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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) –  It’s an age-old approach to saving money that works every time, without fail.  Pay off your debts and then make your hard-earned money go further by putting away some cash for an emergency, an investment, or a vacation.

But, let’s face it — it’s easier said than done, especially if you rack up a heavy load of consumer debt.

WHNT NEWS 19 sat down with one financial planner from Huntsville who says he’s found lots of success using a program anyone can access for free off the web.

First, here’s some perspective about debt in America.  Americans have racked up $11.4 trillion of debt, according to

It reports more than 160 million Americans have credit cards; the average card holder has at least three cards; and each household carries more than $15,000 worth of credit card debt.  The rest of what is owed is in mortages, student loans and auto loans.

One of the worst sins against financial stability is: “Running up a lot of credit card debt,” said Alan Markell, a financial planner who got into the field about ten years ago to help others.

“It’s just kind of gratifying to work where you help people,” he said.

For consumer debt, Markell immediately points people to

“Very simple to use,” he said, pointing to his computer.  “A lot of times you don’t need to have like a financial planner to help you with this.  You can do it yourself on the internet.”

The program lets you input your debt amounts, then payment amounts, and then it calculates how long it will take you to pay them off if you make ‘power payments’.

“After you pay off debt one, you take the money that you were paying debt one and put it on debt two,” Markell explained of the approach.  “Then you pay off debt one and two and take the money you were paying on debt one and two and put it on three.”

The program also tells you how much you’ll save in interest by paying them off early.

You can find a slue of similar programs online, even on Facebook.

We found the “Get Out of Debt Guy”, based in North Carolina, who posts all kinds of advice, information about legal settlements, and ways to get out of something Markell says is a terrible mistake — a consolidation loan.

“What (credit card companies) do is lower your payments, but they make you pay a lot longer and they charge a higher interest rate plus they charge you fees on top of it,” said Markell.

There are other groups on Facebook to offer support and encouragement to people trying to get out of debt.

And it’s a hot topic on Pinterest.  We found one pinner passing along 51 ways to get out of debt.

The bottom line to any debt strategy is having the discipline to get started and keep it going.

Markell tells his clients not all debt is bad.  Good debt, such as an education loan or a house or home improvement, actually increases a person’s net worth.

But the only way to get out of any kind of debt load is having discipline to say ‘no’ to buying things you can’t really afford or don’t really need.