How to pay off debts fast - 25 practical tips from finance experts

Whether you’ve built up a hefty overdraft or run up a big bill on your credit card that you can’t afford to pay off, we explore how to pay off debts fast

Young woman on her laptop wondering how to pay off her debts fast
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Need to know how to pay off debts fast? Whether you’ve built up a hefty overdraft or run up a big bill on your credit card that you can’t afford to pay off, follow these tips to become debt-free

Knowing how to pay off debts fast will be a high priority for those who might be pushed into borrowing with the cost-of-living crisis biting at most family budgets. Whether it's the increased energy price cap (opens in new tab), or national insurance on the rise (opens in new tab), millions of families are feeling the pinch.Even the most careful budgeters will know that it’s all too easy to get into debt - whether that’s going into your overdraft or running up a big bill on your credit card that you can’t afford to pay off.

“When your finances are spread thin it’s all too easy to put off paying off debts,” says Martyn James (opens in new tab) of consumer website Resolver. “But the most cost-effective thing you can do is clear what you owe, simply because debt interest and charges will only compound your debts the longer you leave them. You don’t have to clear everything in one go. But make a plan to get those debts cleared, one by one.”

How to pay off debts fast

1. Get organised

The first step to paying off debts is to get organised. After all the faster you can clear debt, the less interest you will pay. Set aside enough time to go through your debts and make a note of what you owe to who, what interest rate is being charged, and how many months left to pay. Then it’s time to make a plan on just how you’re going to become debt-free. Our tips below should help you on your way.

You might also benefit from creating a budget planner to keep all spending under control.

2. Focus on your biggest debt first

It makes financial sense to repay the most expensive debt first to reduce the number of interest payments you’re making as much as possible. “Having gone through your finances, you should have everything you need to work out what’s costing the most,” says Martyn James. “In other words, seeing what debts are charging the highest rate of interest.”

It’s likely to be your overdraft that is costing you the most, with typical interest rates at around 40% compared to a typical credit card rate of 20%. But it’s important to double-check the rate you’re being charged so you have all the accurate information to hand.

Even though overdraft agreements don’t come with any set repayment plan – like you’d get for a personal loan, for example – you can create your own plan to repay in a number of regular instalments. Set yourself goals for each month to chip away at the debt.

With credit cards, you might be able to move to another card on an interest-free deal. Martyn James warns: “Check what the fee is for doing so, and how long you get versus what you can afford to pay off – so you make a big dent in the debt.”

Personal loans tend to charge much lower rates of interest so this might be last on your list. Plus there’s not usually the flexibility to overpay month to month. You might even be charged a fee for clearing it early. Make sure you check with your lender.

3. Move your overdraft to a 0% money transfer credit card

To clear an expensive overdraft fast, one option is to use a specialist money transfer credit card. It works by using the card to pay cash into your bank account. The cash clears your overdraft, so you owe the card instead, but at 0%. You then make monthly repayments to the credit card during the interest-free period, meaning that every penny you repay goes towards clearing the debt, and not towards bank charges. There is likely, however, to be an initial outlay for the transfer card in the form of a “handling fee” of 3-4% of the money you borrow. Look for cards that don’t come with a fee.

4. Consider a low rate personal loan to pay off your debts

You could take out a personal loan to pay off your overdraft. With interest rates still relatively low, borrowing is pretty cheap with the best loan rates on offer at around 4%. Paying a lower interest rate will save you money in the long run, which means you can clear your overdraft faster and pay less interest to the bank. Don’t forget to compare loans to ensure you apply for the one with the cheapest rate.

5. Switch credit card debt to 0%

Balance transfer cards can help borrowers get debt under control. They offer the chance to switch debt built upon another card - where typically it will be charging around 21% - to a new card that offers zero interest for a set period.

Paying no interest at all means that every penny you repay goes towards paying off the debt, rather than going into the bank’s pockets. Some cards offer as much as 36 months interest-free. However, the longest interest-free deal might not be the most cost-effective, as these interest-free cards usually charge a fee each time you switch. Luckily, not all cards apply such a fee. Find the best deal at a comparison site such as moneyfacts.co.uk (opens in new tab).

4. Track your progress with a weekly spreadsheet

Martyn John of Resolver suggests keeping a weekly spreadsheet or using an online app to monitor how you’re doing. He says: “It might seem helpless at first, but you’ll really feel like you’re making a difference when you see those debits come down.”

5. Look out for better deals - and switch if you can

Spend a day going through your bills and phone each supplier to see if you are eligible for better deals, discounts, freebies or trials. This might involve navigating lots of touchtone menus and call queues. But make a (large) pot of coffee and be patient. By the time you reach the bottom of the list – which will include the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ TV streaming subscriptions (opens in new tab), mobile phone, broadband and line rental– you should achieve some decent savings that can be put towards reducing debts.

An invoice stamped with the word 'paid' - how to pay off debts fast

Credit: Getty

6. Look out for duplicate payments

While you comb through your bank statements for savings to be made on bills, check on every direct debit registered to your account. Anti-virus software is a common one to forget about or double up on, according to Martyn James at Resolver. “When you buy a new laptop or desktop computer you will likely sign up for anti-virus software, without cancelling old ones, perhaps. We’ve seen people with a whole trail of annual subscriptions they’re paying for unnecessarily.”

7. Check automated card payments

Checking card payments – both debit and credit – is essential to spot any “continuous payment authority” commitments that could save you money. They differ from direct debits or standing orders and – unhelpfully - there is no list available of those you’ve signed up to. Payments made for a subscription service via this payment method are automatically renewed - usually annually – but you may have no paper (or email) trail of such a sign-up.

8. Get paid to spend with cashback cards

You can use a cashback credit card to pay for weekly spending. You earn a percentage on your spending and the money is typically credited to your card account once a year. Just make sure you repay every penny each month or it negates any benefit.

Search for the best cashback card on a comparison site such as moneyfacts.co.uk. You can also use cashback websites such as Topcashback.co.uk (opens in new tab) and Quidco.co.uk (opens in new tab). Once logged on, you click on the links to retailers and start shopping. Each offers a different cashback percentage for assorted items. Just don’t overspend for the cashback - use just for things you’d be buying anyway.

9. Switch to a new bank account

Plenty of banks are offering cash rewards for switching your existing current account. First Direct and NatWest are paying £150 for new customers. At Nationwide you can earn £125 for moving your current account. Check for eligibility before you apply.

10. Be a babysitter

You can earn around £12 an hour for babysitting. You can spread the word locally or on social media and online such as yoopies.co.uk where you can register and advertise for free. Having a good set of references, experience, and being a parent (or grandparent) yourself will stand you in good favour. Having a DBS check will give you an added advantage. Earning extra money in your spare time can be a great solution when wondering how to pay off your debts fast.

11. Earn while you walk

Lockdown prompted many families to get a dog. Now getting back to the office, dog sitters and walkers are in demand. Register with an app such as Rover (opens in new tab) or Trusted House Sitters (opens in new tab) and make some money while on your daily walk. You can choose your own fees. Typically you could earn £10 or more per walk.

12. Sell your old items to raise some cash

If you haven't had a clear out for a while, see what you can find in your garage, spare room or loft space that’s worth selling. Sell on auction website eBay or Amazon Marketplace which allows you to sell second hand and new versions of an item already sold on its main site. You can also try cash-for-clutter website musicmagpie.co.uk (opens in new tab), which takes smart phones, tablets, DVDs, CDs, games and electronics off your hands. Type in what you have to sell and get an instant price. You can direct proceeds to paying off debt. This is one of the easiest solutions when it comes to how to pay off debts fast.

13. Clear our your old sports gear

Use a specialist firm geared towards selling certain equipment you have upgraded or perhaps items for hobbies you may have given up. For example, golfbidder.co.uk (opens in new tab) will buy your golf clubs. Website camerajungle.co.uk (opens in new tab) does a similar job for those who want to sell photography equipment.

14. Get paid for taking part in surveys

Earn money for your opinion at survey websites. They can be about anything from tourism, food, media, shopping or public affairs and politics. Surveys often take 30 minutes. While some operate under a reward scheme where you earn points for surveys completed that can be exchanged for shopping vouchers, others pay cash – up to £15 per survey.

Check out surveycompare.net, (opens in new tab) crowdology.co.uk (opens in new tab), yougov.co.uk (opens in new tab) and ipsos i-say (opens in new tab).

Never pay to register and set up a new email address so your personal account doesn’t overload.

15. Be part of a focus group

Many market research companies pay well for your time at a focus group session. You can earn anything between £10 to £350 for offering your point of view on the chosen subject which can be anything from bank accounts to holidays. Some projects may involve product testing. You can also opt for Amazon or shopping vouchers. Visit paidfocusgroup.co.uk (opens in new tab) where registration is free.

Pile of redundant mobile and smart phones on white background

Credit: Getty

16. Get paid to recycle and reduce debt

Dig out old phones and sell them online at websites such as envirofone (opens in new tab) or mazuma (opens in new tab). You can also part exchange them for a new one with some retailers. Some websites even pay cash for empty printer cartridges. Take a look at cashforcartridges (opens in new tab). As most households have several old mobile phones that are no longer used, this is a great solution when it comes to how to pay off debts fast.

17. Reunite with lost prizes

Premium Bond prizes worth a combined £74 million remain unclaimed, according to the latest figures from National Savings and Investments (NS&I). You can check to see if you’ve won by using the online prize checker as long as you know your holder number. If you’ve lost all documents NS&I can trace them for you.

18. Refer a friend

Rewards for referring friends to retailers are a very simple way to earn money. Many offer credit off your next spend but there are some websites that pay actual cash. For example, Topcashback.co.uk, pays out for referring mates. Members get £25 referral bonus once the friend has earned more than £10 cashback. There are plenty of retailers that have a referral reward scheme. Check with those you already shop with.

19. WFH? Get £125 back from the taxman

If you've worked at home for even one day over the last year because of Covid, then you could be entitled to £125 back from HM Revenue & Customs. The relief is to cover extra costs incurred such as higher heating, electricity and internet bills. Check if you are eligible and to make a claim here.

If you do claim yourself, how much you will get depends on the rate of income tax you pay. You can backdate your claim for up to the last four tax years, as long as you qualify.

20. Claim money-saving grants

You might be able to save money on soaring energy bills by making your home more energy efficient. Find out if you’re eligible for a home energy grant (opens in new tab) to help pay for things like loft and cavity wall insulation.

21. Check benefits

Millions of people are missing out on around £15 billion of unclaimed benefits, at the last count. This includes housing benefit, income support or income-related employment and support allowance (ESA), which increases the risk of individuals being pushed into financial hardship.

Anyone on a low income needs to regularly check that they’re getting all the help available to them. Search at turn2us.org.uk (opens in new tab) to ascertain what benefits you might be eligible for.

22. Check your tax code

If over the past four years you have been issued the wrong tax code you may be due an income tax rebate. Every year, millions of people pay too much tax. Find your tax code on your payslip and use an online checker such as the one on MoneySavingExpert (opens in new tab). Brace yourself just in case you find you owe the taxman rather than being owed.

23. It pays to talk

If you’re struggling, speak to the card or loan company and ask what help they can offer you while you get back on your feet. If they refuse to help, or make the situation worse, you may be able to complain to the Financial Ombudsman (opens in new tab) - for free.

24. Avoid payday loans

Payday loans are an expensive way to borrow - and are never a good solution when it comes to how to pay off debts fast. They were designed to tide people over until payday but if you use them regularly and can’t pay on time, the charges, and debt, can spiral out of control. Avoid them at all costs.

25. Know when to get help for your debts

If you are unable to repay debts and even borrowing more to make repayments, it’s time to speak to a professional. Getting help from a debt charity is free and they can go through your finances and advise you on the best path on how to pay off debts fast. They can also deal with the bank on your behalf in some cases, sometimes getting them to freeze interest charges. Try Stepchange.org (opens in new tab) or Nationaldebtline.org. (opens in new tab)

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Holly Thomas is a freelance financial journalist and writes across all areas of personal finance, specialising in investments. Holly’s work can mainly be seen in The Times, The Sunday Times and the Daily Mail. Previously she worked as Deputy Personal Finance Editor at The Sunday Times, Money Editor at the Daily/Sunday Express and also at Financial Times Business. She has won a number of professional awards, most recently Investment Freelance Journalist of the Year at the Aegon Asset Management Media Awards in November 2021. Others include Freelance Financial Journalist of the Year at the Headlinemoney Awards.