Sometimes, debt can slowly grow until you suddenly feel overwhelmed and trapped by its ever-increasing numbers. Other times, debt can come all at once from instances such as hospital bills or other financial emergencies. However you got into the red, it’s time to start working on practical ways to get out of debt. Here are the essential tips for paying off credit cards and other loans.

Take a deep breath, and look at the big picture

Use a free credit reporting agency to make sure you’re aware of all the loans you’re liable for. Then, you can begin to organize a serious attack on your debt. Credit Sesame offers consumers a free report with no gimmicks.

Lower your interest rates by combining your debts

As you climb your way out of debt, you want to make the task as easy as possible by keeping the mountain of debt from growing faster than you can pay it down. A few percentage points of interest can make a big difference. One way to lower the interest rates you’re paying is to consolidate different credit cards and loans onto a single credit card with a high limit and a low introductory rate.

Another method is to take out a low-interest personal loan or a home equity loan from a bank or borrow against your life insurance policy, and then use those funds to pay off your various debts. You can then focus on that single loan, which will have a more reasonable rate.

Additionally you can look for a credit card with an introductory balance transfer of 0% APR . This allows you to transfer from a high interest card and pay off your credit much faster without the mounting cost of interest.

Consolidating various loans can halt the avalanche of debt from continuing to snowball, but don’t let those paid off accounts become a temptation to dig yourself even deeper into a hole. Cancel the high interest credit cards you’ve escaped from after consolidation. Don’t just cut the cards up, but close the accounts as well, because having several credit card accounts open can hurt your credit rating.

Pay down the highest interest rate loans first

If you can’t consolidate your debts into one low-interest loan, you should focus on paying off the highest interest credit cards first. Pay the minimum on your loans with the best terms, and pay as much as you can on the cards that are gouging you with high finance charges.

Yes, you can negotiate

Credit card companies don’t want you to file for bankruptcy or default on your debt. They’ll end up spending a lot of money on legal fees and probably won’t get much out of you. Use this to your advantage by telling them that you’re considering bankruptcy if you can’t get better rates, and there’s a good chance they’ll work with you. With lower rates, your monthly payments will help you get out of debt instead of just treading water or sinking deeper. Always contact your creditors if you are having trouble paying, the last thing you want to add to your ever-growing debt is late fees.