Resolutions: 3 steps to get started paying debt

NEW YORK (AP) ? Americans have been working hard to pay off their debt in the last few years. The average total owed on major credit cards dropped to $4,699 toward the end of last year, from $5,776 in early 2009, according to credit reporting agency TransUnion.

But that’s still a significant burden to bear ? and that amount doesn’t include mortgages, home equity loans, car loans, student loans or other personal loans, or store-issued credit cards.

That’s why paying down debt remains one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions. But reaching that goal requires a plan.

Here are 3 steps to get you started:

1. Put away the credit cards. You can’t pay off debt if you’re still accumulating it, so make a point of leaving the cards at home and use cash.

2. Prioritize the order you want to pay various debts. Although paying off the balance with the highest interest rate first will result in significant long-term savings, paying off the smallest debt can provide a psychological boost to help fuel your desire to achieve the goal. Or choose to pay off the debt that bothers you most for a different sort of boost. Check out smartphone apps like Debt Payoff Planner or Debt Free for guidance and to track your progress.

3. Use unexpected windfalls and any tax refund to help you take big chunks off the total. It’s not as much fun as spending it all on a vacation or a new flat-screen TV, but you’ll get more satisfaction in the long run out of becoming debt free.

FOR MORE: Consider seeking help from a nonprofit credit counseling agency. Find one near you at .

READ: Visit , a website of the National Endowment for Financial Education. Check out the advice on personal finance blogs like or The Dollar Stretcher at for inspiration.