The Often-Skipped Step When Getting Out of Debt

In this article: We explore an often-skipped step when paying down debt that can sometimes impede your ability to get out of debt or stay out of debt.

by Andrea Norris-McKnight

Often-Skipped Step to Getting Out of Debt photo

Is getting out of debt, or at least paying it down, on your to-do list this year? You’re not alone if it is. Consumer credit card debt surpassed $1 trillion in 2023 thanks to high prices and interest rates. A survey by GOBankingRates concluded that roughly 60% of respondents are currently carrying debt or predict they will take on debt in 2024.

If you want to succeed with your debt pay-off efforts, you should take a few key steps, such as creating a pay-off plan and a budget for prioritizing debt repayment. However, before you get started, there is one crucial step that, if skipped, can derail your best efforts to overcome a debt problem or to stay out of debt.

The Very First Step to Getting Out of Debt

The first step to your get-out-of-debt journey should be to determine why and how you got into debt in the first place and what you can do to ensure you don’t end up right back where you are right now.

Common Ways People End Up in Debt

Most people find themselves in debt for one of a few reasons. Sometimes, it is unexpected and unavoidable. Perhaps an illness or injury puts you out of work long-term and saddles you with substantial medical bills.

For most other people, their debt problem was avoidable.

Not Enough Emergency Savings

Some folks land in debt because they don’t have enough emergency savings to cover small unexpected expenses or short-term loss of income and must rely on credit cards. If you fall into this category, you’re not alone.

According to Fidelity, 57% of U.S. adults say they do not have enough in savings to cover a $1,000 emergency. This past year was tough as inflation caused many folks to deplete emergency savings to cover everyday living expenses.

Part of your debt repayment plan should include building — or rebuilding — your emergency fund so another considerable unexpected expense or job loss doesn’t land you in debt again.

These tips can help if you’re struggling to build an emergency fund.


Another reason you may find yourself in debt is because of a spending problem. And if excessive spending has led to your debt problem, chances are good that you could end up in debt again — or never get out of debt — if you don’t address your overspending. You need to determine what drives you to spend and what will help you keep it under control.
The following articles can help you determine why you spend:

Knowing why you overspend won’t likely change your spending habits overnight, but it can help curb spending. You can also use some of the tips and tricks in these articles to gain even more control over your spending:

Get proactive about tackling your debt.

Get the book How to Conquer Your Debt No Matter How Much You Have and begin the journey to financial freedom today!

What Landed You in Debt?

If you fell into debt last year, remember you’re not alone. A lot of people did. But you must look hard at why if you want to get out of it and stay out of it.

Did an insufficient emergency fund cause you to pull out the plastic to cover your bills? Do you have a spending problem? Maybe you just didn’t realize how much you were spending because you didn’t have a budget.

Whatever the reason, you can reduce the chance of landing back in debt if you recognize the problem and take the proper steps to correct it.

Reviewed December 2023

About the Author

Andrea Norris-McKnight took over as the editor of The Dollar Stretcher and After 50 Finances after working under the site founder and previous editor for almost 15 years. She has also written for,, and The Sacramento Bee.

Sign Up for Savings

Subscribe to get money-saving content by email that can help you stretch your dollars further.

Twice each week, you'll receive articles and tips that can help you free up and keep more of your hard-earned money, even on the tightest of budgets.

We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at any time.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This