How to Pay Off Debt on an Inconsistent Income

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Paying off debt is hard enough when you’ve got bills to pay and are spinning a bunch of financial plates. But it only gets harder when you’ve got an income that fluctuates up and down. Maybe you’re a gig economy worker, full-time freelancer, or just lost your job. Whatever the reason, it may seem far easier to just avoid your debts for as long as humanly possible.

No need to despair. Debt repayment is entirely possible, even if you’re living on inconsistent income. You’ll just need to get creative and go a different route. Here are a few pointers on how to crush your debt without a steady paycheck:

Always make your minimum payments

First, no matter what your financial situation, be sure to make the minimum payments on all your debts. Otherwise, your credit could take a hit. And, as you know, that could hurt your ability to snag the best terms and rates for loans, mortgages, and credit cards, which will cost you money in the long run. Plus, adding late fees and penalties is only going to make it harder to keep up with your debts.

Read more: What to Do When You Can't Make Your Payments

Adjust your due dates

Do your paychecks tend to drop at different times of the month? Ask your creditors and lenders if your payment due dates can be adjusted so they sync up with when your paychecks come in. While your debt won’t vanish magically, moving the dates around could help you stay on top of your payments.

Base it on a percentage

Base your debt repayment on a percentage instead of a flat amount. For example, commit to putting, say, 10 percent of your income toward your debt regardless of your income, suggests Julianne Moore, an accredited financial coach and money manager at Life Money Management. So even if there are months you’re putting more toward your debt than others, you’re still making extra payments on the regular.

Can’t swing 10 percent of your income? Then consider putting a percentage of your income after your monthly living expenses are covered. So let’s say you need $2,500 to cover your basic needs. If one month you rake in $3,500, which is $1,000 more than your living expenses, use 10 percent of that “extra” thousand buckaroos, which is $100, toward your debt.

Assign one of your paychecks toward your debt

If you work a handful of gigs or have multiple clients, set aside paychecks from one of your side hustles toward your debt. It’s probably best to assign larger paychecks you can count on to your living expenses, such as your rent and bills.

For instance, let’s say you work as a rideshare driver, petsitter, and run an Etsy store. If being a rideshare driver makes up most of your income and you get paid every Friday, put that money toward your living expenses. If money you earn from pet sitting and selling crafty wares online isn’t as regular, put some of that money toward your debt repayment. Or in the case that you’re a freelance graphic designer, and have a few retainer clients along with clients that offer you one-off assignments here and there, use the income from those occasional gigs toward your debt.

Make quarterly payments

If you’re not able to put extra payments toward your debt regularly, sock away money into a “debt repayment” savings account and make larger payments every quarter instead. While you would save money on interest fees if you made extra payments on your debt more frequently, it’s far better to squirrel away money so you can make additional payments every so often.

Money apps such as Qapital allow you to create savings goals and round-up transactions from your debit and credit cards toward these goals. If you create a “debt repayment” goal, you might be surprised to see how quickly you can save in a few months’ time. And if you can swing it, auto-save a few bucks a week toward your goal.

Read more: Best Free Money Management Apps

Contact creditors about a hardship plan

If you anticipate a layoff, or if your income has become uncertain due to of an unforeseen situation, reach out to the credit card issuer and give them a heads-up. Explain your situation and see if there’s anything they can do on their end. There’s a chance that they may put you on a hardship plan.

A hardship plan could lower your interest rate on the card, and you could qualify for a smaller minimum payment or a fixed payment schedule. Plus, you might be eligible for lower fees and penalties. It really depends on the circumstances and what the credit card issuer is willing to offer.

Of course, there’s no guarantee you’ll be put on a hardship plan. This typically only works if you’re in good standing with the credit card company. If you’ve been on top of your payments, and haven’t been late or missed any, you’ll have a stronger chance of having flexible repayment terms.

Consider a debt management plan

If you’re having trouble making the minimum payments on your debt, consider a debt management plan (DMP). By working with an accredited counselor through a nonprofit credit counseling organization such as Money Management International (MMI), you can work out budget-friendly monthly payment. How it works is you make a single payment to the organization, and they pay your creditor on your behalf.

Have questions on how to manage your debt with income that fluctuates? Reach out to Money Management International (MMI). Our accredited credit counselors can sit with you to assess your unique situation and drum up a plan. Counseling is available 24/7 online or over the phone.

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Jackie Lam is an L.A.-based personal finance writer who is passionate about helping creatives with their finances. Her work has appeared in Forbes, Mental Floss, Business Insider, and GOOD. She blogs at heyfreelancer.com.

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