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The Top 10 Strategies to Help You Pay Off Your Debts Quicker

Whether it's credit cards, medical bills, mortgages, car loans, or other financial obligations, just about every adult in America has some kind of debt.

The average household in this country owes $12,500 on credit cards, so it's no wonder that consumers are constantly looking for easy ways to pay off their debt.

We tend to put our financial obligations on the back burner, and that's the problem - it burns steadily in the back of our minds, getting hotter and hotter over time. Whether you realize it or not, you are reminded of the money you owe every time you spend money.

Before you fall hopelessly behind, realize that there's no better time to formulate a plan to systematically pay off your loans and bills than right now.

By the way, getting out of debt does require a plan. When you are flush with cash, you cannot just scramble to pay down as much as you can as fast as you can in spurts. Scrambling is not a plan.

Paying off your financial obligations is a little like dieting. It starts with willpower and is sustained by persistence, and it must be graduated and moderate. If you try and pay down too much of what you owe at one time, you'll be in the same boat as a crash dieter who harms his or her body by going overboard. If you go overboard, you'll be back to swimming in a sea of bills without a life preserver.

If you promise to stick to it, we'll help you devise a plan to pay off your financial obligations sensibly. The journey to a debt-free lifestyle begins with a single step, and you've already taken that step by reading this article. It's not difficult to devise a payment plan and stick to it, but it takes a healthy dose of self-discipline.

Give these 10 strategies for financial freedom a close look. As you keep yourself out of financial trouble and you reduce your outstanding bills, adopt any or all of these strategies as you see fit.  Naturally, you can customize the steps for your own agenda. The important thing is to start paying off what you owe and to stop spending like a fool.

1. Cut Out Your Credit Cards

Back in your father's day, it was easy enough to stop using credit cards - you just cut them up into little pieces with scissors. Nowadays, it's not so simple. Your credit card info is already on file with many vendors and websites. You need to cut OUT your credit card use completely, even if it means closing the accounts.

Unfortunately, for many of us, credit cards are like Wi-Fi connections; we can't live without them. Fortunately for you, there are proven ways to wean yourself off of credit cards, and you'll be surprised to learn that there is life after Visa and MasterCard.

One way to eliminate your credit card habit is to leave the culprit at home when you go out. If you see something you really want, you'll either have to buy it with cash or wait until you bring your card the next time. Another way is to build up a little nest egg for emergencies only. If you have a bit of cash to pay for emergency or unforeseen expenses, you won't have to go into hock when a minor disaster strikes.

But the best way to curb your credit card use is to consider how much money you throw away every year in interest, or how long it would take to pay off your credit card balance by paying the minimum monthly payment. These grim statistics are a wake-up call and a reminder of just how dumb it is to use a high-interest credit card to buy frivolous impulse items.

2. Create a Budget You Can Live With

Creating a sensible budget is the cornerstone of any financial recovery plan. First, you should pore over the various software programs available for establishing a budget. After that, you can design an Excel spreadsheet to mirror your needs and spending habits.

Before you sit down to map out your personal budget and plan for repaying all of your outstanding loans and bills, take a long look at your spending and earning patterns. Make a detailed list of all your expenses and sources of income.

After 6 or 8 weeks, you will have a clearer picture of your financial situation. You can then design your Excel columns to match the categories of expenditures you have. As you go along, you can fine-tune your budget, but you need somewhere to start, so don't delay.

3. Pay Off The Highest-Interest Card First

This little nugget of advice is as old as money lending itself, and it never fails to succeed. First, you should lay out all of your credit cards on the kitchen table. After that, arrange them in descending order according to their interest rates.

What you'll have is a column of credit cards with the highest-interest card on top. The plan of action here is to increase your payment on the credit card with the highest annual percentage rate while you continue to make the minimum payment on your other cards. It sounds simple, but you'd be surprised how quickly it can start easing your monthly payment schedule.

4. Pay More Than The Minimum

After you've completed step 3, it's time to confront your other credit cards. To make any progress on your path to financial freedom, you must pay more than the minimum balances on your credit card statements.

When you pay the minimum required monthly payment, typically about two percent of the outstanding balance, you're not even making a dent in the total amount. It's a scary thought, but you may never be able to pay it off at that rate.

Man up and make a commitment to beef up your credit card payments. Besides, as you cancel out the higher-interest cards and pay off the others at a faster pace, and if you leave your credit cards at home more often, you'll notice some relief from the stress that compounding credit cards can give you. If your minimum payment is less than $100, double it.

5. Balance Transfers

A balance transfer is when you pay off your credit cards and loans by transferring their balances to a new low-interest (or no-interest) credit card. It's a financial blessing for some, but a gamble for many others.

By allowing you to catch up on your outstanding financial obligations, it can be a blessing, provided you pay down the balance on the new credit card within the allotted introductory rate timeline. Then again, you're betting that you can get the balance paid off in time. If you can't, you'll be worse off than before, with exorbitant interest rates in addition to the transfer fees.

Keep in mind that you can't transfer more than the credit limit on your new card, regardless of what your old credit limit was. If you have a balance of $7,500 on your existing credit card and you wish to transfer the balance to a new low-interest card that has a $6,000 credit limit, you can only transfer $6,000 (including fees) to the new card.

6. Apply Bonuses Or "Found Money" To Bill Paying

Almost certainly, this one will test your willpower. If you receive a bonus at work, the temptation is to spend this "found money" on guilty pleasures, like a new smartphone or a $350 pair of flimsy designer sandals. Likewise, let's say that the old 1970 Isle of Wight Festival poster you had listed on eBay finally sold for a tidy sum. The tendency here is to   keep this found money in PayPal, where you'll earmark it as eBay money for bidding and buying.

Instead, put this windfall toward your bills and loan payments. A little folding money may give you instant gratification, but paying down your debts quicker will give you lasting satisfaction and inner peace. At the very least, it can grant you a better handle on your finances.

7. Delete Your Credit Card Information

If you do a lot of your shopping online, your credit card information may be stored on many different sites. Some websites like Amazon.com offer "convenient" one-click purchases. This makes the checkout process a breeze, but it also makes it too easy to buy and charge items you don't really need. Wiping your credit card info from these sites will make it more difficult for you to make purchases. This will force you to think twice about every impulse buy.

In the case of recurring payment schedules, such as paying off a car loan, use a debit card that's linked to your checking account in order to simplify your budgeting.

8. Sell Unwanted Gifts

Everyone else is making some spare cash selling stuff online and on Craigslist, so why aren't you? Old birthday gifts or wedding presents that are still in their original boxes could be worth a king's ransom. And it's easy enough to figure out. Go to eBay to find out what the market value of your item is, even if you're not planning on selling it there. As you're thinking about selling, don't worry about finding the exact make and model; it's there.

To succeed on eBay, you need clear pictures of the item, an attention-grabbing auction title, and an honest description. Be forewarned that selling online is addictive, and you might soon find yourself rifling through your family's boxes in the attic looking for treasures.

Once you have some idea of what the value of your item is, you can try your luck on Craigslist. And there's nothing wrong with having a garage sale and offering higher-priced fare - just call it an estate sale. You can unload some pricey merchandise without having to pay eBay fees.

Needless to say, every penny you earn through selling your unwanted stuff must go toward paying off your financial obligations, not toward buying more unwanted stuff.

9. Change Your Ways

Man Praying at Dusk.

Your less-than-balanced budget and your willy-nilly spending are what got you into financial hot water in the first place. The definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over again, expecting a different result each time. In your case, if you keep spending irresponsibly and expect anything but rising debt, you're insane.

Start with your daily habits and routines. Analyze how much you spend each day, each month, and where it's going. Do you really need that expensive coffeehouse whole wheat bagel every single morning, or could you save a bundle by buying, halving, and freezing your bagels in bulk. You don't have to cut out every single indulgence, just cut down on the luxuries.

Also, your car is a great place to save money that could be used to pay off your car loan. By inflating the tires properly, changing the air filter regularly, and keeping your vehicle tuned-up, you can add up to 5% to your fuel efficiency and extend the life of the engine by up to 60,000 miles. To save even more, you can conserve hundreds of gallons of gas a year just by grouping your errands together into fewer trips across town.

10. Reward Yourself

Scrimping and saving to pay down your financial obligations is the right thing to do, but if it's your only goal, you'll lose motivation.

Strap yourself in for the long haul. Redefine yourself as a consumer, and remember to splurge once in a while as a reward for your diligent budgeting. Obviously, you'll have to keep the rewards within reason. If you had planned a week-long vacation and later changed it to a weekend camping trip, go ahead and reward yourself with that questionable garden gnome you've always wanted to buy for your front lawn.