At a Glance

The debt snowball method has become popular for its momentum building approach to repaying debt, but you may be asking yourself “how do I even start a debt snowball?” If you’re intimidated about committing to the debt snowball because it doesn’t seem like there’s an opportunity to stop, you’re in luck. We’ll address several times where it’s more than OK to take a breather. You can always continue rolling when you get through whatever life event is preventing you from throwing money at your debt snowball.

  • How to start a debt snowball
  • When to pause debt snowball
  • Should I pause my debt snowball when looking for a job?
  • Should I pause my debt snowball if I’m having a kid?
  • Should I pause my debt snowball amid a divorce?

What is the best way to start a debt snowball? It’s a common question. First, you want to learn how the debt snowball method works. Anti-stimulus check personal finance advisor Dave Ramsey, who’s essentially the godfather of the debt snowball approach, breaks it down into digestible steps, so even us simple folk with career, debt, relationship, or mental health problems can understand it. Just don’t ask him about the debt snowball method on the day of his daughter’s wedding.

Related: Real-Life Debt Snowball Examples and Success Stories

When Am I Ready to Start the Debt Snowball?

Before you even begin using the debt snowball method, experts recommend establishing an emergency fund with at least $1,000. One of the worst mistakes you can make when repaying debt is getting yourself in a deeper hole. Having emergency funds set aside for unexpected expenses can give you a buffer.

Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to start making snowballs like you’re Buddy the Elf defending your little brother from bullies in Central Park.

How to Start a Debt Snowball

The first step to starting the debt snowball approach is listing out all your debts, excluding your mortgage if you have one, in order from smallest to largest balance. Don’t worry about interest rates. You can use our handy dandy debt snowball checklist to help keep things in order as you go.

Next, you want to make minimum payments on all of your debts, except for the smallest balance. See where you have extra money lying around (if you have a concert or travel budget that you haven’t used since March 2020, now would be a good time to tap into it) or pick up a side hustle (use all your new snow expertise to shovel your neighbor’s driveway). Basically, put whatever additional funds you can toward your smallest debt balance.

Once you’ve paid off that balance, take some time to celebrate. Maybe don’t go to Cancun and leave Snowflake at home or anything, but acknowledge that you’ve accomplished something and take solace in the small victories.

OK, now that you’ve finished that bottle of Two Buck Chuck (you know how to stick to a budget!), get back to work. It’s lather, rinse, repeat from here. When you pay off the smallest balance, you’re going to employ the same method, using the funds you’d been using for that first debt and throwing them all at your second smallest balance. Continue on until you’ve defeated the Abominable Snowman, err, become debt free. Then it’s really time to party: break out the André!

Debt Snowball Calculator

Wondering how the debt snowball payoff method can help you? See how much you can save and estimate your debt-free date using our debt snowball calculator.

Estimate your savings with this debt snowball calculator

How Many Debt Accounts Do You Have?

Include credit cards and all loans except mortgage. Snowball method is applicable if you have at least two of these.


Keep your credit and loan statements handy to fill in balance, payment and rate details.

Reasons to Put Debt Snowball on Pause

You shouldn’t press pause on your debt snowball because you’re worn out and don’t feel like tackling your debt anymore. But there are legitimate reasons to put debt snowball on pause. When an unexpected life event comes your way, be sure to identify whether it’s a true emergency or a burning desire.

Should I Pause My Debt Snowball When Looking for A Job?

It depends on the situation. If you’re still employed but just looking for a new opportunity, you should continue plugging away at your debt snowball.

If you were unexpectedly let go, furloughed, or lost your job and lack the income to afford your debt repayment, that is absolutely a time to pause your debt snowball. You can always pick things up where you left off when you find a new job. In the meantime, you should prioritize making sure your basic needs like food and housing are met.

Should I Pause My Debt Snowball If I’m Having a Kid?

Is it twins? DEFINITELY.

But seriously, yes, you’ll probably want to pause your debt snowball to save up as much as you can before the new addition to your family arrives. Children are a blessing—so my parents say—but they’re certainly not cheap. You’ll need all you can muster to pay for diapers, wipes, food, and a babysitter when you need a well-earned break.

Should I Pause My Debt Snowball If I’m Going Through a Divorce?

Divorce is one of the most stressful life events you can go through, right up there with the death of a loved one, moving, and the Yankees losing the 2001 World Series.

Divorce can be draining, both financially and emotionally, so it’s more important to make sure you’re staying afloat than paying down debt. As with any other major life event, make sure you’re meeting your basic needs. Your debt will still be there after you’ve finished paying the lawyers.

Recommended: 7 Debt Snowball Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)

When Should You Not Pause Your Debt Snowball?

It doesn’t make sense to pause your debt snowball if you are looking to use your extra money for an unnecessary expense. Celebrating your victories is important, but here are some bad reasons to put your debt payoff progress in jeopardy:

  • You want to book a fancy vacay
  • You need those expensive new shoes
  • You want to upgrade part of your home to keep up with the Joneses
  • Your one friend who’s always scheming has a “once-in-a-lifetime” investment opportunity and “just needs a few hundred dollars” to jumpstart his business idea that he can’t give you too many details about