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Half of Americans Think They’ll Be in Debt for Up to 5 Years. Here’s How to Break the Cycle Sooner

A woman looking over her bills with a laptop and notepad at her kitchen table.

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Recent data from Northwestern Mutual finds that Americans have an average of $21,800 in debt, not including their mortgage balances. And that’s clearly not a small sum.

But what’s equally discouraging is that 49% of consumers expect to be in debt for up to five years. That means they risk throwing away a lot of money on interest. And also, they risk spending up to five years weighed down by the mental load of carrying debt.

Being in debt can be stressful. It can impact your productivity at work, your relationships at home, and your general well-being. So if you’re carrying debt and don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel anytime soon, here are some steps you can take to shed your debt at a faster pace.

1. Spend very carefully

The money you receive each month in paycheck form needs to go toward a host of expenses, from housing to utilities to food. But the more money you have left over at the end of the month, the more money you can apply to your debt to knock it out. So take a look at your recent bank and credit card statements to see where your money has been going, and identify a few expenses to eliminate or at least cut back on.

It’s definitely not easy to reduce your spending, especially if you live somewhat frugally to begin with. But paying off debt takes money — it’s that simple. And the less you spend, the more you’ll have.

2. Pick up a side job

It can be tricky to find the time for a second job when you already work full-time and have other responsibilities to manage. But if you want to get out of debt quickly, a side hustle could be your ticket to doing that.

The beauty of a second job is that it’s money you’re not relying on. So you should be able to take all of your extra income, minus what you owe in tax form, and use it to chip away at your existing loans or credit card balances.

3. Set yourself up with a lower interest rate on your debt

If your current debt is a home equity or personal loan, then you may have a pretty competitive interest rate on it. But Northwestern Mutual reports that 28% of consumer debt comes in credit card form. And if that’s the type of debt you have, you may be racking up loads of interest by the week.

If that’s the case, you may want to consolidate your debt with a personal or home equity loan, which may result in a lower interest rate. That alone could help you get rid of that debt sooner.

Plus, credit card interest rates can rise over time. If you sign a personal or home equity loan and use its proceeds to pay off your credit cards, you’ll have the benefit of fixed interest and predictable monthly payments.

Being in debt can be a drag in the most stressful sense of the word. If you can’t imagine yourself being debt free before the five-year mark, make these moves to speed up the repayment process.

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