One major problem I have with the snowball approach is that your largest balance may be significantly more expensive than your smallest balance. Today it is not difficult to find a default interest rate on a credit card north of 30%. There is no way in good conscience I could recommend holding off on eliminating a debt this expensive in favor of paying off a small balance with a 7.9% interest rate. The same goes for payday loans, whose fees can border on usurious if interpreted as interest rates.
I agree totally, but then reminded Flexo that there is a third method – one that I humbly invented – called The Cash Cascade which encourages you to consider what you will do AFTER you have paid off your debt … and, perhaps do some of that instead!
Flexo sent me an e-mail and asked me to to “describe at least a summary of [my] method in the comment”, which I did as follows:
We are all familiar with the concept of ‘good debt’ and ‘bad debt’, but most don’t realize that this is only a way of avoiding getting INTO (bad) debt … once we have acquired the debt, then we need to start thinking of debt simply as ‘cheap debt’ or ‘expensive debt’. The Debt Avalanche is clearly ideally suited to attacking the ‘expensive debt’ first.
However, there is another part to this: our ultimate financial goal is usually not to become ‘debt free’ (although, that may be a tactic that some would choose … not me!), rather to achieve financial independence, or wealth, or [insert your life-supporting goal, here], and often a part of the strategy will be to acquire SOME debt in order to get there while you are still young enough to enjoy life e.g. you might decide to take out a mortgage on an investment property, or a margin loan on stocks, or a small business start-up loan, etc.
Clearly, it would make NO sense to delay investing just so that you can pay off relatively cheap debt (e.g. student loan, mortgage, etc.) i.e. just to take out more expensive debt later (e.g. the small business loan) … instead, leave the cheaper loan in place and “pay off’ the more expensive loan by not taking it out in the first place!
Once you think about debt and investment as ‘cheap’ v ‘expensive’, it becomes easier to apply the principles of the Debt Avalanche to both debts AND investments 🙂
Not sure if my thought process was very clear, but it certainly stimulated an unbelievably clear comment, from another reader – Kitty – who said:
I would like to second 7million7years in that keeping fixed low interest debt around instead of repaying could be a valid investment strategy. One thing to keep in mind always is the possibility of future inflation and/or higher interest rates – a reasonable expectation nowadays.
If your debt is at 4.5% now, it may seem like higher than you can get on a normal CD. But what about 5 years from now? During the early 80s where you could get double digit returns on normal bank CDs people who had 30-year fixed mortgages at 9% were feeling very lucky… Long term fixed low interest debt is as much a hedge against inflation as buying commodities or TIPs. In fact I have a couple of multi-millionaire friends who took a mortgage on their vacation home when they could’ve paid for it in cash.
I don’t know if I would finance my vacation home – unless, I had something MUCH better to do with the money – but: “long term fixed low interest debt is as much a hedge against inflation as buying commodities or TIPs” …
… using debt as a Making Money 301 tool? Brilliant, Kitty!!
I only wish that I had thought of it, first 🙂