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How to shed debt and start 2023 on the right financial foot

Americans face mounting credit card debt
Americans face mounting burden of credit card debt 02:48

A large share of Americans say one of their top financial resolutions is to pay off burdensome debt in 2023. 

Of the Americans who plan to make a financial resolution this year, 32% say they want to reduce their debt loads, according to a study from Fidelity Investments. That goes hand in hand with 39% who say they want to save more, and 28% who want to spend less, according to the survey. 

Another survey from The Ascent found that of the two-thirds of Americans who plan to make a financial resolution for the new year, 53% say paying off debt is their top goal. 

Yet just thinking about one's debt, let alone making a plan and taking steps to reducing it, can be a daunting task. In the following, experts outline tips for getting started and chipping away at different types of debt, from credit cards to car loans. 

Go on a "credit card diet" 

For starters, taper your spending and avoid acquiring more debt. 

If you tend to rack up credit card debt easily, consider transferring your spending to a debit card, or paying for things with cash.

"You could put $50 on a card here, a few hundred there, and it can add up if you're not prepared," said Meredith Stoddard, vice president of life events planning at Fidelity Investments. "Set yourself up for success by making it harder to spend."

"A lot of people have a habit of putting things on credit cards when they don't have the money," said Katie Brewer, a Dallas, Texas-based certified financial planner. "Balance the budget. Go on a credit card diet. That is the first way to stop the accumulation."

Make a budget and understand how much money you're earning and spending each month. For example, lower your spending by culling your streaming subscriptions or cutting out an expensive gym membership. Increase your income by selling unwanted goods, taking on a side gig or renting out a room in your house on a temporary basis.

"Then you will have extra money to put toward actually paying off that debt," Brewer said. 

Write down your debt

Experts also suggest tallying up your existing debt and writing it down in black and white. 

"Debt is often started and compounded by a lack of organization," said Emily Irwin, senior director at Wells Fargo Wealth and Investment Management. "Track your spending and make a list of your expenses including your monthly debt payments on student loans, auto loans, and things that are fixed and nondiscretionary." 

In other words, "Do a financial check-in to make sure you're not overspending on a monthly basis," she added.

Also make sure you're aware of the interest rates associated with each debt load. It can be hard to locate the interest rate you're being charged on debt through a lender's mobile app or website, but they are required by law to disclose that rate on your statement. 

Tackle high-interest debt first

Focus on paying down high-interest debt first, since it's the most expensive to carry. It's also worth contacting your lender and asking for a lower-interest rate. 

"Call your credit card issuer and ask for a lower rate. It's one of those things that sounds kind of absurd, but about 70% of people who ask for a lower rate on their credit card get one," said Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at LendingTree. "It is worth the call, given how high those success rates are." 

Credit card companies compete on rates, so they try to stand out in a competitive field.

How to navigate debt and inflation this holiday shopping season 01:50

"People have a lot of lifetime value in the banks' eyes because the longer you have the card, the more you spend on it and the more banks make off of you," Schulz said. 

Irwin, of Wells Fargo, also recommends tackling your highest-interest debt first, regardless of the principal amount. 

Once you pay off your highest piece of debt, it will free up funds to begin tackling your next piece of debt. 

Zero-percent balance transfer credit card

Consolidating debt can make it easier to manage if it feels like it's coming at you from every angle. 

"If your debt is scattered across four credit cards, you have so many bills coming in that sometimes you miss something," Irwin said. 

Consider transferring your debt to a credit card with an introductory 0% interest rate.

"It can seem weird to people to tackle credit card debt by getting a new credit card, but the amount of interest you can save if you use one of these cards wisely can be really significant and can dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to pay that balance off," Schulz said. 

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