Here's what Americans say they would do with an extra $10,000

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It isn't often an unexpected $10,000 lands in your bank account. But it seems that a lot of Americans are on the same page about what they would do with the cash.

A recent survey from financial website Lending Tree polled more than 1,000 Americans on their financial hopes, fears and resolutions for 2018, and on what they would do with a sudden windfall. A plurality would choose the responsible option: 36 percent say they'd use it to pay down their debt, the survey notes, "whether it was credit-card based, or from an existing mortgage or loan."

That finding makes sense: Total credit card debt has reached a high point, according to a report from the Federal Reserve, surpassing $1 trillion in 2017. The average American has a balance of $6,375, Experian data shows, up nearly 3 percent from last year.

For college students, debt totals $1.4 trillion. The average debt for 20-year-olds is $22,135, and for 30-year-olds, it's $34,033.

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The number of respondents who say they'd pay down debt was more than double those who chose any of the next four options: 14 percent would invest the money; 12 percent would spend it on family; 10 percent would use it for home improvements and 8 percent would put it toward retirement.

Overall, 13 percent of respondents say there are considering debt consolidation. But, of those, 60 percent say they haven't thought about how to handle it and less than half knew where they would go to accomplish consolidation.

The survey presents some other stats to be optimistic about, too. "Despite some uncertainty about the specifics," the survey notes, "Americans expressed that paying off debt was the financial matter they were most confident about accomplishing in 2018."

And, overall, 67 percent of respondents expect their finances to generally improve this year, with millennials being the most cheerful. Nearly 80 percent of those aged 35 or under expect their finances to improve in 2018, compared to 55 percent of those older than 50.

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If you find yourself paying down debt, whether it's credit card debt, student loans or some other kind, there are some expert-vetted strategies that can help. A number of successful payers have used the snowball method, in which you pay your smallest loan first and then focus payments on the next highest one, for example.

Regardless, the most important thing to do is to make a plan.

The Masters, a couple aiming to pay $600,000 in student loan debt in five years, suggest you figure out how much you owe, create a budget and "take the bull by the horns."

"It is tempting to bury your head in the sand and ignore the weight of your debt," they tell CNBC Make It, "but you really have to lean into your situation to get a handle on it. The earlier you come to understand and manage it, the less painful and more manageable it will be in the end."

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