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[Updated December 2021]
I was sitting at my computer looking at my dwindling bank account. Every month my balance dropped a little closer to zero, increasing my nerves and anxiety.
I pulled up my student loan websites one by one to add up all of my minimum payments. I felt hopeless when I added up how much money I needed to pay back. It was over $45,000.
I needed a miracle. Or at least a plan.
I went to my good friend Google for answers and found the tools to climb out of this giant hole I dug for myself.
When my wife and I started dating, we had mountains of debt. I carried around my giant weight of student loans, but that’s not the whole story. Both of us had credit card debt, car payments, and Jenna also had $45,000 of student loans. We were a match made in heaven, except we were miserably overwhelmed by debt.
Our total debt was $100,000 – and we were making less than $45,000 a year combined.
We felt suffocated and stifled and afraid that debt would steal our dreams of getting married and starting a family. Kids and daycare are expensive, and we didn’t want to bring a child into the world to be crushed by debt from day one.
We also couldn’t afford daycare and student loans.
Our budget would easily be $500 in the red every month. I wanted those suckers paid off as soon as possible!
After a few hours searching on Google I found the weapons to slay our debt dragons.
First, we each created a zero based budget template to manage where our money was going, but we needed another plan – a plan to pay off our debt. Luckily, we stumbled upon a little miracle worker called the debt snowball spreadsheet.
My goal in this article is to teach you how to make a debt snowball excel spreadsheet or google sheet. It honestly doesn’t matter if you make your debt payoff spreadsheet in excel or google sheets. I want to help you get out of debt, and I know a free debt snowball spreadsheet is the best tool to do that.
What is a Debt Snowball Spreadsheet?
Dave Ramsey is famous for spreading the concept of the debt snowball spreadsheet or debt payoff spreadsheet. That’s where we first heard about it, and when we first started working to become debt free, we knew
The basic principle is to pay off your smallest debt as fast as possible. (Notice I said smallest debt, not the one with the highest interest rate. I’ll explain why in a little bit.) Once it’s paid off, instead of spending the payment money someplace else in your budget, you apply it to the next lowest debt.
For example, if you pay off a student loan with a minimum balance of $50 and your next smallest loan payment is $100 you combine those payments together.
Now instead of your minimum payment being $100, you pay $150 which helps you pay off your debt faster. Then once that loan is paid off, you take the $150 and apply it to the next smallest loan. You repeat the process until you’re debt free.
Creating a debt snowball calculator works to pay off your credit card balance, student loans, or any other debt you have.
How Does the Debt Snowball Work? Let’s See it in Action
Back in 2014 when we built our simple debt snowball spreadsheet, we had 5 student loans between the two of us plus a bit of credit card debt. What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine, right? We weren’t excited to take on each other’s student loans when we got married, but we were committed to paying them off fast.
We used our debt snowball spreadsheet with our student loans, and it WORKED!
Let me show you.
Our smallest loan had a balance of $1,384.92 and had a minimum payment of $100. I actually think it was a smaller payment, but we paid extra to pay it off faster. Once it was paid off, we applied the $100 to our next smallest loan making the new “minimum payment” $185.77.
Now our debt payoff spreadsheet had momentum to become debt free faster. Increasing our minimum payment by $100 made a pretty big impact and our debt snowball calculated our new debt free date in a matter of minutes.
When we finally got to our last student loan, we were paying $922 a month instead of our minimum payment of $220. And during the process, if we had any extra money or small windfalls, we applied the money to our student loans. So some months we paid $1,500-2,000 to make the process go faster.
If we had stuck with the minimum payments it would’ve taken us 25 years to pay off our student loans.
Read that again 👆🏻
Instead, we used a debt snowball to get out of debt in less than four years on two teacher salaries.
To say the debt snowball is awesome is an understatement. It gave us 21 years of debt free-living and let us start our family way sooner!
Why the Debt Snowball Spreadsheet Works to Pay Off Debt
If you’re big on math, you might be wondering why I don’t recommend paying off the highest interest debt first. Mathematically paying the loan with the highest interest rate will save you money in the long run because you’ll pay less interest.
Here’s the simple version of why the debt snowball method works to pay off debt:
Paying off debt is more emotional and mental. It’s not all logic.
If debt was about math and logic, nobody would be in debt. Money is emotional.
I will nearly always recommend paying off the smallest loan versus the loan with the highest interest rate. When you’re staring at a mountain of debt, it feels good to get a quick win. It helps build your confidence and get more excited about getting out of debt.
I mean, when we looked at our debt snowball spreadsheet for the first time, we had nearly $100K of total debt. It was so discouraging to think of how long it would take to pay it off.
But we had a plan and set to work.
We scrounged up extra money and paid off our first loan in four months! It was exciting and encouraging!
We were so excited to pay off a debt that we immediately crunched numbers and made a new goal of paying off our next loan using our debt payoff spreadsheet. It was proof that the debt snowball spreadsheet works!
We created momentum and belief when that first loan was paid in full.
Without that success and belief, we may not have had the same attitude towards our debt. We used the momentum and paid off $73,000 of debt in less than four years (on two teacher salaries). The rest qualified for student loan forgiveness.
Also, if we trusted logic and math and paid the highest interest rate loan first, it would’ve taken us 10+ years to pay it off. Instead we paid off ALL of our loans in less than 4.
It would have been tough to maintain the mental energy and enthusiasm, not to mention, our debt snowball would have taken longer to get rolling.
How to Set Up Your Debt Snowball Spreadsheet to Get Out of Debt Fast!
It’s time to make your very own debt snowball spreadsheet!
Are you ready!?
It’s by far the best tool I know of for tracking and paying off your debt way ahead of schedule. Below are the steps I followed to create ours, with a few screenshots to help you out.
If you want to skip all of the steps, I created a debt snowball spreadsheet that’s ready to go with minimal set up. All you need to do is input your numbers and enter a couple formulas. It’s a free debt snowball spreadsheet download. You can grab it here.
You can also buy the Debt Free Playbook for $47, which helps you create an organized system for your debt payoff spreadsheet in 20 minutes. It even has a full video of a step by step set up that you won’t get with the free debt snowball spreadsheet.
That’s a steal 👆🏻
But if you’re a start from scratch, DIY kind of person, let’s keep going. And I should note, you can make your debt snowball excel or google sheets. It’s really just a matter of preference.
Step 1: Look up your individual debts and interest rates
The first step of your debt snowball spreadsheet is to look up each of your debts so you know the total amount and the interest rate for each one. Find all of your logins and passwords and pull everything up on your computer.
Once you have this information written down or pulled up on different tabs on your computer, you’re ready to start building your debt payoff spreadsheet.
Step 2: Input your debt information into your debt snowball spreadsheet
You can set up your debt snowball spreadsheet in Excel or Google Sheets. Both systems will get you the same results, it’s all a matter of preference. I love Google Sheets and will be demonstrating with that. But like I said, you can make a debt snowball excel too.
Download your free debt snowball spreadsheet here to get the template.
First, across the top of your debt snowball spreadsheet, enter the name of each loan and the interest rate. You’ll need the interest rate later, so keep it close and in sight. When you do this, leave a column in between each debt to enter the minimum payment for each loan.
Next, enter the total amount owed for each debt in the cell directly below the name of the loan.
Also, under the payment column for each, enter the minimum monthly payment in row three.
In the bottom right corner of the minimum payment cell there will be a small blue box. To duplicate the minimum payment for each cell in this column, click that blue box and drag down.
It will put the same minimum payment amount in each cell. Drag down as far as you think you need to.
In order to have your numbers reflect dollars, you will probably need to change the formatting of the cells to currency. To do this, highlight each cell with a number in it, the dollar sign in the toolbar.
If yours looks like this, you’re on track.
(Note: I do have more loans than are listed in this chart, but it didn’t fit on the page very well so I left a couple out in the screenshots).
Once you have all of your debts lined up, the reality of how much debt you have might feel overwhelming. I know it did for me. I knew roughly how much debt I had, but to see it all laid out plainly so I could add it up quickly, felt really daunting.
But it’s part of the process.
It’s okay. Take a deep breath or two. You’re doing great.
If you’re making a debt snowball spreadsheet right now, then you’re better off than most people in debt because YOU’RE DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT!
I’m proud of you for choosing a debt free future and putting in the work now to experience freedom in a few years.
Step 3: Add Dates in Column A of Your Debt Payoff Spreadsheet
Tracking your progress is huge for your debt snowball spreadsheet. It also helps you plan how fast you can be debt free.
Starting with whatever month it is, enter the name of the month and the year in cell A3. For example, if you are starting today, enter December 21. Below that, January 22, February 22, etc.
It’s a safe bet to keep going for about 5 years worth of months. This is tedious and time consuming. I found it annoying because the formatting kept changing. Tinker with it until you find a format you like.
And if you want to make MULTIPLE payments each month, create two rows for each month with the amount you plan to make for each payment. Making multiple payments each month is a great idea because you’ll save money on interest and it will help you pay off your debt faster.
Step 4: Calculate how much you actually pay off with each payment
Up to this point we haven’t needed any formulas to help us make calculations. But it’s time to get fancy! If you’ve never used formulas in a spreadsheet, it’s pretty much the coolest thing ever.
The only formula you need calculates the approximate interest you’ll pay with each payment. The formula for this is pretty simple.
(Total Amount Owed X Interest Rate) / 12 = Monthly Interest You Pay
Take the total amount owed for the loan and multiply it by the interest rate. Once you have done that, divide by twelve to get the monthly interest.
Let’s calculate my Firstmark loan together. The total amount owed is $1,384.92 as listed in cell C2. If I multiply that by the interest rate of 3.3% (multiply by .033) it equals 45.70 after rounding. Then to get the monthly interest, I divide that by 12 to get an average monthly interest payment of $3.81 (again after rounding).
(1,384.92 X .033) / 12 = 3.81
This is approximately how much of my payment is going toward interest every month. Now you’re ready to create your formula!
Click in cell C3 and enter the following formula.
=(C2-B3)+monthly interest rate
For my Firstmark loan, I enter “=(C2-B3)+3.81.” If you’ve done this correctly, it will automatically calculate the new remaining balance on your loan.
The beauty of this is that if you need to change your monthly payment, or have extra money that month, all you do is type the amount of money you’re putting toward the loan in the “minimum payment” box, and it will automatically update your repayment for the rest of your cells.
It’s amazing and makes it so easy to adjust and update your debt free date. It’s basically like having a debt snowball calculator that you can update in just a few seconds.
See How Long It’ll Take to Pay Your Smallest Debt in Full
Now, to duplicate this formula throughout the rest of the C column, click on the cell C3.
The bottom right hand corner will have a small blue box, just like I explained above.
If you click and drag that box down the column, it copies the formula into each box that you highlight, automatically updating the progress of conquering your debt.
Drag this box down until the remaining balance becomes zero or negative.
Now look over at the date in Column A. If you make the minimum payment every month, that’s the month you can expect to pay off that loan. If you want to pay it off faster, find ways to increase your minimum payment and adjust the amount in your debt snowball spreadsheet.
Use the same drag down method on the payment columns to duplicate the minimum payment each month.
Repeat the process for each of your loans and debts using the appropriate cell numbers. When finished, it will look something like this.
Step 5: Calculate the Debt Snowball Spreadsheet in Action
The best part about creating a debt snowball spreadsheet in Excel or Google Sheets is it allows you to see quickly how fast you can be debt free.
The magic begins when you pay off one of your debts.
As you can see in the example above, by maintaining a minimum monthly payment of $100 a month, the Firstmark loan on the left is paid off officially in October 2017.
This is assuming that I only pay the minimum balance each month.
Side note: I highly, highly, highly recommend paying more than the minimum balance if you can. It helps you accelerate your debt snowball spreadsheet.
Now that one loan is paid off, I simply apply the $100 I was paying on that loan to the loan with the next lowest remaining balance, the Campus Partners loan making my new payment $185.77.
The extra $100 helped me pay off this loan so much faster. It’s also easy to update my formula to see my new pay off date. If I click on the cell for November 17 of my Campus Partners loan, the formula will show up in the formula bar indicating “=(E17-F18)+25.32.”
The only change I need to make is to change the 85.77 to 185.77 in the “payment” column, and then drag down the payment column with my new minimum payment until the loan is paid off.
It should automatically recalculate your payoff date and if you’re like me, you’ll be amazed at how much sooner you can pay it off using the debt snowball spreadsheet.
Extra Payments Make Your Debt Disappear Fast
As I played around with this I was amazed at the difference this extra $100 dollars made on the time table needed to pay off the loan.
If I only paid the minimum balance of $85.77, it would take nearly seven years to pay it off completely.
However, by adding the extra $100, I could pay it off in only a little over two years!!!
Read that again 👆🏻 It’s powerful.
That is five years of payments I don’t have to make! HOLY COW!!!
Every time you pay off a loan, add the amount you were paying towards your next lowest debt and the debt snowball calculator works to pay off your debt faster and faster! Now repeat the process for the rest of your debts in your debt snowball tracker.
Jenna and I went from 30 years of paying off loans to five after creating our debt snowball spreadsheet and using the debt snowball method.
That is a difference of 25 years!!!
A small disclaimer, we did make other choices in our lifestyle – living on a budget and working extra jobs – to help us pay more than the minimum balance on our lowest loan, but this concept has truly transformed our ability to pay off debt incredibly fast!
You can play around with your debt snowball spreadsheet to see which order will get you debt free the fastest. For us, it was the smallest balance loan and leaving the highest interest rate loan for last. Find the order that is the fastest for you.
Try the Debt Free Playbook to Set Up Your Debt Snowball Spreadsheet Faster
If you made it this far, you probably have everything you need to get out of debt fast with your debt snowball spreadsheet in excel or google sheets.
But, one thing I’ve noticed about a lot of debt free tools and guides is that it’s missing an actual GUIDE to show you how to become debt free.
That’s where the Debt Free Playbook comes in handy.
I don’t want you to have to get out of debt by yourself, and I certainly don’t want you to feel super frustrated working with your debt snowball spreadsheet. If you’re feeling frustrated, alone, and just weighed down by your debt, the Debt Free Playbook is probably for you.
You’ll get a guided video of me creating a debt snowball spreadsheet with you. You can watch as I enter formulas, minimum payments, and format the spreadsheet to find your debt free date.
PLUS….there are bonus videos, because bonuses are fun.
The bonus videos help you with things like:
- An extra Debt Snowball Spreadsheet Template (just in case you lost yours or don’t want to try and find it)
- Set up Guide – Set up your Debt Snowball Spreadsheet in 20 Minutes
- Debt Payoff Acceleration Tutorial – See what happens when you pay $20 extra per month
- How to calculate making extra payments
- Help you find the best order to pay off your debt so you’re debt free the fastest
The goal is to help you get out of debt as fast as possible, and the Debt Free Playbook can help you do that. It’s the closest thing I have right now to live coaching. Go check out more details – just click here.
What to do Next?
If you’re ready to make a debt snowball spreadsheet, get your free debt snowball spreadsheet template download here. Or buy the Debt Free Playbook for $47. Both of these will make it easier to set up your debt snowball in Excel or Google Sheets.
Still on the fence about the debt snowball method? Check out this article on “Why the Debt Snowball Method Works“.