When it comes to managing your debt, it’s easy to feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle.
But as more and more individuals find their way out of debt, their advice appears to be resoundingly the same: keep track of your money.
In a world of automatic payments and many credit cards, tracking your expenses feels tricky––especially if numbers aren’t your thing. Luckily, technology is your friend here. A debt payoff spreadsheet automatically calculates your cash inflow and payments, so you can stay on top of things.
Whether you’re an Excel pro or a newbie, here’s how to use the best free debt reduction spreadsheets available online:
Step 1: Find a Budgeting Spreadsheet
The first order of business to paying off any debt is working out a budget. Track your expenses, list it all in a spreadsheet, and compare the final tallies to your monthly cash inflow.
From there, you’ll want to track your necessary expenses first. That means essentials like groceries, utilities, insurance, rent, and car payments. Mint’s monthly budget template is great for this, with defined boxes like “cable” and “pet supplies” for expenses, and “salary” and “reimbursements” for income.
Different people may prefer different levels of detail for their budgeting spreadsheets. For instance, the personal monthly budget template by Vertex42 breaks down the “entertainment” expense category into sub-categories like “sports” or “concerts and plays.” The point is to pick one that works for you and determine how much you earn, how much you need to spend, and how much you have left (the difference between the two).
Step 2: Determine a Payment Strategy
Once you’ve used a budgeting spreadsheet to find out how much money you have left after expenses, you can start paying down your debts.
The primary techniques used for debt reduction are “snowballing,” in which you are paying off the accounts with the smallest remaining balances first, and “avalanching,” where you pay down your highest interest debt first. In both cases, you are still making minimum payments to avoid penalties on all your other accounts. Snowballing debt can feel more motivational as you quickly zero out smaller debts.
Step 3: Pick a Debt Payoff Spreadsheet
Now that you’ve used a budget spreadsheet to determine how much debt payment you can afford every month, and you’ve picked a debt repayment strategy that makes sense for you, it’s time to pick a debt payoff spreadsheet.
Essentially, all debt payoff spreadsheets are the same. Some are labeled as “credit card payoff spreadsheets,” or “student loan spreadsheets,” but they all keep track of your outstanding balances and interest rates across accounts to calculate your remaining payments.
What differs between spreadsheets is the organization and level of sophistication. For instance, some will calculate a payment schedule by payment strategy, and some will break down the remaining time to pay off balances by account.
To help you navigate, we’ve outlined some general buckets and our favorite spreadsheet for each.
When it comes to simplicity, the debt reduction spreadsheets from Squawkfox are excellent. The site includes both a modern spreadsheet with a pie chart to easily visualize how much you owe to various creditors, as well as an “original” version which has just the table. This provides a concise overall view of your total debt. However, there is no repayment schedule or means to automatically calculate payments according to an avalanche or snowball strategy.
If you’re not very familiar with spreadsheets, the debt reduction spreadsheet from DebtFreeHappens is for you. Developed by a married couple who paid off $107,000 in debt in just three years, this spreadsheet has instructions built right in, and has each loans’ outstanding balance and interest rate broken out into its own section. Like Squawkfox, this is a very simple, intuitive spreadsheet, but you’ll have to determine payments for an avalanche and snowball strategy on your own.
If you’re comfortable and have your bearings with debt reduction spreadsheets, the Vertex42 Debt Reduction Calculator is an excellent resource. The two big benefits of this spreadsheet are that it creates a payment schedule based on your selected strategy and outlines how long it will take to pay off each of your debts.
There are four tabs at the bottom, including one for “help,” so don’t quit if you feel daunted at first.
The debt tracker from It’s Your Money is a little harder than the rest. There are seven tabs in the spreadsheet, and the instructions on the page itself are long and fairly comprehensive. However, if you are someone who cares about tracking a large amount of debt long term, this is essentially a professional-grade software that’s absolutely free. You can organize debt by category, organize your payment schedule by various criteria like current balance or interest payments per month, and there are well-designed tabs to show your payment schedule for each loan. This is a great option if you have a mortgage, business loans, or plan to have a revolving debt payment plan.
If you’re struggling with debt reduction and you’re looking for more resources on how to regain your financial foothold, check out our resources, such as how to build a budget, how to rebuild credit quickly, and how to build good spending habits.