How to Start Paying Off Your Debt If You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

paying off debt if you're feeling overwhelmedA friend of mine recently asked for my advice as it pertained to paying off debt. She had about $5,000 in debt across a couple of credit cards and a personal loan and wasn’t making any progress on paying it off.

When I asked her why, she responded with “I just feel overwhelmed. I don’t even know where to start.”

This post has been written by Amanda Abella, accomplished writer and speaker in the area of personal finance.

Overwhelm and Procrastination

Before getting into how to start paying off debt, it would be beneficial to discuss the relationship between overwhelm and procrastination.

Overwhelm happens when we feel like the task at hand is too big. We may also feel it when we are unsure of how to tackle it. Instead of starting to take action in even the smallest of ways, we let our feelings about overwhelm (namely fear) take over and we begin to procrastinate. In other words, we avoid the uncomfortable feeling.

Of course, this has a downside. While we may think that avoiding the uncomfortable emotions will help us feel better (out of sight out of mind), the problem we’re trying to solve only gets bigger. This causes more overwhelm, more emotions and, you guessed it, more procrastination.

So, in reality, avoiding doesn’t help you do anything productive. That’s why you might want to consider trying some of these tips to help you get started in paying off debt.

Find Positive Examples

When paying off debt, you may feel overwhelmed because you think it’s impossible to accomplish your goal. Truth be told, the amount of debt you have is relative.

When my friend said she was stressed out over five grand I smiled and said, “Oh, that’s easy!” That’s because I’ve become accustomed to hearing stories of people who’ve paid off far more than that.

You’ll need to rewire your brain to believing that you can pay off your debt. One of the best ways to do this is to flood yourself with successful debt repayment stories. You can start with podcasts or even reading this blog.

Find Support

The next step in paying off debt when you’re feeling overwhelmed is to find support. This could look like Facebook groups or many of the online financial challenges that are available for free. If you feel like you need more than that, there are also support groups in the form of twelve-step programs.

Just get clear on the next step.

One of the things I suggested to my friend is that she start taking small steps toward paying off her debt. Rather than trying to figure out how to achieve it all at once, I suggested she only try to figure out the next logical step.

Since she had a tax refund coming her way, her next logical step was to use it to pay down her debt. Once that’s finished, she can figure out the next step after that.

By taking it in small steps instead of giant chunks, you can more easily handle your overwhelm while paying off your debt.

Final Thoughts

Paying off your debt can feel like an emotional and overwhelming process, but it doesn’t have to be. Use these tips to help you take action, even if it’s in the littlest of ways.

Are you ready to start paying off your debt?

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14 comments to How to Start Paying Off Your Debt If You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

  • David C

    Pay off the smallest debt first as quick as you can. This gives you a win early in the game. Don’t think you should pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first, although logically that is the way to go, remember this is a mind game and the early score is good for the mindset. Don’t forget to keep paying the minimum off the other debts though.

  • “You’ll need to rewire your brain to believing that you can pay off your debt” this couldn’t be more true and what you think is possible probably is as you won’t take any action towards something you don’t believe is possible.
    Miss Balance recently posted..$5 dinner party – Why my friends love them and yours will too

    • I often hear people say that they’re going to sell their house so they can pay off all their debts. This sounds great and all, but it does nothing to correct your bad habits. A brain rewiring is necessary if you want to get out of debt AND stay out of debt.

  • Great tips here. I would add too to make a plan and reward accomplishment of that plan with a reasonable reward. Figure out why you want the debt gone and then start working the plan. And celebrate milestones along the way. Every dollar of debt paid off is a victory!

  • Rhitter

    I can relate to feeling overwhelmed. At the beginning of this year, I took a hard look at the numbers and got physically ill. So, I started taking action and just started to attack my debt and working on getting financially fit. It’s gonna take time, but I am no longer gonna put it off by just paying minimum payments.

    • Good for you Rhitter! That’s so exciting that you’re tackling your debt head on! That’s a great feeling when you’re in the trenches, and an even better feeling when you get out of debt!

  • Jeremy

    I think the most daunting part is when my annual income is so low, but student loans are so high. I have a master’s degree from a prestigious school, and a bachleor’s from a prestigious school (I do not feel entitled for this but just added for context) but a job that does not even pay $45k. An old sales job racked up credit card debt and I have about $3500 to $4k to pay off. I’m on an income based repayment plan for my student loans, but the monthly payments are so low that I am only paying interest and the principal stays intact (interest even increases over the year). It is very overwhelming and gives me a feeling of defeat.

    • Hi Jeremy,

      How much student loan debt do you have? If you can pay more than the minimum payments, I would highly recommend it! Focus on raising your income and ditching that debt! Take a look at my Debt Snowball tool – it should help you figure things out a little better:

      • Jeremy

        Hi Derek,

        Thanks for your reply. If my math is correct (and it should be), I have about $90k left to repay. I’m trying like mad to find a higher-paying job. If that does not happen, I’m still living check-to-check, and unexpected expenses would have to go on the credit card. I have just enough to eat and pay off debt. That’s bad (obviously). Your article where you discussed wasting money on a new car convicted me–I have 12 months left to pay my car off (about $5k). Basically 3-4 years of bad decisions and bad math messed me up.

  • I absolutely agree with taking small steps to chip away at your debt. One of the things that has worked for me is organizing my debt by the highest interest or balance. This helps me focus and tackle me debt accordingly. I am planning to payoff all my debt by the end of the year. Big Goals. Thanks for this post great tips!

    • Hi G.P.! I used the debt snowball method to get out of debt for good, but if the avalanche method (based on interest) works for you, then go for it! There’s nothing like owing absolutely nothing to anyone!

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