Getting out of debt can feel daunting, especially if you're barely making ends meet from paycheck to paycheck.

But regardless of your income and financial situation, it’s never too late to take control of your finances. The key is changing your mindset and behaviors, and it all starts with the basics.

Below are nine steps to consider to pull yourself out of that debt hole.

Stop adding to your debt

When you're barely keeping up with minimum payments, it's tempting to take out more loans or credit cards just to cover basic expenses. But that quicksand will only pull you down deeper.

To learn how to get out of debt on a low income, you should halt all non-essential spending—today. That means no new credit cards or financing plans. Buy only needs, not wants.

And build an emergency fund for unexpected expenses—even if you start with only $20 per paycheck—before taking on any new debt.

Financial stability begins with stemming the source of the bleeding. Mere Band-Aids won’t do it.

List all debts and terms

Grab all your statements and loan documents. Make a master list of every debt and include the following information:

  • Total balance owed
  • Interest rates
  • Minimum monthly payments
  • Due dates

This will help you visualize the big picture. You'll refer to this list constantly when budgeting repayments and tracking your progress.

Build a realistic budget

If you want to get out of debt fast with a low income, creating a monthly budget is crucial for maximizing debt payments.

But a too-tight, unrealistic budget will quickly fail. So be honest about your income and necessary, non-negotiable expenses such as housing and insurance payments.

Once those expenses are accounted for, allocate any extra funds toward your debt. Even an extra $50 per month will make a difference over time.

Apps like Mint, You Need a Budget, or EveryDollar simplify tracking where money goes. This awareness empowers you to shift spending toward debt repayment.

Lower expenses

Look for waste and non-essential costs to cut; these can make a huge difference when it comes to paying off debt quickly.

For example:

  • Downsize cable and streaming plans
  • Seek a cheaper cell phone carrier
  • Cancel unused or rarely used subscriptions
  • Clip coupons for groceries and take advantage of sales
  • Cook at home rather than ordering takeout
  • Explore government assistance programs

You’ll be surprised how many extra dollars you can find each month when you scrutinize and trim expenses.

Pay high-interest debts first

Not all debts are created equal, and it's important to understand how to prioritize paying them off efficiently.

Specifically, and whenever possible, you'll want to focus on accounts charging the highest interest rates first.

For example, let's say one month you budgeted well and have $100 extra for debt repayment. You have two options:

  1. Pay an extra $100 toward your credit card balance, which has a 25% annual percentage rate (APR).
  2. Pay an extra $100 toward your student loan balance, which has a 3% APR.

You'll save much more in interest over time by paying down the credit card balance.

Here's a quick breakdown:

  • That $100 payment at a 25% interest rate on the credit card debt saves you $25 in interest that would have accrued over 12 months.
  • On the student loan debt, that same $100 payment at a 3% interest rate only saves you $3 over the same time period.

Clearly, the high interest credit card balance is accumulating interest much faster, so prioritizing it by making extra payments results in more significant interest savings.

This approach is called the "debt avalanche" method.

The debt avalanche method lists all debts by interest rate, from highest to lowest. You put any extra monthly repayments toward the highest interest balances first.

As each one is paid off, you roll the payments that were going toward it onto the next highest-rate debt.

This strategy allows you to minimize interest fees and pay down debts in the most efficient order to save money over the long term.

Another strategy, the "debt snowball" method, focuses on paying small balances first regardless of rate.

The idea here is that seeing balances get paid off serves as motivation to keep going. But, of course, you will potentially pay higher total costs in interest over time.

Earn more money

You've decluttered your finances by halting unnecessary purchases. Keep the momentum going by finding ways to supplement your income. Boosting income directly enables you to accelerate debt repayments.

Consider doing the following:

  • Asking for a raise or promotions at work
  • Applying for a higher-paying job
  • Starting a side business or freelancing
  • Using apps like TaskRabbit for one-off paid tasks

Even an extra $200 per month from driving for Uber or dog walking on Rover goes a long way toward paying down debt.

Seek debt relief programs

Non-profit credit counseling agencies provide services that may lower your monthly payments or interest rates while you’re paying down your debts.

  • Debt management plans negotiate with creditors to reduce rates. You pay one monthly fee to the agency that distributes payments.
  • Debt consolidation loans combine multiple debts into one new loan with lower monthly payments. But only pursue if the rate is lower.
  • Balance transfer cards move high-interest credit card balances to promotional 0% APR cards to stop interest buildup.
  • Hardship programs can provide help if you’ve experienced unemployment, medical issues, the death of a spouse, or other hardships. Ask your lender if they offer special assistance programs.

Declare bankruptcy (only as a last resort)

Filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy discharges many debts, providing a fresh start. But your credit score tanks for 7–10 years.

Do this only if you cannot keep up with payments, even on adjusted plans, and have no assets that creditors could seize. But be sure you understand the long-term credit implications first.

Reward yourself

As you pay down debts, use non-cash rewards to stay motivated. For example:

  • Visit a free local museum when you pay off the first $1,000.
  • Have a picnic in the park after closing one account.
  • Hike a state park trail once your credit card balance hits $0
  • If available, take one of your (paid) personal leave days from work and use the day to relax or complete a project at home

Celebrating keeps you energized to tackle the next debt.

Stay focused on the reason you started. Block out discouragement. You can do this! In the future, you will look back with pride at the hard work and smart financial steps you've taken today.