9 free or cheap apps to help you get out of debt
Becoming debt free starts with totaling all you owe, crafting a payoff plan
By Karen Haywood Queen | Published: September 15, 2016
Whether you want to track, manage or leave your debt far behind, numerous online tools, apps and calculators can help. Most are free or cost little.
Where to begin on your debt payoff journey? Determine how long will take to pay off each debt and when you will be completely debt free. These apps will help with that.
“Some of these apps are a great way for people to take charge of their debt on their own,” says Carmina Lass, director of training and consulting at Credit Builders Alliance in Washington, D.C.
“Any tool that brings awareness to the length of time you’ll be in debt is a good thing,” says Kathryn Bossler, financial counselor at GreenPath Debt Solutions in Detroit.
Any tool that brings awareness to the length of time you’ll be in debt is a good thing.
|— Kathryn Bossler
GreenPath Debt Solutions
Although listing your payoff date is already required by law on your credit card statements, it helps to have all your various debts in one place, especially if you’re juggling multiple creditors, says Thomas Nitzsche, spokesman for Clearpoint Credit Counseling.
Most of these debt trackers also will list your interest rates and total interest you’ll pay over time. Sure, you could crunch the numbers yourself, but these calculators make it easy. No need to be a math whiz.
To help you, we took nine debt trackers, apps and online tools for a test drive. The results:
Cost: 99 cents
Platform: iPhone, iPad, iPod: IOS 7.0+
Pros: Very easy to use. Includes all kinds of debts and loans, including mortgages, medical loans, car payments, bank loans and student loans.
How it works: Order your debts from least amount owed to highest amount owed. Determine how much extra you can pay. This app defaults to the snowball method of debt payment, but you can pick the debt avalanche method, the highest interest rate strategy, or customize your own plan. Debt Manager outlines the total interest you’ll pay and how many years of payments you’ll save under various repayment scenarios.
- Even though this is a mobile app, one feature allows you to email summary details to yourself for easier viewing on a computer.
- Color charts show each debt as a percentage of the whole and how your extra payment amount increases as you pay off debts.
- You also can add daily interest, account for an interest-free period, note balance transfers and introductory period interest rates.
- There’s a glossary of helpful terms, and there’s a feature that helps you back up and restore your data.
- You can add “snowflakes” (small extra payments) to your planned extra payment, temporarily if you like.
- You can crunch loan amounts, interest rates and terms to get a recommendation whether it’s fiscally smart to refinance a loan.
Bottom line: Love this app. Well worth 99 cents.
Platform: Computer and mobile devices
Pros: Proactive in pushing consumers to get out of debt. Site does not ask for or store personal information.
Cons: This tool focuses only on credit card debt.
How it works: Enter your credit card debts, interest rate and minimum payments. This tool, provided on personal finance guru Suze Orman’s website, asks how much extra you can afford to pay and advises you to first pay down the debt with the highest interest rate (avalanche method). If you think you can’t pay extra, the tool pushes you to continue paying at least the minimum due and then complete the expenses worksheet to find areas to trim your spending. Also coaches you in strong language to stay on top of your debt: “Do not, and I repeat do not, fall behind on your payments.” Our hypothetical consumer was spending more than she was taking in – living in the red zone according to Debt Eliminator – and she was urged to cut expenses ASAP.
Extras: Includes expenses worksheets with information on whether your spending categories are in line with national averages.
Bottom line: If you need a coach, this tool is great. If you’ll feel nagged, you may not like it.
Platform: Computer and mobile friendly
Pros: Easy to use. You can use this app with or without an account.
How it works: Enter your debts and what you’re paying to get your debt-free date. Enter an extra payment you can afford, and you will see your debt-free date move earlier when you use either the debt snowball and debt avalanche methods.
Bottom line: A helpful tool.
Price: 99 cents
Platform: iPhone, iPad, IOS 7
Pros: Includes a lot of debt and loan options.
Cons: Not as intuitive to use as other debt control apps. Have to go to settings to get payoff strategies and debt-free dates.
How it works: Enter name of loan, original loan amount and remaining balance, interest rate, due date and minimum payment. Also has a spot for introductory interest rate. Categories include credit card, auto, bill consolidation, computer, education, medical, mortgage and other debt. A colored pie graph shows remaining debt and the percentage of the total for each debt; also by category.
Extras: Mortgage payment section includes fields for PMI and taxes.
Bottom line: OK, but it's not as easy to use.
Debt Tracker Pro
Platform: IOS 4.2 or higher, iPhone, IPad and iPod Touch. Also available for Android 4.0 and up.
Pros: Fairly easy to use. Immediate feedback when increasing payment amount.
Cons: The slider is cool, but getting the right number requires some back and forth.
How it works: Enter your debt, interest rate, payment and due date. Use a slider to enter how much extra you can put toward getting out of debt.
Extras: Asks for credit limit on each account. When you move the slider to a higher extra payment, you get immediate feedback on interest paid and your new debt-free date. Can add a passcode, currency and payment reminders.
Bottom line: Not the best, but pretty good.
Ready for Zero
Platform: Computer, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch iOS 7.0+, Android
Pros: Free. Provides a VantageScore credit score.
Cons: Pushes debt consolidation loans on almost every screen. Asks for too much personal identifying information. Pushes “offers” from prequalified partners.
How it works: Gets in your business. You have to provide your name, Social Security number and answer three questions related to loan repayment to verify you are who you claim to be. Debt payoff plan starts with minimum payments, but you can move a slider to increase payments and get your new debt payoff date. Advice includes stop using credit cards for everyday purchases, set up automatic payments for minimums so you won’t miss payments, stop credit offers, fight bad spending habits. But the main advice is “Get a debt consolidation loan.” Says it will show what debts should be consolidated, gives instant feedback on how much money you can save with debt consolidation.
Bottom line: Not nearly as helpful as others in managing your debt. Did we mention it pushes debt consolidation loans too much?
Platform: Android, computer (PC and Mac)
Pros: Easy to use.
Cons: Crunches numbers for one debt at a time. Doesn’t allow you to look at all your debts together so you can decide the best method for reducing your overall debt. Blasts you with advertising.
How it works: Enter one debt at a time, with amount owed and interest rate. Then enter either your monthly payment or desired debt-free date, and the calculator will provide either the debt-free date or necessary payment to hit your desired payoff date.
Bottom line: OK, if you want to look at one debt at a time and don’t mind the ads. Not good for coming up with an overall debt erasure plan.
How it works: Helps organize debts and create a plan of debt attack. Prioritizes debt automatically. Shows differences between snowball and avalanche methods.
Pros: Add as many debts as you want. Displays decreasing balances. Supports multiple currencies. Can back up and store data on Google Drive.
Cons: Uses one or more accounts on device and profile data. Requires access to identity, photos and media files on device.
Bottom line: Requires too much personal info.
Pros: Fairly easy to use.
Cons: Supported by ads.
How it works: Enter debts, payment and how much extra you can afford to pay. Get payoff strategy using snowball or avalanche method to get your debt-free date.
Pros: Fairly easy to use.
Cons: Supported by ads.
Bottom line: OK, but some others are better.
The apps we took for a test-drive are just a few of the debt management tools that are available online. Before downloading or paying any money for an app, decide what features are important to you and which are deal-breakers. Then use an app as a tool to start moving toward your own personal debt freedom day.
Some of these apps are a great way for people to take charge of their debt on their own.
|— Carmina Lass
Director of training and consulting
at Credit Builders Alliance
To test these apps, we created a fictional indebted consumer with four credit cards: one with a $5,500 balance at 13 percent interest and a minimum payment of $114.58, a second card with a $3,000 balance at 16 percent and a minimum payment of $70, a third card with a $2,000 balance at 11 percent and a minimum payment of $38.33, and a fourth card with a $14,000 balance at 19 percent and a minimum payment of $361.67.
For our calculations, this mythical consumer also had a car loan of $20,000 at 3 percent with a $300 monthly payment.
The result: The indebted consumer paying the minimum payments on all balances would be out of debt in early January 2022 – if she didn’t add more debt. She also would fork over about $14,890 in interest while paying off her $44,500 in consumer debt.
If she paid more than the minimum payments, she would get out of debt sooner. For instance, if she could spare $200 extra per month and applied this to her highest-interest card first (the avalanche method), she would be out of debt by August 2020 and pay $9,017 in interest. If she applied that $200 using the snowball method (erasing her debts from smallest to largest), she would be debt free in September 2020 and pay $9,943 in interest. That $900 in savings with the avalanche method would make a nice post-free vacation getaway – or even better – the start of a nest egg to cover emergencies.
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