service the loan.
PersonalLoans.com Summary of Benefits
- Compare loan offers from multiple lenders on one easy-to-use platform
- Apply online
- Borrow between $1,000 and $35,000 with a fixed interest rate
- Borrow from your peers instead of a traditional bank
Avant is yet another debt consolidation lender that promises to simplify your life and save you money with their dynamic debt consolidation products.
Loans are offered with repayment timelines of 24 to 60 months, but you can customize your loan to secure a payment that fits your budget and lifestyle.
Fixed interest rates are offered to new borrowers, and Avant promises no surprises during the loan application or funding process.
A recent survey of Avant customers also showed that 95 percent were satisfied with their loan product and the customer service they received.
You may be charged an administration fee when your loan is funded, although the amount varies.
Avant Summary of Benefits
- Customize your repayment timeline and monthly payment to fit your budget
- Fixed interest rates
- Receive your funds as soon as the next business day
- Pay off high-interest debt with fixed monthly payments
Consolidated Credit Counseling Services
Consolidated Credit Counseling Services was recently rated #2 among debt consolidation companies by Consumer Affairs, and for good reason.
This highly-rated company promises to help you escape overwhelming credit card debt by moving you into a new loan with better terms.
According to the firm, working with one of their accredited credit counselors can help you reduce or eliminate credit card interest charges and lower your monthly payments by 30% – 50%.
To get the process started, Consolidated Credit Counseling Services offers a free consultation and debt repayment plan.
The company also has excellent reviews on Trustpilot, with an average rating of 4.8 out of 5.
Consolidated Credit Counseling Services Summary of Benefits
- Lower your monthly payments by 30% – 50%
- Secure a lower average interest rate on all your debts
- Avoid bankruptcy and restore your credit score
- Free consultation and debt quote
Freedom Debt Relief
Freedom Debt Relief is a highly-rated debt consolidation firm with accreditation from the AFCC for highest ethical standards.
The company has also received an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars across its 11,000+ reviews on Consumer Affairs.
Not only will you receive free debt counseling, but you can get help with a debt consolidation plan that could slash your interest rates, lower your monthly payments, and help you get out of debt faster.
Freedom Debt Relief Summary of Benefits
- Get a free quote online
- A+ rating with Better Business Bureau (BBB)
- Reduce your monthly debt payments and save money on interest
Marcus by Goldman Sachs
Last but not least, Marcus by Goldman Sachs holds a spot on this list thanks to its fixed-rate debt consolidation loans with no fees.
This company lets you borrow up to $40,000 for the purpose of debt consolidation, then repay your loan for anywhere from 36 to 72 months.
Your interest rate will vary depending on your creditworthiness, with the highest loan amounts and lowest rates going to those with good or excellent credit.
Like others on this list, Marcus by Goldman Sachs makes it easy to apply for a debt consolidation loan and get a free quote online.
Marcus by Goldman Sachs Summary of Benefits
- No signup fees, no prepayment fees, and no late fees
- Fixed rate debt consolidation loans with repayment terms of up to 72 months
- Apply online
- 148 years of experience in the lending industry
Student loan refinancing
If student debt is part of your journey, consider student loan refinancing. Here are some leaders in the student debt consolidation and refinancing industry.
Credible will help connect you with personal loan brokers that can help you with refinancing student loans, as well as mortgage and credit cards refinancing.
Some Credible lenders can even fund your loan in as little as one business day. Loans from $1,000 to $100,000.
LendKey connects borrowers with community banks and credit unions to find lesser-know financing options that might be a great deal based on your location and other factors — such as whether you are in a union, the military, or have other affiliations.
LendKey’s refinancing partners offer variable rates start at 2.67% and fixed rates from 3.49%, with repayment terms of five, seven, 10, 15, or 20 years.
Earnest student loan refinancing offers lower-than-average interest rates and the ability to set their own monthly payments and loan terms.
Earnest looks at more than just your credit score, and incorporates your savings, earning potential and spending habits into your eligibility.
One negative: Earnest doesn't allow co-signers.
Consider a debt management plan
Agencies like Cambridge, GreenPath, ACCC, and Money Management International work like this: The agency gathers your debts into one monthly payment, and negotiates with creditors to reduce your interest rate. In exchange, you agree to a payment plan that usually runs three to five years. These typically are only for credit card debt.
Consider debt settlement companies
Freedom Debt Relief bills itself as the largest debt negotiator in the United States, and has both good and bad reviews, though the company does have an A+ Better Business Bureau rating.
The service is meant for people with unsecured debt — credit card charges, personal loans, unsecured student loans and medical bills, and requires a minimum of $7,500 in debt.
Freedom Debt Relief's goal is to talk your creditors into accepting less money than the total amount of debt you owe, in exchange for fees of 18% to 20% of the enrolled debt.
in the short-term, this typically hurts your credit score, but can help you pay off your debt faster, and saves you on interest charges.
Debt.com is a matchmaker for debt services. Call them to to discuss your situation if you can’t decide, or you feel overwhelmed by the options.
Debt.com’s staff consists of business journalists, financial experts, and certified credit counselors.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.