As 2019 draws to a close, how close are you to conquering your debt?
Already there? Congratulations!
But if you came up a little short (or a lot), don’t beat yourself up about it — the important thing is that you keep trying.
To help inspire you through the end of this year and into the next, we’ve combed our archives for the top 10 debt stories of 2019.
Don’t worry, you got this — and we’ll be right there with you.
Top 10 Debt Stories of 2019
Check out our top 10 debt stories from 2019 for tips to fight debt as well as strategies for reducing it.
1. Find Forgiveness for Student Loan Debt
If you feel like your student loan debt is an insurmountable pile threatening to consume your financial future, you must consider every option for escaping it — including potentially getting the debt wiped out completely.
This comprehensive guide about student loan forgiveness explains each of the programs, including how to qualify and how long the program takes before your debt is forgiven.
Although none offer an easy fix, these programs could be the lifeline that rescues you from drowning in student loan debt.
2. Fight Back Against Debt Collectors
Calls from debt collectors can be scary and intimidating — the callers are trained to convince you to pay off your debt as quickly as possible. But what if you’re unsure of whether you even owe the debt, or you think they are scams?
One way to press the pause button on their aggressive tactics: Demand that the debt collector send you a debt validation letter, which must include how much you owe, who you owe it to and what action you can take.
A debt validation letter is the first step toward fighting off zombie debt — debt that is so old, it’s outlasted the statute of limitations so you cannot be sued to pay it.
Getting the information in writing allows you the chance to find errors and correct them — or to discover it’s a scam.
Knowledge is power, after all.
3. Tackle Medical Bills You Can’t Afford
Ignoring that pile of medical bills won’t make them go away, and the longer you wait — much like the cough that turned into pneumonia — the worse it’s going to get.
Knowing where to start can seem overwhelming, so we created a five-step guide to paying medical bills you can’t afford.
And here’s a little tip: Almost any healthcare provider will accept less than the full amount owed. But you have to ask.
4. Save Hundreds on Credit Card Interest
If you carry a balance from month to month on your credit card, biweekly payments could save you a bundle.
If you’re unfamiliar with it, biweekly payments are where you make half of your regular monthly payment every two weeks.
Tell your lender — via phone, email or letter — that you want extra payments applied toward your principal amount, not the interest. That allows you to pay down the debt faster.
So if your monthly payment for a debt is $500, you’ll pay $250 every two weeks. Because there are 52 weeks in a calendar year, you’ll make 13 full payments (26 half payments) instead of 12 if you only paid monthly.
The end result: You’ll pay $6,500 toward your debt using biweekly payment, compared to $6,000 on a monthly plan.
5. Consider a Layaway Plan With Benefits
Remember the layaway plan? It’s an old retail custom in which you make installment payments over a period of time to buy a product or service you can’t afford upfront.
But a new generation of buy-now-pay-later services like Afterpay has upped the ante by letting you keep the merchandise immediately after you make the first payment.
You pay off the balance in three equal installments, but there’s no more waiting until you hand over that last dollar to get your hands on your purchase. Curious to learn how it compares to buying with a credit card? Here’s what you need to know about Afterpay.
6. Beat This Deadline to Avoid More Student Loan Debt
Interest capitalization should strike fear in the hearts of federal student loan borrowers. It’s the moment when your interest balance is lumped in with your principal balance and you get charged interest on the total amount.
Unlike credit cards, federal student loans only accrue interest on the principal amount until a specified time period or event.
But if you pay off the interest before it capitalizes — in most cases, that’s the six-month grace period after you leave college — you could save yourself a bundle in additional interest.
Check out this article to learn more about how interest capitalization affects a loan.
7. Start Using a Credit Card Without Going Into Debt
Getting your first credit card can be exciting — the power! — but scary — the responsibility!
Now’s the time to build good habits so you won’t end up like the Americans who carried a collective $870 billion in credit card debt by the end of 2018, according to the Federal Reserve.
Instead, check out this guide for how to use a credit card without going into debt. We even walk you through how to make that first credit card purchase online or in person so you look like an old pro.
8. Escape an Underwater Car Loan
You owe more than your car is worth — aka your car loan is underwater (which requires a much different approach than when your car is underwater, but I digress).
What can you do?
We have five options to trade in a car with negative equity, ranging from easy-but-bad to tough-but-sensible. We’ll even help you figure out how much negative equity you have so you can make a more informed plan of attack.
9. Make Paying Off Debt a Team Effort
Just married? Congrats! Consider this your first project of your new life together: tackling debt.
Although you may not legally be responsible for your spouse’s debt — whether it’s credit cards, student loans, mortgage or anything else — that whole for-better-or-worse thing probably means you want to help each other stress less about money.
We’ve rounded up tips from other couples that you can apply to your marriage debt paydown strategy.
10. Stay Out of Debt Once You’re Free
If you’re nearing the end of your debt journey, you may be tempted to celebrate — and you should! (But without spending money so you end up back in debt.)
Unfortunately, breaking the cycle of debt recidivism is tough, especially if you regularly rely on credit cards to cover expenses.
Becoming aware of your tendency to return to bad habits — or giving into the temptations of lifestyle inflation — can help you avoid pitfalls throughout your financial journey, and stay out of debt for good.
Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer/editor at The Penny Hoarder. Read her bio and other work here, then catch her on Twitter @TiffanyWendeln.