Yesterday I wrote about my financial and lifestyle goals for the 2nd half of 2015, focusing largely on paying off a huge chunk of our debt, including our tax debt to the IRS. I mentioned very briefly the idea of the Debt Snowball Method, which seems to be a popular click on that particular post so I wanted to revisit the idea here in case anyone isn’t familiar with the term.
The Debt Snowball Method of Paying Off Debt
Two very common ways that people use to pay off consumer debt are:
a) The Debt Avalanche Method: Also known as the “debt stacking” plan, this is where you tackle your debts by starting with the one with the highest interest rate. Once you’ve paid that off, you turn your attention to the debt with the next-highest interest rate, and so on. It’s obviously a more efficient and cost-effective way of debt repayment because you pay much less in interest rates and finance charges overall.
b) The Debt Snowball Method: This is Dave Ramsey’s favorite debt repayment plan, and with good reason. Like the Debt Avalanche Method, you pay off your debt one at a time; however, the crucial difference is that using the Debt Snowball Method, you start with the smallest debt amount, regardless of the interest rate. Once you’ve paid that off, you move on to the next-smallest.
Think about how snowballs are formed: you take a small amount of snow, roll it on the ground and then watch it increase in size in a relatively short period of time. That’s the idea behind the Debt Snowball Method: while the gains may be small, the resulting psychologist boost is anything but. People get excited about seeing that $0.00 balance in their credit card statement and are thus more inspired to tackle the next debt. Whereas if you start out by paying off the debt with the largest balance, you may not see that reach $0.00 for awhile.
Some folks would much prefer to avoid paying any more interest and finance charges than they have to and would rather stick to the Debt Avalanche Method, which is admirable and incredibly responsible, but I’m not one of those people. Instead, I get a sweet rush by being able to tear up a credit card that I’ve paid off and a bill that I can finally cross off my monthly to-do list. So the Debt Snowball Method is definitely a better match for my personality!
AN EASY WAY TO MANAGE YOUR DEBT SNOWBALL METHOD
Unless you’re an Excel guru, though, it can take a bit of time to manually set up a Debt Snowball plan, complete with target dates. Dave Ramsey offers something similar, I believe, but to take full advantage of his tools you need to fork over some cash. While I’m a big believer in investing resources that will give you more back in return than you put in, I’m an equally big believer in finding alternatives that work just as well (or almost as well) for free.
It didn’t take me long to find Undebt.it, a cloud-based program to help you keep track of our Debt Snowball payment plan. While it has a Premium plan that beefs up your account with added features like SMS payment reminders, monthly account summaries by email, historical tracking and reporting, and other enhancements, I’ve found the free plan to be robust and more than adequate for my needs.
Undebt.it has a lot of features that I’m not using, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out that I’m not using it to its fullest potential. But that’s okay – my number one goal for 2015, and thus my number one goal for using Undebt.it, is to pay off our outstanding consumer debt. While I’m sure analytics tools can help me zero in on certain aspects of our debt repayment strategy and thus possibly even accelerate it, I’ve been very happy with the free, basic plan.
Every two weeks, once our paychecks drop into our checking account, I log into my Undebt.it account and make note of how much I need to send to each of our outstanding credit cards. Then, I open another browser tab, navigate to each credit card account online and pay them in turn. I then make note of each payment on the Undebt.it dashboard and watch the total balance shrink dramatically. While there, I also like to view the overall Debt Snowball Payment Plan to see (for the millionth time) how many more payments I need to make in order to pay off the next card in line, and what the target date is for each debt.
Even in between paychecks, I like logging into our Undebt.it account and navigating over to the Debt Snowball plan dashboard, just for funsies. It makes my heart swell to twice its size and my face break into the biggest smile to see just how far we’ve come in just a short period of time, and all because of a simple, free software, too. Although the Debt Snowball plan is by no means a complicated one that can be followed religiously and easily by anyone with some determination, a calculator, pencil, and some paper, you really can’t argue with the ease and efficiency of an online program that will not only do much of the work for you, but which you can access anytime, anywhere, as long as you have Internet access, in case you need a little frugality pick-me-up.
By the way, one big perk that I like about this tool is that you have to manually enter your credit card debts into the table before it will do the calculations for you. It just needs the basic info about your accounts upon initial signup: balance, interest rate, and minimum payment due. Some folks might prefer the ability to have the software automatically pull that data from their banks and credit card issuers, but for security reasons I really love the fact that the software neither asks nor wants that information. In fact, I rather like the fact that it forced me to open up each bill and actually look for that information — that exercise alone really hit home just how much we were paying in interest rates and how big we had let our balances become.
One last note: Believe it or not, Undebt.it is an amazing program created by a developer on his own time because he’s passionate about helping people dig themselves out of debt and attain financial freedom. I’ve been so impressed by how much the program has helped B. and me get and stay on the road to financial fitness and health that I sent a PayPal donation to the developer shortly after we started using it — a first for me. If you find it useful for you in your financial planning, I encourage you to drop him a note or, better yet, send a donation or join his Premium community. I’ll emphasize here that I don’t know the developer at all, have never met him, nor do I have any financial stake in his company or endeavors. (In fact, his name escapes me at the moment!) I just believe in rewarding good people for the contributions they make towards the betterment of the greater community.
If you do use Undebt.it or any other tool to help you manage and plan your debt reduction program, I’d love to hear your stories and comments regarding your experiences!