How to deal with debt : Life Kit Life happens, and so does debt. Unexpected car trouble, the high price of food, a family emergency — there is no shortage of reasons why debt can pile up. In this episode, we offer shame-free solutions for digging out of debt.

A big misconception about debt — and how to tackle it

A big misconception about debt — and how to tackle it

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Watch this video for tips on tackling debt — including how to prioritize what you're paying down, how to talk to others about your spending limitations and ways to save.

The biggest misconception about debt is that it's always a product of carelessness or a lack of discipline, says NPR global economics correspondent Stacey Vanek Smith, who's been covering business and economics for nearly two decades.

"So many people are in debt right now," she says. "Credit card debt is rising at one of the fastest rates ever."

Oftentimes, the solution isn't as simple as just trying to spend less or learning how to budget. "I've talked to a lot of people who are struggling with debt right now, and in almost every case there was just a big life event that happened and they couldn't catch back up," says Vanek Smith. "Prices are rising really fast right now, it is a strange time in the economy, there are a lot of layoffs happening."

So if you find yourself in debt, you're not alone. Watch the video above or on YouTube for tips on how to approach paying off your debt and how to navigate emotional conversations about money.

Here's some quick advice from Vanek Smith on tackling and talking about debt:

  • Prioritize paying off your debt with the highest interest rate first. Payday loans and credit cards often have very high interest rates that compound quickly.
  • Try to negotiate a lower interest rate with your credit card company. Vanek Smith suggests saying something like this when you call: "I've been a really loyal customer for X years." Or "I'm trying to get my credit in order. I'd love to continue being your customer, what are some options that I have?" If they refuse to budge, you can look for a lower rate from another credit card company and then ask your current company to match the lower rate.
  • Try to save while you're paying down debt, even if it's the tiniest amount every month. That way you'll have money set aside for emergencies, and you won't have to put those charges on a credit card in the future. Two saving methods Vanek Smith discusses in the video:
  1. Using an app to track your spending so you get a better idea of where your money is going each month. 
  2. "Cash stuffing," essentially paying for everything in cash, so you can really see the impact of every transaction. 
  • If you do have extra cash and you're deciding whether to invest in a retirement plan or to pay down your debt, think about your loan interest rates, and also consider whether your employer offers to match your retirement contributions — which is essentially free money. You'll have to weigh the pros and cons based on your unique situation.

For more tips on dealing with debt — including a role-play where Stacey Vanek-Smith and Life Kit host Marielle Segarra demonstrate how to have these conversations — watch the video at the top of the page or on YouTube or listen to the podcast episode on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

We'd love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at

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This video was directed by Iman Young; produced by Iman Young, Sylvie Douglis and Beck Harlan; edited by Annabel Edwards; filmed by Iman Young, Tsering Bista and Nickolai Hammar and animated by Alicia Zheng. Audio engineering support comes from Katherine Silva. Supervising editors are Meghan Keane and Nick Michael.

The audio portion of this episode was produced by Sylvie Douglis. The story was adapted for digital by Beck Harlan and edited by Danielle Nett.