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It’s very likely that both you and your partner carried – or will carry – some form of debt into your union. And with debt comes potential conflict.

You might not agree on how much debt is acceptable, for example, and how fast you should pay it off. And then there’s the matter of further additions to your debt load. Do your thoughts match on what makes the cut?

Agree to Follow a Plan

If you’re saddled with debt and anxious about what it means for your relationship, you’re not alone: According to Experian’s 2019 Consumer Debt Study, total consumer debt in the U.S. is $14.1 trillion, and Americans hold an average personal debt of $90,460.

But debt doesn’t have to equal disharmony. One approach is to unite on a plan to manage debt. Do your research, communicate consistently and agree to let the plan guide your decisions. Read on for a tried-and-true method to handle debt.

The Debt Snowball Method, Explained

One popular way to attack debt is the debt snowball method of repayment, which focuses on paying off small balances first.

Each month, you’d make the minimum monthly payment on every debt except the one with the smallest balance. For that debt, you’d put as much money as you can toward it until it’s paid in full, and then roll that same amount – on top of the minimum payment – into the next smallest debt. Keep doing this until you knock out your debts, one by one, from the smallest balance to the highest.

How to Start Snowballing

Here’s a simple method of getting yourself moving on snowballing your debts:

  1. Make a list of all your debts in order of balance, from lowest to highest.
  2. Next to each debt, note the minimum monthly payment.
  3. Calculate your available cash once you’ve met your monthly living expenses – rent/mortgage, utilities, insurance, food and so on.
  4. Now, with your cash available, be sure to stash a few dollars a month away into savings. A good rule of thumb is to hold off on using the debt snowball method until you have at least $1,000 in an emergency savings account (although six months of take-home pay is the expert-recommended figure for emergency savings accounts).
  5. Once you’re ready, use your extra cash to make the minimum monthly payments on all of your debts except your smallest balance. With the remaining money, make an extra payment toward that smallest balance.

Here’s a working example:

  • Monthly take-home pay, after taxes: $2,700
  • Rent: $800
  • Necessary expenses: $400
  • Minimum payments on all debts: $300

Adding up to $1,500, the total expenditure in this (admittedly ideal) scenario leaves $1,200 each month to put toward savings and debt. Start by putting an extra $200 in savings so you’re contributing to your emergency fund. Next, pay off that small credit card balance of $325. Then, in the following months, you can roll that extra $325 toward your store credit card, paying that off in five months. And so on.

Pros and Cons of the Debt Snowball Method

  • Biggest pro is psychological. When you see entire debts disappear one by one, it’s enough to put a smile on your face! You’ll also be changing your behavior for the long term, focusing on those debt payoff finish lines instead of rising balances.
  • Biggest con is that it doesn’t take interest rates into account. This means that higher debts with higher interest rates will still accumulate interest while you pay off smaller, potentially lower-interest-rate balances. Use this calculator if you want to focus on paying off debt with higher interest first. This strategy, known as a debt avalanche plan, works for many people.

The most important part of any debt paydown strategy is making sure you have money going both into savings and toward paying off your debts. At the same time, you also want to make sure that you’re living a comfortable lifestyle and aren’t unnecessarily depriving yourself for your savings. A proper balance is key.

Being open about your debt and committing to a structured payback plan like this one can help you and your partner achieve financial harmony.

This information and recommendations contained herein are compiled from sources deemed reliable, but are not represented to be accurate or complete. In providing this information, neither KeyBank nor its affiliates are acting as your agent or are offering any tax, accounting, or legal advice.

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