Overcoming Discouragement When You’re Paying Off Debt

person in peach shirt on computer looking worried
•••

VioletaStoimenova / Getty Images

Millions of individuals are in debt in some shape or form. Whether it’s credit card debt or student loan debt—of which more than 42 million Americans currently owe, according to recent data—it has to be paid off. 

Dealing with debt can be an emotional rollercoaster, as it can take several years to fully pay off and comes with many technical roadblocks along the way too. With the right tools, though, you can fully pay off your debt and remain calm throughout the process.  

Learn various strategies you can use to fight discouragement and get out of debt fast.

Focus on Your Progress

You can easily feel discouraged at how long it takes to pay off your debt. On top of the months that pass by, changes in your payment amounts or an accidental missed payment can chip away at your motivation. Plus, making major sacrifices in your financial and social life to focus on debt payment may leave you feeling a little unsatisfied about the process. 

Sometimes a shift in focus is all you need to get motivated again. Rather than dwell on how overwhelming your debt is, consider how much progress you've made so far. Whether you're just a few payments in or you've been at it for several months (or years), slow progress is better than no progress.

Keeping track of your progress can be a beneficial strategy for getting more comfortable with your financial situation. Track your debt in a spreadsheet or through a debt reduction software program. These tools enable you to quickly see how much progress you've made toward lowering your balances, and the software can also help you make a debt plan.

Think about something positive related to your debt repayment. Maybe you’ve paid off all your credit card debt and you can now focus on student loan debt, or perhaps you’ve gone several months without accumulating more. Be happy about the strides you’ve taken toward getting rid of your debt, no matter how big or small.

Review Your Reasons for Paying Off Debt

You’re paying your debt for a reason—to have a comfortable retirement, to pay for your kids' (or your own) education, to afford a house, or maybe just to free some money in your budget. Paying off debt is a good thing, and you should be proud of it. 

Keep track of what motivated you to start your debt journey in the first place. To do so, you can keep a note on your phone or create a list that you post on your wall or daily planner. When you’re feeling discouraged with your debt, refer to all the things that drive you to be debt-free and use them to motivate you to keep going.

Speed Up the Process

If you’ve only been paying the minimum on your debt, consider putting down more each month. This way, you will reduce your interest costs and get to a zero balance more quickly. 

A debt repayment calculator can help you evaluate the amount you currently owe and see how much time you have left until you’re debt-free. 

You may be able to shave even more time off your debt-free timeframe by following a payoff strategy like the debt snowball or debt avalanche. While the debt snowball method is focused on paying off the lowest balance first and working your way up, the debt avalanche aims to save on total interest by paying off the debt with the highest interest rate first and working your way down. Note that, depending on your personal situation, one strategy may work better than the other, and vice versa.

Other steps you can take to speed up the process include taking You may also consider advantage of a promotional balance transfer deal, or freeing up money in your personal budget to put toward your debt.

Take a Break

After you’ve paid your bills for the month, take a break from thinking about your debt. Dwelling on the debt is more likely to stress you out than to help you figure out what to do next. For the next few days, or even a couple of weeks, think about something besides your debt. Read a great book. Take a class. Engage in a hobby. Once you’ve taken a break, you may have a fresh perspective on your debt or a new idea about how you can pay your debt sooner.

Find Inspiration and Support

You may find inspiration in the words of the world’s greatest thinkers and speakers. There are books to read, speeches to listen to, and so many other ways for you to stay motivated and on track. Start a collection of your favorite quotes and read them when you’re feeling down about your debt.

While inspirational messaging can be nice, sometimes you need support from other people. You’re not alone in your struggle to get out of debt. Don’t be afraid to speak with those closest to you about what you’re going through, as they may have a similar experience you can relate to, as well as guidance to get you back on track. 

If you find yourself drowning in debt, consulting a financial advisor for guidance, or even reaching out to a nonprofit credit counseling agency. These organizations will work with you to better manage your debt. 

The Bottom Line

While debt may seem looming in the beginning, once you create a plan and stick to it, you will be on the right path for future financial success. While you may not be able to see the end yet, stay encouraged to continue chipping away at your debt, getting one step closer to debt freedom with each payment. And remember, you can always ask for help if you’re feeling overwhelmed by debt.