Ways to Track Debt

By Debbie Dragon on 9 September 2011 (Updated 12 September 2011) 7 comments
Photo: Meddy Garnet

Debt — it's the four-letter word nobody wants to think about. But if you're not thinking about your debt, you're not keeping track of it — and if you're not keeping track of your debt, you're probably not making much progress toward paying it off! Knowing exactly how much you owe, who you owe, and how much your debt costs is the first step to paying it off. I personally feel you can't effectively manage your debt without keeping track of your entire financial situation in general — which is why many of the tools listed here also provide ways to create and manage your budget in addition to tracking specific debts. Here are some tools to help you track your debt and better manage your money. (See also: 4 Places to Start Your Debt Management Crusade)

Spreadsheets

The Money Management Template from Vertex42.com is a free alternative to Quicken. For the average family, an easy-to-use spreadsheet for creating and managing a budget is all the functionality you need to stay on top of your finances without wasting time trying to figure out the extra “stuff” provided in most financial software. Plug in all of your expenses and income, and keep track of where your money goes. Once you have your budget in place, or if you're just looking for a fast way to track debts without worrying about the rest, you can use the Debt Reduction Calculator (with the snowball method for paying off debt) to focus on paying off your debts as quickly as possible.

DebtTracker from It's Your Money is a simplified Excel spreadsheet that allows you to see a list of your debts all in one place, and then sort them by type of debt, interest rate, or current account balance. You can see about how long it will take to pay off each debt and figure out a few financial metrics like how much of your available credit you're using or your debt-to-income ratio.

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Personal Finance Software

Mint.com offers free personal finance software that will pull in information from all of your financial accounts (once you set it up). Use their goal setting options to create debt payoff goals, and you can see how your debt payments relate to the total money you have coming in each month versus where your money is going. As a bonus, you can also access your information via a smartphone and set reminders for bill payments.

The You Need a Budget software helps you assign a “job” to every dollar you earn. The personal finance software makes it easy to import bank transactions, monitor all incoming and outgoing money, and take free finance classes online that teach you both better money management skills and how to use the software. In the process of all this budgeting and financial management, you'll keep track of each of your debts and focus on paying them off. (Editor's note: YNAB is one of Wise Bread's recommended budgeting software. Click here to see screenshots and our review of YNAB.)

Smartphone Apps

Pay Off Debt, an app for iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, gives users a quick and easy method for organizing and keeping track of their debt. The app uses the debt snowball method for suggesting payments on each of your accounts and is the perfect solution for people who like to manage their finances easily from their phone, iPod, or tablet instead of their computer.

DebtTracker Pro also uses the snowball system of paying off debt, but you can choose from other built-in payment strategies or come up with your own if you prefer. The app will give you a recommended payment for each account based on your payment strategy, allow you to view progress of debts paid, and provide payment reminders.

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Guest's picture

I have one spreadsheet that I use to track pretty much everything finance related. It's password protected, backed up in several spots, and on the cloud, so it will hopefully always be available barring some technological meltdown (in which case most of the data in there will probably be useless anyways, so there's that).

Matt Bell's picture

This is a great list of resources, Debbie. I hadn't heard of a lot of them. One other tool some people may find helpful is http://unbury.me/. It helps people see what will happen if they go after their low balance debts first (snowball) or their high interest rate debts first (avalanche).

Usually, going after your low balance debts first will give you the emotional win of paying off one of your debts ASAP, whereas going after your high interest rate debts first will get you completely out of debt the fastest and with the least amount of interest paid. But this calculator will show people the details of either method based on their situation.

Guest's picture
Robin

The fewer debts you have the easier it is to keep track. I found my life and managing my finances to be so much simpler by just leaving my credit cards at home when I go out. I use cash for everything and only use my credit card for big items like a new iphone or laptop. I use my rewards card to buy these so I can accumulate points and I pay it off usually a day or 2 after the purchase.

Asides from paying utility bills and the mortgage every month, I never have to worry about my credit card balance or wonder if I will be late in paying. Not using plastic have definitely simplified my finances.

Guest's picture
Azra

Hi Debbie,

You bring up some excellent methods of tracking debt! I work at ReadyForZero, which is a free online software that helps people automate the process of tracking their debt. We've been around for about 6 months and are seeing some really promising results! (http://blog.readyforzero.com/2011/06/15/readyforzero-users-pay-debt-twic...) Would love to get your feedback on the product and see what you think :)

Guest's picture

Before I jumped into the smart tech (ipad), I was using excel spreadsheets. I usually just use my ipad to track my finances and its what I'd recommend.

Guest's picture
Debt Management

The difficultly of tracking you finances is actually putting the spreadsheet together in the first place. Once you've set it up, it's easy to update, so a smartphone app sounds like a great way to set up a way of tracking your finances.

Guest's picture
Chloe

If you have Windows 8, there's a new application that was just released that will handle all of this for you. My friend pointed me to it yesterday, and I really like it.

Its called Debt Tracker. See it here in the WIndows 8 Store: http://apps.microsoft.com/windows/en-US/app/debt-tracker/6605d6a4-d6fe-4...