Here's How to Spring Clean Your Debt Situation

By Jackie Lam, AFC®
Published on: 03/24/2024

If you're carrying a debt load, you're certainly not alone. According to data from TransUnion, the average credit card debt in Q4 of 2023 per person rose to an all-time high of $6,360. You might feel like you're doing your best to stay afloat in a pool of debt. Further, those feelings of shame, avoidance and overwhelm might sink in.

To help lighten your debt load and brighten your overall financial outlook, spend some time giving your debt a thorough once-over this spring.

Here are seven ways to tidy up your debt situation—and purge yourself of any debt shame that's been building up:

1. Give your budget a refresh

To start, take a close look at your budget. Just like how you need to peek into your wardrobe closet, get rid of what you no longer love or use, and replace it with new items, you'll need to adjust your budget every so often. Plus, with inflation, it’s likely that your overall expenses might have increased.

Jot down your expenses. This includes monthly recurring expenses such as bills and rent. Don't forget annual expenses such as car registration and bills that come a few times a year, such as car insurance.

Make adjustments as necessary. See where you can trim some bills. For instance, is there a less-expensive home internet carrier in your area? Or maybe you can hit "pause" on your gym membership, as you haven't been going there much. No judgment here!

2. Create a debt payoff plan

To make steady headway on knocking out your debt, you'll need a roadmap. Jot down all your debts—such as credit cards, personal loans, car loans, and student loans. Then, list the balance, monthly payment, due date, APRs, and lender or creditor. If the debt has gone to collections, find out which debt collection agency it was sold to.

If you have any debt that has gone to collections, it's a good idea to reach out to the agency and see if you can work together to come up with a debt payment plan. It might feel scary and intimidating, but you'll feel better once you know where you stand and have an action plan.

With your remaining debt you may want to consider tackling small debt first. This will help you build momentum to keep going and stay motivated on your financial journey. If you like, you can continue to tackle the next-smallest debt amounts. On the flip side, consider paying off the debt with the highest interest rate, then work your way down to the debt with the next highest interest rate. This will help you save on the overall cost of the loan.

No matter your debt payoff approach, be sure to pay the minimum due each month on your other obligations. That way, you don't fall behind and rack up fees—and a higher interest rate.

3. Journal about your debt

While it's important to look at the pragmatics involved in managing your debt, tapping into your emotions also helps you make better choices around your debt. As our money decisions are rooted in some emotion, we can work through any mental and emotional blocks we have around our debt and understand why we might feel the way we do. In other words, our actions have an emotional underpinning.

For instance, do you tend to avoid looking at your debt load? If so, that avoidance might come from feelings of anxiety, fear, or shame. Or if you are obsessively trying to pay off your debt as soon as possible, that might also stem from anxiety.

Let it all out, and put pen to paper. What are your thoughts about your debt? What might be holding you back from paying it down quicker? Writing down your thoughts and emotions around your debt can help you feel less anxious, stressed, and help you gain clarity.

4. Assess bill payments and schedules

Drowning in a morass of bills that never seem to end can make it hard to stay on top of payments. If this sounds like you, the good news is that you can reach out to your creditors and lenders to see how they can change the bill payment due date. This might help you sync your cash flow to your debt payment obligations.

For instance, a fair chunk of your paycheck likely goes toward bills at the beginning of the month—hello, rent! See if you can adjust any of your credit card and loan payments so they fall closer to the middle of the month. Staying current with your debt payments is a big part of building credit.

5. Consider debt consolidation

To save on interest, consider consolidating several debts into a single, new loan. This can lower your monthly payments, save on interest, or potentially both. Plus, it can streamline your finances.

On the flip side, keep in mind that debt consolidation could come with a set of fees and you could be paying more on interest during the life of the loan. Compare the interest rates on all of your outstanding debt, and compare it against the new rate if you consolidate your debt. Weigh the pros and cons before deciding if this is your best route.

One more thing: If you do opt for a personal loan to pay off your credit cards, you'll want to be careful not to start racking up a balance on them again. Look at your financial situation to see how you can manageably pay off your new loan, and aim to curb making purchases on your credit cards.

6. Celebrate your small wins

Paying off debt can feel exhausting, and you might suffer from burnout and debt fatigue. Celebrate your small wins and create little milestones and checkpoints to take a breather, pat yourself on the back, and reward yourself. For instance, treat yourself to some of your favorite ice cream or indulge in a small purchase.

7. Seek professional help

Do you feel like you could use some professional guidance? Consider working with someone who specializes in debt management. See if there are free resources, such as workshops or financial coaching, available at your workplace. You can also work with a non-profit credit counseling organization, which typically offers free or low-cost options. You can find such an organization through the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC.)

Final thoughts

Knocking out your debt is rarely an overnight process—it's a long game. Spending some time this spring reassessing your money management plan, creating a debt payoff plan and considering your options will help with your overall financial picture.

About the author

A personal finance writer for over 8 years, Jackie Lam covers money management, lending, insurance, investing, and banking, and personal stories. An AFC® accredited financial coach, she is passionate about helping freelance creatives design money systems on irregular income, gain greater awareness of their money narratives, and overcome mental and emotional blocks.

Her work has appeared in publications such as Bankrate, Time's NextAdvisor, CNET, Forbes,, and BuzzFeed. She is the 2022 recipient of Money Management International's Financial Literacy and Education in Communities (FLEC) Award, and a two-time Plutus Awards nominee for Best Freelancer in Personal Finance Media. She lives in Los Angeles where she spends her free time swimming, drumming, and daydreaming about stickers.

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Written on March 24, 2024
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