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Financial Expert: Here's the Best Way to Start Tackling Your Debt

umuller | Twenty20

Once you have accumulated debt, it can be difficult to pay it off, especially as interest continues to grow the balance. But in order to improve your financial health, it is important that you get rid of your debt as quickly and efficiently as you can, according to financial expert Patrice Washington.

"Having no debt sooner, quicker, faster is how you're going to get to a place of peace much faster," says Washington.

Here are Washington's three steps to get started tackling your debt.

1. Forgive yourself

Beating yourself up for having debt isn't going to change the situation. It's better to focus on where you are now and how to move forward.

"In the midst of the Great Recession when I lost everything and had to start over, the first thing I had to do was forgive myself," Washington says. "It is really easy in a season like this to beat yourself up about all the things you coulda, shoulda, woulda done, what you should have saved, what that she should have paid off. But the reality is we're here now."

2. Don't run from your debt

No matter how tempting it is for you to ignore your debt, it's better to face it head-on. Talk to your creditors and find out how much you owe. Then start planning how you will pay everything back.

Start by contacting all your creditors and finding out how much you owe. The sooner you make phone calls and put together a plan, the sooner you will have understand what you need to do in order to get yourself out of debt.

"Line up all of your debt, be clear about what your monthly payments are, be clear about your balance, interest rates [and] any time changes that you should know about," Washington says.

3. Ask an expert for help

You don't have to handle everything alone. Washington recommends surrounding yourself with good information, good resources and knowledgeable people.

You can seek help from nonprofit organizations or talk to a financial adviser for advice. Your employer's human resources department may also have resources available. These knowledgeable experts can help you renegotiate certain debts or help you reshape your financial picture.

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How to prioritize your debt

Debt can be generally sorted into two buckets: mortgage debt and non-mortgage debt, Washington says.

"I personally believe that you should go after non-mortgage debt as the first thing, whether that's an auto loan, student loans, credit cards, personal loans, anything that's not mortgage," she says.

"I line them up from the smallest balance to the largest balance because I love to get a quick win. The only time that I would deviate from that is if I have a ridiculous interest rate," she adds. If any of your balances have a super high interest rate, make that one the priority.

It's also important to plan for the future and aim to avoid racking up debt again. To do that, you should also focus on saving, Washington says.

"I don't believe in paying off all your debt before you start to save," she says. "I think paying [down] debt and saving are two things that you do simultaneously."

After going through your budget and figuring out how much you have left after covering your monthly expenses, split those funds down the middle, Washington recommends. Put 50% toward the debt you are going to attack first and the other 50% into your savings.

"As surely as you are living, something will come up," she says. "If you don't have that savings already in place, the minute it does, you'll be right back in debt."

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