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Which debt should I pay down first?

In our last post, we discussed how gas prices are 41 percent lower than they were when they peaked nearly eight years ago at $4.11 per gallon, and many Americans are using their savings at the pump to pay down debt.

But if you are like many people and have numerous debt obligations to pay off, you may be wondering where to start. It’s important to choose which debts to pay off strategically because it does make a difference.

As a FindLaw.com article explains, debts often have different interest rates and consequences that apply in default, so putting your money toward the wrong debt balance can actually cause you to go deeper into debt.

Here’s how to prioritize which debts to pay:

First, pay down legal debts such as child support and tax payments because they are the most serious debts, and they are rarely dischargeable in bankruptcy.

Next, focus on debts with the highest interest rates. For many people, this is credit card debt. Credit card debt can carry an interest rate between 20 and 30 percent, and can be made up primarily of late fees and interests.

If you have a lump sum of money to put toward credit card debt, your creditor may agree to forgive a larger portion of the credit card debt in exchange for the lump sum payment.

If you want to cut down the debt a little at a time, choose the loan or credit card with the highest interest rate and start paying it down. After you have paid off the debt, close the credit card and move to the debt with the next-highest interest rate.

Finally, as you are working to pay off your debts, keep making minimum payments on necessities, including your mortgage payment, car payment and utility payment, while you work on paying off other debts.

These loans often have lower interest rates and so are not the highest priority to pay off, but you need to make sure to keep up with the payments since you risk foreclosure, repossession and shut off utilities if you default.

If you want to explore other options for debt repayment, such as debt negotiation or debt consolation, talk to an experienced bankruptcy lawyer in your area. 

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