Let's face it: paying down debt is an uphill battle. And with multiple accounts charging different interest each month, deciding which debt to pay first can be tricky.

Should you go after the smallest balances or the highest interest rates? Or maybe consolidate everything into one lower payment.

With so many possible strategies, where do you start?

The debt snowball method focuses on small wins

The debt snowball method offers a psychological benefit you won't find in any other debt repayment strategy: motivation through small wins.

This approach involves listing your debts from the smallest to the largest balance. You'll then:

  • Pay minimums on everything except the smallest debt
  • Put any extra money toward fully paying off the smallest debt
  • Once it's paid off, roll that payment amount into the next smallest debt
  • Repeat until everything is paid in full

The idea is to build momentum by first knocking out those quick little wins. This gives you a sense of accomplishment to stay motivated by paying off larger debts that take more time.

Say you have:

  • Credit Card A — $500 balance
  • Credit Card B — $1,500 balance
  • Credit Card C — $3,000 balance

You'd first put any extra money toward Credit Card A while continuing to make minimum payments on the others. Once Card A is paid off, you add its $25 monthly payment to what you were paying on Credit Card B.

The snowball effect builds as you move down the list.

The debt snowball bases repayment order on balance size alone. But, focusing on the smallest debts first, regardless of interest rates, may cost more over time compared to other methods.

The debt avalanche method targets high interest first

The debt avalanche method takes a more mathematical, cost-effective approach, prioritizing accounts based on interest rates rather than balance size.

With this strategy, you'd:

  • List debts from highest to lowest interest rates
  • Pay minimums on everything except the highest-rate debt
  • Put any extra cash toward the highest-rate balance until it's paid off
  • Move to the next highest rate account and repeat

The goal is to reduce the amount paid in interest charges as quickly as possible. By targeting debts with the highest rates first, you minimize expensive compounding interest costs over the repayment period.

For example, say you have:

  • Credit Card A — $3,000 balance at 11% interest
  • Credit Card B — $500 balance at 19% interest
  • Credit Card C — $1,500 balance at 25% interest

The avalanche method knocks out Credit Card C first because it has the highest interest rate, even though the balance is lower than Credit Card A.

Once Card C is paid off, you’d proceed to the next highest rate, in this case Credit Card B, and so on.

This mathematical approach may cost a bit more each month in the beginning, but overall, it saves money compared to attacking the smallest balances first if the interest rates on those are lower.

Weigh the pros and cons

When deciding which debt repayment strategy is right for you, consider the unique advantages of each:

The debt snowball:

The debt avalanche:

Choosing the debt avalanche over the snowball could save thousands in interest charges over time. Even with the lack of "quick wins," staying focused on the end goal of becoming debt-free could be worth it.

Tips to speed up repayment no matter the method

Whichever strategy you enlist, these expert tips will help accelerate the process:

  • Pay more than the minimum — Paying even $10-$20 above the minimum due goes a long way. With most lenders, extra amounts apply directly to the principal balance.
  • Make biweekly payments — Making half-payments every two weeks reduces the principal faster and results in an extra monthly payment each year.
  • Sell unused possessions — Selling things you no longer need provides lump sums to knock out debt fast.
  • Negotiate lower rates — Seek interest rate reductions with lenders, especially if you have improved credit; lower rates mean more of your payments go toward the principal.
  • Ask about forgiveness programs — Nonprofit creditors or government loans may offer hardship assistance or forgiveness options if you qualify.
  • Transfer balances to lower-rate cards — Debt consolidation loans or balance transfer cards can reduce how much interest you pay. Focus on long promo periods and low transfer fees.
  • Avoid racking up more debt — Prevent your debt snowball from melting or avalanche from stalling by not taking on unnecessary new credit obligations until old ones are paid off.
  • Make extra income — Use spare time for side hustles like ridesharing, tutoring, freelancing, or starting an online business to earn extra repayment money.
  • Budget rigorously — Craft a tight, accountable budget, maximizing the amount that goes toward monthly debt repayment. Cut discretionary and entertainment costs.
  • Seek alternate repayment sources — Explore tapping home equity, retirement funds, or life insurance cash value if repaying high-interest debt faster outweighs other financial goals. Consult financial advisors first.

What other ways can you pay off debt?

Maybe you've realized the snowball method of paying off debt or avalanche won't cut it alone right now. That's okay—life happens, and debts can become unmanageable.

Additional options like credit counseling from reputable agencies or negotiating structured

payment plans can help you walk back debts on a timeline that fits your situation.

For amounts that exceed your ability to reasonably repay, discuss relief alternatives with financial experts, such as:

  • Debt settlement, which negotiates discounted lump sum payoffs
  • Debt consolidation loans with lower fixed payments
  • Filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy

The path that's right for you depends on a realistic assessment of your finances and debt loads. Stick with whichever strategy keeps you motivated and accountable. And work in tactics to accelerate progress along the way.

With persistence and focus, you can take leaps and bounds toward becoming debt-free using these strategies. Stay positive, and don't get discouraged by temporary setbacks.