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5 Smart Ways to Prioritize Paying Off Your Debt

Matthew Levy Updated: October 5, 2023 • 6 min read

Key Points:

  • One popular method is the Debt Snowball approach, which capitalizes on the psychological boost of achieving quick wins.

  • The focus of Debt Avalanche is interest rates. By targeting debts with the highest interest rates first, you'll save more interest over time.

  • Whether you use the Snowball, Avalanche, consolidation, or balanced method, proactive engagement is the most important thing you can do.

Managing multiple debts can be overwhelming. It's important to prioritize which loans to tackle first. We'll explore different strategies for paying off debt so you can make informed decisions and feel more confident about your financial situation.

There are numerous strategies to pay off debt, all of which work but are unique to each individual situation.

Ways to Pay Off Debt

There are numerous strategies to pay off debt, all of which work but are unique to each individual situation. Whether you focus on high-interest debt, tackle smaller balances first, or even consolidate multiple debts, the choice will often be due to your financial goals and personal preferences. Let’s look at some common methods you can use today to get rid of those debts.

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1. Debt Snowball

When considering “Which loans to pay first?” the Debt Snowball approach is one of the more popular options. This method capitalizes on the psychological boost from achieving quick wins, allowing you to build momentum and attack your debt with some wind at your back.

Here’s how it works:

  1. List all debts from smallest to largest: Don’t consider interest rates at this stage, even though it might be counter-intuitive. Start by listing all of your debts in ascending order based on their balances.
  2. Pay the minimum on all debts: Each month, ensure you meet all your minimum payment requirements on every debt you owe. Maintaining a higher credit score is important, as missing minimum payments will negatively affect you.
  3. Extra payments go to the smallest debt: With any spare money you have, put it toward the smallest debt after meeting your minimum obligations. This will eliminate it faster.
  4. Rollover: Once the smallest debt is completely paid off, you take its previous payment and roll it into the next smallest debt - creating a snowball effect. This process continues until all debts are paid.

Example: If you have three debts: a $300 medical bill, a $500 credit card bill, and a $1,000 personal loan, you would start by focusing on paying off the $300 medical bill first after meeting all minimum payment requirements. Once that’s paid off, direct the funds you were using on that bill toward the $500 credit card balance, and so on.

It’s important to note that this method is not the most mathematically efficient, as it doesn’t directly target higher-interest debt first. However, the emotional satisfaction and the motivation gained from clearing debts can be more substantial than the mathematical win, making the process feel more manageable and potentially getting you to your no-debt goal quicker.

2. Debt Avalanche

The Debt Avalanche strategy takes a different approach that is more mathematical, focusing on interest rates. The principle behind it is simple - target the debts with the highest interest rates first, as they are the “most expensive” debts, saving you more interest over time and allowing you to pay down all your debt fastest.

Steps for Debt Avalanche:

  1. List debts by interest rate: Begin by listing all of your debts from the highest interest rates to the lowest. This will let you know which debt is accruing interest the fastest.
  2. Maintain minimums: Like with all debt repayment strategies, ensure you cover the minimum payments on all your debts. This will avoid any fees or penalties and keep your credit score as high as possible.
  3. Target the highest: With any extra money you have left over after paying minimum amounts, direct it toward the debt with the highest interest rate. By doing this, you’re reducing the amount that has the most interest associated with it.

Example: If you have 3 credit cards, with credit card A at 20% interest, B at 15% interest, and C at 10% interest, each with a balance of $1000, you should prioritize paying off card A, then B, and finally C. But remember, you should make minimum payments on all of them.

3. Debt by Type

Another way to tackle your debt load is to differentiate your debt beyond just the numbers. You may feel more pressure with credit card debt due to the high-interest rate, for example, or others may find personal loans more stressful because the loan size is larger.

Here are some steps to pay down debt by type:

  1. Categorize debts: First, split your debts into types. It could be by credit cards, personal loans, student loans, or any other category. This can help you clarify your debts before you attack a type.
  2. Choose a focus: Decide which debt type you want to pay off first. The decision can be based on factors like high interest rates, emotional factors, or simply the size of the debt.
  3. Channel extra funds: After paying off the minimum amounts on all of your debts, any additional money you can allocate should go toward the chosen debt type.

4. Consolidate Your Debt

Another option that can be an effective method is to consolidate your debts. This allows you to streamline all of your debts into a single monthly payment and can often come with a lower interest rate. The idea is to simplify the repayment process and, potentially, reduce the total amount of interest you pay over time.

The steps to consolidate your debt are as follows:

  1. Evaluate your debts: Before considering consolidation, look at all your debts. Understand the interest rates, remaining balances, and payment terms.
  2. Choose a debt consolidation option: Options can include a balance transfer credit card, a debt consolidation loan, or, in some cases, a home equity loan. Each has pros and cons, so pick the most suitable for your situation.
  3. Consolidate your debt: Once you’re approved for the loan, consolidate your debts using the funds or credit line to pay off your existing debts. Going forward, you’ll simply need to make a single payment to the consolidated amount.

Example: Imagine you have 3 credit cards with balances of $2,000, $3,000, and $5,000 each with varying high-interest rates. If you transfer these balances to a consolidation loan with a lower interest rate, you can save on the total interest paid and manage just one monthly payment.

It’s important to note that with this method, there is a risk you resume old spending habits and continue to rack up more debt on your old credit accounts. It’s recommended to be careful and reduce your overall debt instead of taking on additional debt after consolidation.

5. Use a Balanced Method

A balanced approach to paying off debt combines the Debt Snowball and the Debt Avalanche methods. It can help with your emotional needs regarding debt and tackle the most interest possible.

Some of the steps include:

  1. Categorize your debts: You’ll still need to list all of your debts, noting all the interest rates and balances.
  2. Choose a middle ground: Instead of only focusing on the smallest debt or the highest interest rate, find a balance that works for you. It might mean targeting a slightly larger debt with a reasonably high-interest rate.
  3. Allocate payments accordingly: You still need to make the minimum payments on all debts but direct any extra funds toward the debt you’ve chosen to focus on using the balanced approach.

Example: Let's say you have a $500 credit card debt at 25% interest, a $2000 personal loan at 12%, and a $4000 loan at 8%. Instead of going just by size (Snowball) or interest (Avalanche), you might prioritize the $2000 personal loan first. This approach provides the satisfaction of paying off a significant debt while still accounting for interest.


Debt repayment can be challenging and overwhelming, but having an approach will help you pay it off in the shortest amount of time possible. Whether you use the Snowball, Avalanche, consolidation, or balanced method, proactive engagement is the most important thing you can do. Evaluate your situation and needs to see which strategy aligns the best, as it will lead to a smoother debt repayment journey.



Should I pay off high-interest debt first?

Paying off high-interest debt first, often known as the Debt Avalanche method, can be a viable approach. Focusing on the highest interest rates may reduce the total amount of interest paid over time, making it a mathematically efficient strategy.

Should I pay off smaller debts first to build momentum?

The Debt Snowball method advocates for this approach. By paying off smaller debts first, many find a sense of accomplishment and motivation to continue their debt repayment journey. It caters more to the psychological aspect of debt repayment.

Is there a strategy for paying off multiple debts at once?

Yes, one common strategy is debt consolidation, where multiple debts are combined into one payment, often with a lower interest rate. Another strategy is a balanced method that considers both the size and interest rate of debts. This approach involves paying a bit more than the minimum on all debts, but prioritizing one specific debt based on your chosen criteria.

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Written by Matthew Levy

Matthew is a freelance financial copywriter with 14+ years in financial services. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics with business and finance options and is a CFA Charterholder. He is from Vancouver, Canada, but writes from all over the world.