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Which Debt Busting Method Is Right for You?

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Student loan debt is no joke: In the U.S., it's currently estimated at $1.3 trillion and is growing by about $2,726.27 every second. And if that’s not bad enough, many young adults have other forms of debt on their plates, too, from credit cards to car loans. When you’re ready to take control of your debt, there are two main payoff strategies to choose from: the debt snowball and the debt avalanche.

With the snowball method, you focus on paying your smallest debts first while making the minimum payments on all your other balances. Once you pay off your smallest debt, you roll that payment over to the next account. You keep rolling over your payments to the next balance, in increasing order, until you eliminate all of your debt completely.

With the avalanche, you focus on the debt with the highest interest rate first. Pay that one off, then turn your attention to the next highest interest rate debt, and so on, until all of your debt is gone. Keep in mind, with both methods, you still pay the minimum balance on all your other accounts—the last thing you need is to have late fees get in the way of your success.

So, which one is right for you? Here are a few things to consider when choosing your payoff method.

THE ADVANTAGES OF THE DEBT AVALANCHE

No one likes paying interest. It’s a huge waste of your money, and it's almost like you're paying to be in debt, as if the debt itself isn't punishment enough. And the higher the interest rate, the more cash you’re throwing away. This is why, on paper, the debt avalanche makes the most sense.

“The debt avalanche method helps you save more on interest charges over time,” says Andrew Josuweit, CEO of Student Loan Hero, a resource for student debt payoff. “You essentially stop the bleeding of high-interest debt first, then move on to your loans with lower interest rates. It can be the tougher option mentally, but will save more money and likely help you pay off your loans faster.”

Some personal finance pros say the debt avalanche also teaches you better money habits over time. As Luke Landes of Consumerism Commentary puts it, “The debt avalanche doesn’t try to remove the emotional aspect of getting out of debt, it reframes the emotional aspect so that people who practice it get in the habit of making better financial decisions."

In general, the avalanche usually takes longer to see results, but it may teach you to be patient, stick with your financial goals, and make more mathematically sound decisions.

THE ADVANTAGES OF THE DEBT SNOWBALL

However, even though the avalanche makes more financial sense on paper, the debt snowball has been proven to be the more effective method.

A study from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management tested both methods and found that “consumers who tackle small balances first are likelier to eliminate their overall debt” than those who focused on paying off higher interest rates first. In short, the debt snowball works better.

There are a couple of reasons for this, but it’s generally because money management has more to do with behavior than math. “The great thing about using the snowball method to pay off debt is that you can celebrate small wins right away,” Josuweit says. “Since you start with the smallest balance, you can see the results of your efforts sooner and find the motivation to keep going as the balances get bigger.”

In other words, you feel a sense of accomplishment sooner. That sense of victory makes you feel in control, and control makes a big difference in successful money management. The more empowered you feel with your money, the more apt you are to keep working toward managing it.

There’s also the momentum to consider. We often stop working toward our goals and resolutions because they seem so far away and unattainable. With the snowball method, you’re hitting milestones in a shorter time frame, and that gives you the energy and momentum to keep going and stick to your plan. Debt payoff is an intimidating burden for a lot of people, so quick wins help make it manageable.

WHICH ONE SHOULD YOU PICK?

In deciding which method is best for you, you’ll want to consider a few things. For one, just how big is the difference between your interest rates? If the difference is big enough, it might make sense to put a dent in that high interest-accruing debt. Josuweit offers an example: “Say you have a student loan with a 6 percent interest rate and a large credit card balance with a 22 percent interest rate; it probably makes sense to get rid of that expensive credit card debt first before paying off your student loans.”

There’s also no reason you can’t combine methods. For example, you could group debts with similar interest rates together, then tackle the smallest balance of the highest interest rate group first.

You also want to think about your habits. If you struggle to keep up with your financial goals and they always fall through, the snowball might be the better option. Yes, you’ll pay more in interest over time, but think of it this way: That’s less than you’ll pay giving up on your debt goal altogether.

Either way, you’re on the right track in just coming up with a plan and staying on top of your payments (so pat yourself on the back for taking the first step). “The key is to stay current on all your payments,” says Josuweit. “Regardless of what type of debt it is. Missing payments will kill your credit score, making it hard to achieve financial goals in the future.”

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These Are the Top 25 U.S. Cities With the Lowest Cost of Living
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Coastal cities like New York and San Francisco bustle with excitement, but residents pay plenty of hard-earned cash to enjoy perks like Central Park and world-class museums—and to pay their sky-high rents. If you’d rather have a full bank account than a hipster ZIP code, consider setting down roots in America’s most affordable region: the Midwest.

Niche, a data analysis company, has ranked the 25 cities with the lowest cost of living across the United States—and the top 10 are all located in America’s heartland. Their selections were based on factors including access to affordable housing, food and fuel costs, and median tax rates, all of which were gleaned from U.S. Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Indiana was the most-represented state in the list’s top 10 section, with Fort Wayne, Evansville, and South Bend nabbing the first three spots. The remaining cities were mid-sized metropolitan areas in Kansas, Ohio, Iowa, and Illinois, all of which offer urban conveniences at a fraction of the cost of their coastal counterparts. After that, other cities in the mix included municipalities in Texas, Michigan, Alabama, South Dakota, and Minnesota.

Check out Niche's top 25 list below, and visit their website to view their methodology.

1. Fort Wayne, Indiana
2. Evansville, Indiana
3. South Bend, Indiana
4. Topeka, Kansas
5. Toledo, Ohio
6. Wichita, Kansas
7. Akron, Ohio
8. Cedar Rapids, Iowa
9. Davenport, Iowa
10. Springfield, Illinois
11. Rochester, Minnesota
12. Dayton, Ohio
13. Springfield, Missouri
14. Wichita Falls, Texas
15. Kansas City, Kansas
16. Odessa, Texas
17. Cleveland, Ohio
18. Indianapolis, Indiana
19. Abilene, Texas
20. Sioux Falls, South Dakota
21. Montgomery, Alabama
22. Lansing, Michigan
23. Des Moines, Iowa
24. Brownsville, Texas
25. Warren, Michigan

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Weird
Switzerland Flushes $1.8 Million in Gold Down the Sewer Every Year
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Switzerland has some pretty valuable sewer systems. As Bloomberg reports, scientists have discovered around $1.8 million worth of gold in the country's wastewater, along with $1.7 million worth of silver.

Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology examined sewage sludge and effluents, or discharged liquid waste, from 64 water treatment plants and major Swiss rivers. They did this to assess the concentrations of various trace elements, which are "increasingly widely used in the high-tech and medical sectors," the scientists explained in a press statement. "While the ultimate fate of the various elements has been little studied to date, a large proportion is known to enter wastewater."

The study, which was recently published online in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, revealed that around 94 pounds of gold makes its way through Switzerland's sewage system each year, along with 6600 pounds of silver and high concentrations of rare metals like gadolinium and niobium. For the most part, these metals don't harm the environment, researchers say.

With gold and silver quite literally flowing through their sewers, is there any way that Switzerland could turn their wastewater into wealth? Scientists are skeptical: "The recovery of metals from wastewater or sludge is scarcely worthwhile at present, either financially or in terms of the amounts which could be extracted," the release explains.

However, in the southern canton of Ticino, which is home to several gold refineries, the "concentrations of gold in sewage sludge are sufficiently high for recovery to be potentially worthwhile," they conclude.

Switzerland is famous for its chocolate, watches, and mountains, but it's also home to major gold refineries. On average, around 70 percent of the world's gold passes through Switzerland every year—and judging from the looks of it, much of it goes down the drain. As for the sewer silver, it's a byproduct of the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, which is a cornerstone of Switzerland's economy.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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