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Four Things to Consider When Paying Off Debt

Written by Steve Repak on June 23, 2014 in Credit  |   7 comments

Let’s say you have credit card balances, student loan debt, a car payment, and a mortgage. Which do you pay down first? The answer depends on your priorities. While it would be great to pay off all of your debt simultaneously, that’s not possible for…

four-things-to-consider-when-paying-off-debtLet’s say you have credit card balances, student loan debt, a car payment, and a mortgage. Which do you pay down first? The answer depends on your priorities. While it would be great to pay off all of your debt simultaneously, that’s not possible for most people.

Consider these pros and cons as you work to prioritize your debt:

Paying off the smallest debt first

1. Paying off your smallest debt first can give you a sense of accomplishment and may keep you on track, especially if you are trying to pay off multiple debts. If you feel overwhelmed by all of your debt, those little victories can provide you with the much-needed encouragement to remain committed to your goals.

2. Paying off the smallest debt first may not be the best plan if your priority is to pay less in interest and thereby pay off your debt as quickly as possible. For example, if the credit card with the largest balance is also the one that charges you the highest interest rate, you will be paying more interest and it will take you longer to pay off your debt.

Paying off your credit card debt before your mortgage

3. Some professionals recommend not paying off your house if you have other debt. This is because you may get a tax benefit if your mortgage interest is deductible. For example, if your marginal tax rate is 25 percent and your home loan is 6 percent, your net interest rate is 4.5 percent, or 75 percent of 6 percent. If you are paying a higher interest rate on other debt, it may make more sense to put your cash towards that more expensive debt before your mortgage.

4. If you pay off other debt and that causes you to default on your mortgage, you could risk losing your home. Would you rather take a ding on your credit report because you were unable to pay a credit card bill or lose your house? You might want to pay off your house before paying off your unsecured debt—even though you might lose the interest deduction on your taxes.

Advice is seldom one size fits all, but some professionals feel strongly that their way is the best way. The reality, though, is that each person has a different personality, different goals, and different circumstances. To decide what’s best for you, weigh the pros and cons of each option and then make a decision based on what is most important to you.

Steve Repak is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, CFP® Board Ambassador, and financial literacy speaker. He is also an Army veteran and the author of Dollars & Uncommon Sense: Basic Training For Your Money. Follow him on Twitter: @SteveRepak

The information contained in this blog post is designed to generally educate and inform visitors to the Equifax Finance Blog. The blog posts do not give, and should not be assumed to provide, personalized tax, investment, real estate, legal, retirement, credit, personal financial, or other professional advice. Before making any financial decision, you should always consult with the appropriate professionals who can explain your options, rights, and legal responsibilities, and advise you on any tax, legal, credit, or business implications that may result from those decisions. The views and opinions expressed by the authors of blog posts are their own views and may not be the views or opinions of Equifax, Inc. and/or its affiliates.


  1. Anonymous says:

    What do you think about car notes? For example should I use my equity line on my house to pay off my car?

    • Steve Repak says:

      That is a great question. Just as with all decisions you have to weigh the benefits versus the risk. Using a home equity could make sense especially if the rate is lower than you car note. As an added benefit, the interest might be deductible. As with any tax question, you should ask a qualified tax professional. So what about the risk? If you did use your equity line to pay off your car and you are unable to make the equity line payment, your house could be foreclosed on.

  2. Tara says:

    Great points to consider!

  3. Sam says:

    Which type of student loan should be paid off first? Subsidized or Unsubsidized?

    • Steve Repak says:

      The loan that charges the highest interest would be the one I would concentrate on. There are some experts that say work on the loan with the lowest balance.

  4. Michelle says:

    I agree, I am interested to know what about car loans. When should these be paid off? Should it be credit card, then car loan, and then mortgage?

    • Steve Repak says:

      Risk wise, if you don’t pay off your mortgage, you can lose your house. If you fail to pay off your credit card, you just get bad credit. Again, I look at the loan that is charging the highest interest and concentrate on that one.

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