Figure Logo
How to Manage Debt in an Economic Downturn
Debt  blog tag

How to Manage Debt in an Economic Downturn

How to Manage Debt in an Economic Downturn

Have you thought about managing debt in the recent economic crisis? You're among many. This 3-part series explores:

  1. The good, the bad, and the ugly - types of debt

  2. A “normal” economic downturn?

  3. Saving money by minimizing high-interest debt

PART 1:  Kick ‘em when they’re down... (your credit card and personal loan debt, that is.)

Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our economy greatly. Businesses were shuttered, unemployment rates have soared then fell, and the Fed dropped rates then raised them at record rates. But there are signs of hope, and an opportunity to better your finances.

In regards to debt, the guiding principle you may have heard time and time again: “Savings is good, and debt is bad.” But as we all know, debt is a necessity in today’s world. Whether you’re paying for a home, college, or a car - debt likely is helping you meet your needs daily.

Economic downturn or not, the key is to manage debt correctly and ultimately use it in your favor. High-interest debt in the form of credit cards and personal loans can be costly. As of December 2023 the average APR for credit cards is 21.19% and the average APR for personal loans is 15.32%.

Many Americans are inclined to leverage credit cards to pay for immediate expenses. Then when those bills pile up, some end up paying off credit card debt with personal loans, only to find that they are still paying a fairly steep interest rate tacked onto a growing balance. Here are some tips to getting rid of high-interest debt.

  1. Eliminate credit card debt first. If you do use your credit cards, make sure your balance can be fully paid off within the same billing cycle to avoid unnecessary interest charges and help protect your credit score.

  2. Next, get rid of personal loans. It’s especially important to pay off variable rate loans first as fluctuating interest rates can significantly increase the cost of your loan.

  3. Avoid taking on new credit card or personal loan debt.

PART 2:  Recessions are normal.

While many things still seem uncertain, there is some good news. Recessions are a normal part of the economic cycle. To put this in perspective, since World War II, we've gone an average of about five years between recessions. The last recession ended over 10 years ago. All things considered, we were overdue.

If you’re cognizant of your finances, and understand how to leverage debt, you can be better prepared in the case of an extended economic downturn. A good rule of thumb is:

  • 50% of income goes to necessities (like your housing, food, clothing, medical expenses and other essentials)

  • 30% of income can go towards entertainment, travel, and more enjoyable needs

  • 20% of income should be put towards your savings, investing, and/or paying off debt

The most important takeaway is that your total spending should be less than your total income each month. Be sure you’re setting aside money for retirement and emergency needs.

Don’t ignore the debt. It’s easy to assume you’ve minimized costs on dining out, entertainment, and transportation, but it’s still crucial to be aware of how much you spend. Some helpful tips include:

  • Look for easy areas to cut, starting with mindless spending.

  • Make a list of “necessities” versus “wants” on a monthly basis to orient your spending habits in the right direction.

  • Know the costs of recurring subscriptions that can add up and renew automatically.

  • With Amazon and other online retailers offering one-click ordering and stored credit card information, you should keep an eye out for these purchases specifically.

PART 3:  Hindsight is 20/20.

The hope is that we learn from our mistakes. The money you pay in interest can’t be reclaimed. Thankfully, you don’t need to pay it in the first place if you play your cards right.

If you’re carrying a balance right now, you can chip away at debt even if you’ve accrued thousands of dollars across multiple cards and loans. Here are some strategies you can use to protect yourself and even save the money you would be paying in interest for credit cards or personal loans.

  1. Address the Problem - Note patterns that led you into debt in the first place. Think about how you can manage it better going forward.

  2. Change the Behavior - It’s never too late to change. Avoid credit card balances and ensure you can pay what you charge each month to prevent racking up debt.

  3. Set a Budget - Self-imposed constraints can help you avoid harmful spending patterns. Regardless of the economic situation, making a budget is your best bet for saving in the long run.

  4. Work with a Financial Planner - A professional opinion on your finances can help. If you don’t have access to this option, confiding in a friend or family member for advice can help you regain control.

  5. Use Home Equity - If you have home equity and are employed, you are in luck. Instead of paying high interest rates on a personal loan or credit cardDisclaimer1, you can quickly reduce debt and save money from the get-go.

Homeowners have an advantage.

A cash-out refinance and home equity line of credit (HELOC) are both good options depending on your situation.

A HELOC is a type of loan that uses your home as collateral in exchange for a line of credit. HELOCs are a great option for financing essentials or paying off higher-cost debt, and can be tax-deductibleDisclaimer2 if you plan to use the funds for home improvement (whereas credit card interest is not.) Figure’s HELOC provides the entire loan amount upfront at a low fixed rateDisclaimer3, and you can continue drawing on the credit line as you repay what you borrow.

In general, HELOC rates are lower than many other types of consumer debt and you can access funds quickly.  Figure can offer access to your equity in as little as 5 daysDisclaimer4 and the application is all online and can be done in 5 minutes.

  1. Disclaimer 1You must pledge your home as collateral, and you could lose your home if you fail to repay.

  2. Disclaimer 2You should consult a tax advisor regarding the deductibility of interest and charges to your Figure Home Equity Line.

  3. Disclaimer 3The Figure Home Equity Line is an open-end product where the full loan amount (minus the origination fee) will be 100% drawn at the time of origination. The initial amount funded at origination will be based on a fixed rate; however, this product contains an additional draw feature. As the borrower repays the balance on the line, the borrower may make additional draws during the draw period. If the borrower elects to make an additional draw, the interest rate for that draw will be set as of the date of the draw and will be based on an Index, which is the Prime Rate published in the Wall Street Journal for the calendar month preceding the date of the additional draw, plus a fixed margin. Accordingly, the fixed rate for any additional draw may be higher than the fixed rate for the initial draw.

  4. Disclaimer 4Approval may be granted in five minutes but is ultimately subject to verification of income and employment, as well as verification that your property is in at least average condition with a property condition report. Five business day funding timeline assumes closing the loan with our remote online notary. Funding timelines may be longer for loans secured by properties located in counties that do not permit recording of e-signatures or that otherwise require an in-person closing.

Related articles

  • Debt The Homeowner’s Complete Guide to Debt Consolidation

    Andrew Clark, Affiliate Marketing Manager  article author

  • Tools And Guides 7 tips to lower your debt and fix your finances

    Hannah Friedman, Sr. Content Manager  article author

  • Debt Different ways to consolidate debt

    Andrew Clark, Affiliate Marketing Manager  article author

Join our newsletter

See the latest trends and get insights to further your finances.