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As an immigrant who moved alone to the U.S. from Jamaica at age 17, Jordanne Wells didn't know much about managing finances in her 20s.
While Wells had a steady income at the time and was already a savvy shopper — using coupons, buying clearance and generic brands — she realized her debt was holding her back from doing the things she wanted to do.
"The debt itself wasn't hurting me," says Wells, now a personal finance blogger at Wise Money Women. "I realized it was what I couldn't do because I was servicing my debt. That realization flipped a switch in my head."
Instead of just getting by making the minimum payments on her credit card debt, Wells decided it was time to make some drastic changes.
CNBC Select spoke with Wells about the six-step method she created — what she calls the debt "S-L-A-Y-E-R" system — that kick-started her payoff journey and helped her get rid of her credit card debt within a year. Here are the steps:
The first step in Wells' payoff plan is to organize your debt. Gather all the details of your outstanding balances.
Make a list of who you owe, how much you owe, the interest rates, minimum payments and due dates. After you have all the information laid out in front of you, calculate how much your monthly payments are to cover your debt.
In order to avoid any temptation to score a new sign-up bonus on a credit card, opt out of receiving any additional new credit card offers. Then leverage your current income as much as possible. This could include cutting back on monthly expenses, like subscription or streaming services, to have more money for paying off your debt.
To keep your credit card accounts in good standing, you want to make sure you at least pay the minimum amount due on your bills on time each month. This will help protect your credit score as payment history is the most important factor in determining that important 3-digit number.
To make it easy, automate these payments so the money is taken out of your account every month on time and you don't have to think about it.
Wells credits her success paying off 5-figure debt in 12 months to the extra payments she made as often as she could. "No matter if it's $10 or $100, make the payment," she says.
Even if it doesn't feel like you can afford to pay much more than the minimums, know that every cent counts. Wells once made an additional payment of 60 cents toward her credit card debt because she knew every bit would help and as soon as she had extra cash, she put it right toward her debt. "I knew that if I didn't I would've spent it," she says.
Once you get started on your debt payoff journey, track your plan to make sure it still works for your lifestyle and adjust as needed.
For Wells, she decided to open a balance transfer credit card so she could pay off her debt with no interest. Once she consolidated her high-interest credit card debt, she made a plan to pay extra every single month during the introductory interest-free period.
Balance transfer cards are a great way to save money while paying off your debt, since you don't accrue additional interest during the intro period. Just note that most cards, like the U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card and the Citi Simplicity® Card, require good or excellent credit to qualify.
While you track your plan, it helps to keep an eye on your successes, too. Finance expert Sallie Krawcheck suggests carrying around an index card in your wallet and checking off when you pay off a chunk of debt so that you feel a sense of momentum in your payoff journey.
Once your plan is up and running and you are comfortable with the system, Wells says that it is then time to accelerate the debt payoff. She suggests refinancing with your card issuer for better terms or finding more funds to pay off your debt. If you're not sure where to turn, check out these easy ways to earn extra money from your couch.
Debt payoff is a journey, and for most people, it's not something that can happen overnight. Wells was able to find a plan that worked for her and kept her motivated. The most important thing is to decide on a plan and get started. Here are a few more stories that may inspire you:
- How to achieve financial freedom and pay off debt, according to a financial expert who paid off $87,000
- 3 common myths about being in debt that are stopping you from paying it off
- These newlyweds paid off $21,000 in credit card debt by following their own rules—here’s exactly how they did it
- How a 39-year-old paid off $16,397 in credit card debt in less than a year (and hasn’t paid a cent in interest since)