Snowball Method vs. Avalanche Method: What’s the Best Way to Tackle Debt?

Debt is the ultimate killjoy. It can destroy a budget, make long-term financial planning impossible, and shadow every purchase you make with guilt. No one wants to live with that debt burden. But how do you kiss your debt goodbye?

Woman sitting at table working on Phone and laptop.

Crawling out from under this mountain won’t be easy, but if you’re ready to realign your priorities and do what it takes, you can shake off debt no matter how large.

Let’s take a look at two popular approaches for paying down debt and explore the pros and cons of each.

The debt snowball method

The snowball approach to getting out of debt was popularized by financial guru Dave Ramsey. It involves focusing on paying off the smallest debt first, and then working on the next-smallest debt until they’re all paid off.

Let’s take a look at how this would work using an example scenario. Say you’ve squeezed an extra $500 out of your budget to channel toward paying down debt and you have the following debts:

  • $2,500 personal loan at 9.5% interest; minimum payment $50
  • $10,000 car loan at 3% interest; minimum payment $200
  • $13,000 credit card debt at 18.99% interest; minimum payment $225
  • $18,000 student loan at 4.5% interest; minimum payment $300

In this scenario, the snowball method would have you paying just the minimum payment on all debts except for the smallest. On that, you’d put the extra $500 you have toward quickly paying off the personal loan. Once that’s paid off, you’d take the $550 you were paying toward the personal loan and add it to the $200 you’re paying for the car loan. Now you’re paying $750 toward your car loan and you’ll be kicking it in approximately one year. Keep doing this until you’ve kissed all your debts goodbye!

Pros of the debt snowball method

The most significant draw of the debt snowball method is that it works with behavior modification and not with math. The small but quick wins are excellent motivators to keep you going until you’ve worked through all debts.

Like Ramsey says on his site, “Personal finance is 20% head knowledge and 80% behavior.”

It’s not just a nice theory. A study published by Harvard Business Review proved that starting a journey toward a debt-free life with the smallest debt actually does help keep the motivation going until the job is done.

Cons of the debt snowball method

The primary disadvantage of the debt snowball method is its indifference toward interest rates. Paying off the smallest debt first can mean holding onto the debt with the highest interest rate the longest. This translates into paying more in overall interest, sometimes to the tune of several thousands of dollars.

Debt avalanche method

The debt avalanche method takes the opposite approach of the snowball method and advocates for getting rid of the debt with the largest interest rate first and then moving on to the next-highest. This enables the debt-payer to shed heavy interest rates quicker and to put more of their money toward the principal of their loans.

In the scenario above, the debt avalanche method would involve paying down the credit card debt first, followed by the personal loan, student loan and finally the car loan.

Pros of the debt avalanche method

Paying off the debt with the highest interest rate first can save hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars in interest. Some people also like the idea of kicking their most weighty debt sooner. Finally, in most cases, choosing the debt avalanche route will be shorter than the snowball method.

Cons of the debt avalanche method

The debt avalanche requires self-motivation to keep the debt-payer plugging away at the plan despite seeing little progress. It’s harder to feel like you’re getting somewhere when the numbers are barely moving, but for individuals who are sincerely motivated and believe they can stick with the plan until they see results, it can work.

Which method is right for you?

Factors like your personality and lifestyle play a role in determining which of these methods is the best choice for you. If you think you’d need early motivation to keep going, you may want to choose the debt snowball method. Is your chief concern finding an approach that will cost you less time and money? In that case, you might want to go with the avalanche approach.

Before you make your decision, you may want to run your numbers through a financial calculator to see how much interest you’d be paying by using each method and how long each approach will take.

There’s no reason to think you’ll be stuck with one method once you make your choice. You can always switch approaches down the line, or decide early on to get rid of your debt with the largest interest rate first, as per the debt avalanche method, and then work toward paying off the rest in order from smallest to largest, as per the debt snowball method.

Are you ready to tackle your debt? Choose your approach and get started today. A glorious debt-free life awaits! For information on how Destinations Credit Union can help you reach your short term and long term goals, visit us at our website. Destinations Credit Union

The HOPE Inside model created by financial dignity nonprofit Operation HOPE, provides no-cost one-on-one financial literacy coaching, workshops, and education programming to participants through the support of financial and corporate partners. Destinations is the first credit union in the country to offer this service. Credit and Money Management, a core program of the HOPE Inside adult offering, is provided at this location. The Credit and Money Management Program is designed to transform disabling financial mindsets—teaching people the language of money, how to navigate credit, and make better decisions with the money they have.

Your Turn: Have you paid off a large amount of debt? Tell us how you did it in the comments.

This Guy Paid Off His Mortgage In Three Years. So, Why Does He Regret It And Why Is Everyone Angry At Him?


There’s not much in life that is more freeing than finally paying off a large bill. Suddenly, our checking accounts are flush, the future feels more open, and even our favorite jeans seem to fit better. When it comes to a mortgage, of course, that seems so far down the road it’s difficult to imagine, particularly for those just starting out.  If you’ve always paid rent or a mortgage, it just kind of feels like that bill is always there, the background noise of your life. 
So, when 30-year-old Canadian resident Sean Cooper paid off his mortgage in three years, he celebrated by burning his mortgage papers and found a news crew to film it.  But, here’s the twist: He isn’t happy about it, and judging from social media posts and comments on the news coverage, no one else is, either.  In fact, Cooper seems full of regret and everyone else is full of scorn or pity.  What’s going on?
Cooper sacrificed a lot to pay off his mortgage, and even he admits he focused too much on his financial goals.  He worked three jobs, including as a full-time CAD technician $75,000 (about USD $56,000) white-collar job, a customer service job at a local grocer, and writing freelance articles.  In addition, he supplemented his income by living in the basement of his home while he rented the house to others.  As many commenters note, that’s not a healthy way to live and it’s unsustainable.
Often, we lose sight of what’s around us when we focus on our financial goals.  That moment when the bill is paid seems so sweet that we don’t really think about everything it’ll take to get us there.  If you’d like to make financial headway on your mortgage without making yourself crazy, we’ve collected some tips below.  The key idea among them is finding a balance, so you’ll need to adjust them for your own personal situation.  If you’d like a more personal meeting to discuss your financial goals and finding balance, let us know.  Also, follow us on Facebook and Twitter. 
Take gigs, not jobs.  It’s easy to see why renting out one’s home and securing extra employment are so appealing.  Regular income feels safe and makes it easy to plan ahead.  But extra employment can also be confining; It’s difficult to work full-time and still find time for your hobbies, your family, or the occasional afternoon spent binge-watching Netflix (something everyone needs occasionally).  If you don’t find time for your hobbies, you’ll find that your job has become your hobby.  If you don’t spend time with your family, you just won’t have the bonds that families need.
Instead, look at gig-based jobs like Uber and Air-BNB.  While they might not offer the steady income of a regular-hours job, you can scale your work up or down depending on need and availability. Plus, if you don’t feel like working on a given day, you don’t have to.  With Air-BNB, the owners of a rental property can cancel for any reason with as little as 24 hours notice.  That’s the kind of fantastic option that’s not available if you have renters who are playing their music a little too loud above you. 
Turn your hobby into a gig.  If you want another way to generate income, one that doesn’t require you to do mindless tasks, and you want to keep enjoying your hobby, then it might be time to turn that hobby into a gig.  Do you scrapbook or make crafts?  Open a store on Etsy.  Are you an avid collector? Start investing and re-selling collectibles on eBay.  Do you build or tinker? Time for a workshop. Have a design? Put together a working prototype and take to Kickstarter.  Want to write a novel?  Fifty Shades of Grey and The Martian both started life as fan-made, self-published ebooks. It’s never been easier to find an audience or customer base.
If you’re looking to make the move from weekend warrior to someone who can make money with your passion, get some start-up capital. You’ll need workshop space, supplies or a new laptop.  We’ve got a lot of ways for you to invest in yourself.  Who knows, that investment could be the start of a new path to leaving the rat race behind. 
The goal is financial security, not paying off a single bill. There’s no prize in paying off your mortgage. It’s just one less bill to pay.  Your goal is overall financial security.  That could mean refinancing your mortgage to have cash in hand when interest rates are low, or investing significantly when interest rates are high.  So, don’t pay off your mortgage while racking up credit card debt or neglecting your student loans.  Instead, take a look at all of your debt.  Work from the highest interest rate to the lowest, paying off each in turn, so you can pay as little interest as possible every month.
One of the easiest ways to do this is with a home equity loan.  Using the equity you have built in your home will get you a lower rate than your credit cards or medical bills are charging, and it can even be a fixed rate, so you can benefit if the Federal Reserve raises interest rates.  All you need to do is secure a home equity loan then transfer your credit card balances onto the loan.  Sometimes, simply calling the credit card companies with a check from your home equity loan in hand will get them to drop the rate you’re being charged.  Fantastic! Now you can use your loan on a different card.
Whatever you do, you’ve got to be happy.  It’s difficult to find balance, particularly with debt and obligations hanging over our heads. The solution isn’t to take on more obligations and retreat from humanity. The solution needs to be understanding that money exists as a means to an end, not an end itself. 
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