The truth is that most people today won’t be living entirely “debt-free”. Whether you have a mortgage, an outstanding balance on your credit cards, or student loans, there’s a good chance that you owe some money to someone. The good news is that there are ways you can reduce the overall strain of your loans, and improve the way you deal with debt. Here’s a 10-step plan to debt-free living.

Step 1: Understand your Debt

All debt isn’t necessarily “bad” debt. A loan can help you to get a high-paying job by improving your chances of earning a degree. At the same time, getting a loan to own your own home or start your own business isn’t a bad idea. Think carefully about what kind of debt you have, and how “bad” it really is.

Step 2: Limit the Costs of Student Loans

On average, most people are carrying about $27,000 in student debt – that’s a lot of cash. The good news is that you can save more than a thousand dollars by simply refinancing your student loans. On the other hand, you could also think about getting your student loans forgiven, or paid off by an employer if you need to eliminate the debt in your academic career entirely.

Step 3: Pay off Debts with Consolidation

You’ve probably heard of debt consolidation before, but did you know it could be one of the best ways to take control of your expenses? Debt consolidation is a good idea when the loan you can get will help you to cut the costs of your loan in the long-haul. Additionally, debt consolidation can also be useful if you need to cut down your monthly repayments.

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Step 4: Speed Up Paying your Mortgage

A mortgage is the most expensive loan you’ll ever have. An early payoff will help to give you more financial freedom, but a low-interest rate might mean that it makes more sense to invest your money, rather than paying off your mortgage early. Decide whether you’d like to get rid of your mortgage fast or not, then look at making additional principal payments.

Step 5: Pay the Worst Debts First

Every type of debt can be difficult to manage, and a little overwhelming at times. While there are various different approaches to tackling debt, make sure that you pay off the debts that have the biggest impact on you emotionally first. For instance, pay off the loan you took out from your in-laws before you start worrying about your credit card. Build a hierarchy of the most important debts you need to pay and work on it one at a time.

Step 6: Use the “Snowball Method”

When you use the snowball method for dealing with debt, you simply use the majority of your available money to manage debt repayment on one loan, then give minimum repayments on the others. When the loan is then paid off, you can tackle the next loan on your hierarchy of most important payments and so on, until you’re completely out of debt.

Step 7: Negotiate Interest Rates and Loan Amounts

A lower than average interest rate will help you to pay off the credit card bills you’ve built up faster than usual. All you need to do is ask your provider whether they’re willing to move you to a better rate. If you’re successful with your request, then you could end up saving yourself a great deal of money and stress on your bills.

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Step 8: Pay off Debts and Invest at the Same Time

Managing your finances can be complicated. You want to get rid of your extra debts, but you also need to think about things like emergency funds, and you don’t want to miss out on things like compounding interest to help you earn better retirement savings. The good news is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be an either-or situation. You can invest and pay off debts at the same time, all you need to do is choose the right funds.

Step 9: Find Extra Money to Pay off Debt

Sometimes, it is possible to find extra money to throw at your debt, by selling things you don’t need and working a few overtime hours at work. Think about earmarking the “found” money in your life to your debt repayments, rather than using them on luxuries.

Step 10: Don’t Add to Debt

Finally, make sure that you’re not adding to your debt by constantly living beyond your means. Think carefully about your budget, and look for ways that you can reduce your spending not just so it’s easier for you to pay off your current debts, but also so that you can ensure you’re not spending more than you should be in the long-term.