Paying off debt is something many Americans have to manage. In fact, in the fourth quarter of 2020, total household debt increased by $206 billion to reach a total of $14.56 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's quarterly report on household debt and credit. That brings the total debt balance to $414 billion more than it was at the end of 2019.
And while getting out of debt is hard, it isn't impossible. If you've tried or even thought about getting out of debt, it's best to understand the solvable roadblocks that may be in your way before you start your journey to being debt-free. Here are a few reasons that getting out of debt is so challenging, and a few possible solutions too.
You Have to Change Your Lifestyle
To get out of debt, you have to make some major changes to your financial lifestyle. When you went into debt, you were likely spending more money than you were bringing in, relying on credit cards and loans to buy things you couldn't afford.
You have undoubtedly gotten used to the lifestyle you lead, but you must change your habits to focus on the essentials you have to pay for if you want to pay off debt. For example, if you have been accustomed to eating out several times a week or month, you’ll have to cut back, and it's even better if you stop completely. By prioritizing your wants versus your needs, like eating out compared to paying your water bill, you'll be able to get back on track with your finances. It isn't easy to make the lifestyle changes that are necessary to get out of debt, but you can adjust to life without the things you can’t afford.
Consider creating a budget, such as the 50/30/20 rule of thumb, to help you build financially sound habits.
You’ll Have to Sacrifice for Now
Paying off debt requires constant sacrifice. It’s hard to do since we’re continually flooded with advertisements for goods and services we don’t need. As long as you’re paying off debt, you have to say “no” to things—vacation, electronics, and jewelry—that will hinder your debt repayment progress.
Even when you're done repaying your debt, you'll need to keep up the habit of resisting temptation, lest you fall back into debt.
High Finance Charges Take Much of Your Payment
The higher your interest rates, the longer it will take you to pay off your debt because the majority of your monthly payment goes toward paying expensive finance charges. You’ll have to increase your monthly payment or talk your creditor into lowering your interest rate if you want to make real progress paying off that credit card balance or loan.
Other People are Spending a lot of Money
Debt repayment can be extremely difficult when you’re making huge sacrifices to get rid of the debt while everyone around you buys, borrows, and spends whatever they want—or at least that's what it can feel like. That spark of jealousy may tempt you to reconsider paying off your debt, but it's important to think long term and put yourself first.
The joy of buying things is short-lived, especially when your borrowing power runs out and you’re forced to repay all the money you’ve borrowed. Occasional indulgences are ok. Just keep your purchases small, infrequent, and meaningful.
Others May Not Support Your Debt Repayment
If you’re married, in a serious relationship, or have kids, you need those people to support your decision to get out of debt. Not only do you need their encouragement, you also need them to understand your financial decisions, as your family will also have to adjust to lifestyle changes, too. For example, if you decide to cut out cable television, the family will have to find other ways to entertain themselves.
Unexpected Expenses Will Arise
Though you may do what you can to safeguard yourself from unexpected expenses, you’ll sometimes have to deal with something you didn’t plan for, such as a sudden health scare or a death in the family. That’s why it’s important to have an emergency fund you can withdraw from when unexpected expenses arise. An emergency fund softens the blow from unexpected expenses and keeps you from having to borrow money.
If it's spent, you’ll have to rebuild your emergency fund, possibly from your debt repayment funds, so you’ll have money available the next time something unexpected happens.
It Can Take a Long Time
Paying off your debt can take several years, depending on the amount of debt you have and the amount you’re able to put toward it every month. It will take even longer if you add more debt or you pay just the minimum. So while you might get discouraged after months or years of paying debt with minimal progress, it's important to continue thinking long term.
Go into debt repayment with an idea of how long it will take to pay off your debt. Every few months, use a debt calculator to figure out how much longer you’ll need to repay your debt with your current monthly payment. That check-in will give you an idea of where you stand and keep you from feeling like you’re wandering around in a debt repayment tunnel with no end in sight.
Debt reduction software can be a helpful tool for getting out of debt more efficiently, often offering to do the calculations for you and create a plan that you can easily follow month to month.