Throughout the personal finance community, there's a lot of debate over what the best way to pay off debt is. The two main approaches are the Debt Snowball (popularized by Dave Ramsey) and the Debt Avalanche. Both methods say to pay the minimum payment on all debts except for one, focus all extra payments on that one debt until it's paid off, then repeat with the remaining debts. The difference comes with the order; all the methods discussed below are included in

From a strictly mathematically perspective, the Debt Avalanche is the best method because you end up paying the least interest. With this method, you order the debts by interest rate, starting with the highest. For example, say you had the following 5 debts:

**this handy Debt Calculator**I made.From a strictly mathematically perspective, the Debt Avalanche is the best method because you end up paying the least interest. With this method, you order the debts by interest rate, starting with the highest. For example, say you had the following 5 debts:

- $2,500 on a credit card at 8.5%
- $10,000 on a home equity loan at 3%
- $8,000 on a student loan at 6%
- $7,000 on another student loan at 5.2%
- $18,000 on a car loan at 5.5%

The "wins" come the quickest with the Debt Snowball method. I used to think this method made absolutely no sense, and to a financially rational person, it doesn't. But the people who find themselves in debt probably aren't thinking in a financially rational way, or they wouldn't be in such a mess. These types of people need the encouragement that comes with completely paying one of their debts off. Using the same example, the Debt Snowball would pay off the debts as follows: $2,500 credit card, $7,000 student loan, $8,000 student loan, $10,000 home equity loan, and $18,000 car loan (i.e., A, D, C, B, E).

Debt Snowball |

So why should you use the Debt Spiral instead of the other well-known methods? Because it simultaneously limits the amount of interest you have to pay like the Debt Avalanche while spreading out the "wins" to keep you motivated like the Debt Snowball. Here's an example to illustrate (all the math can be found here).

John Doe makes $50,000/year and $3,300/month take-home. At the end of each month he has just under $45 left to save, but he has the following 4 debts

- $5,000 on a credit card at 18%, minimum monthly payment $125
- $12,000 on a personal loan at 10%, minimum monthly payment $220
- $6,000 on a car loan at 3%, minimum monthly payment $75
- $2,500 on a student loan at 5%, minimum monthly payment $35.42

John would like to use the $45** to help him pay off his debts faster, but is unsure which method would be the best..

If John paid only the minimum monthly payments

Debt Balance | Interest Rate | Pay Off Time | Total Paid | Interest Paid |
---|---|---|---|---|

$5,000 | 18 % | 61 months | $7,599.81 | $2,599.81 |

$12,000 | 10 % | 73 months | $15,977.28 | $3,977.28 |

$2,500 | 5.0 % | 84 months | $2,959.36 | $459.36 |

$6,000 | 3.0 % | 90 months | $6,693.31 | $693.31 |

Totals | $33,229.76 | $7,729.77 |

If John added the $45 to his

**Debt Avalanche**Debt Balance | Interest Rate | Pay Off Time | Total Paid | Interest Paid |
---|---|---|---|---|

$5,000 | 18 % | 39 months | $6,577.83 | $1,577.83 |

$12,000 | 10 % | 57 months | $15,515.12 | $3,515.12 |

$2,500 | 5.0 % | 59 months | $2,911.94 | $411.94 |

$6,000 | 3.0 % | 64 months | $6,620.72 | $620.72 |

Totals | $31,625.61 | $6,125.61 |

If John added the $45 to his

**Debt Snowball**Debt Balance | Interest Rate | Pay Off Time | Total Paid | Interest Paid |
---|---|---|---|---|

$2,500 | 5.0 % | 34 months | $2,677.03 | $177.03 |

$5,000 | 18 % | 49 months | $7,317.78 | $2,317.78 |

$6,000 | 3.0 % | 60 months | $6,582.06 | $582.06 |

$12,000 | 10 % | 65 months | $15,884.31 | $3,884.31 |

Totals | $32,461.18 | $6,961.18 |

John now wants to determine which order the Debt Spiral method would generate. So he calculates the debt to interest ratio for each debt and orders them from smallest to largest.

Debt Balance | Interest Rate | Debt / Interest Ratio | Debt Spiral Payoff Order |
---|---|---|---|

$5,000 | 18% | 5,000/18 = 278 | 1 |

$12,000 | 10% | 12,000/10 = 1,200 | 3 |

$6,000 | 3.0% | 6,000/3 = 2,000 | 4 |

$2,500 | 5.0% | 2,500/5 = 500 | 2 |

John would pay the minimum payments on his student loan, personal loan, and car loan while putting every extra dime he has towards paying off the $5,000 credit card balance. In this case, it happens to be $170 ($125 + $45). Once the credit card is paid off, he'll have an extra $170 each month to start paying off the $2,500 student loan. So he'll be paying $205.42 ($35.42 + $125 + $45) each month to the student loan until it's paid off. Once the student loan is paid off, John can use the $205.42 to help pay off his $12,000 personal loan. And finally, the $425.42 ($220 + $35.42 + $125 + $45) that was going towards the personal loan will be added to his $6,000 car loan minimum payment ($75) until it's payed off. Now that John is debt free, he has just over $500 to save each month and hopefully keep himself out of debt!

If John added the $45 to his

**Debt Spiral**Debt Balance | Interest Rate | Pay Off Time | Total Paid | Interest Paid |
---|---|---|---|---|

$5,000 | 18 % | 39 months | $6,577.83 | $1,577.83 |

$2,500 | 5.0 % | 46 months | $2,841.63 | $341.63 |

$12,000 | 10 % | 59 months | $15,661.03 | $3,661.03 |

$6,000 | 3.0 % | 64 months | $6,621.67 | $621.67 |

Totals | $31,702.16 | $6,202.15 |

As expected, the Debt Avalanche produced the lowest interest paid. But it only beat the Debt Spiral by $76.54 or 1.2%, whereas it beat the Debt Snowball by $835.57 or 13.6%. Also unsurprisingly, the Debt Snowball wins the contest for earliest debt paid off by a few months, but the Debt Spiral actually ties the Debt Snowball for the average time between debts paid off.

Method | Time Until 1st "Win" | Average Time Until "Win" |
---|---|---|

Minimum Payments | 61 months | 77 months |

Debt Avalanche | 39 months | 54.75 months |

Debt Snowball | 34 months | 52 months |

Debt Spiral | 39 months | 52 months |

So the Debt Spiral is a win-win!