Tackling credit card debt requires a strategy. Whichever you choose, your plan to pay off your debt will only be effective if you stick with it.
Debt, in and of itself, isn’t always a bad thing. Certain low-interest debt, like student loans and mortgages, can be an investment that will increase in value and generate income in the long-term. That’s usually not the case, however, with credit cards.
“It’s important to reduce credit card debt … because credit card interest is compounded daily and can cause your financial growth to remain stagnant,” explains Dino Selita, president of The Debt Relief Company. “Credit cards are only meant to be used as a short-term vehicle for borrowing against your cash flow. As a lending product, they will cost more in interest than any other financial product.”
If you’ve found yourself struggling with credit card debt and are worried it’s impacting your credit, don’t panic — there’s a way out. Here are some strategies to pay it off and get your financial life back on track.
The avalanche strategy is a popular way to eliminate credit card debt. It focuses on paying off credit cards with the highest APRs first to save as much as you can on interest.
“So, if you have one credit card with a 15 percent interest rate and another with an 18 percent interest rate, you would pay off the debt accumulated on the 18 percent credit card first,” says Freya Kuka, founder of the personal finance blog Collecting Cents.
It saves you money in the long run to eliminate the most wasteful recurring payments first. “This method works well for disciplined people who want to be debt-free with the most effective strategy,” says Kuka.
Make sure you’re still making minimum payments on your lower-interest credit cards as well, to avoid late fees and damage to your credit. Missed payments and unpaid debts will remain on your credit report for seven years.
Then, when you’re finished paying off the card with the highest interest rate, move to the second-highest APR and repeat until you’re fully rid of credit card debt.
Paying off credit card debt can be mentally exhausting. You may feel like you’re spending a big chunk of your income trying to eliminate it, yet all your accounts are still showing a balance.
If you’re worried this might make you lose motivation, consider using the snowball method. It works by the same principle as the avalanche method, but instead of focusing on high-interest credit card debt, you concentrate on paying off the cards with the lowest balances first.
For example, if you have one credit card with a balance of $2,000 and an 18 percent APR and another card with a $750 balance and a 14 percent APR, you would pay the second credit card down first because it has a lower balance, even though it also has the lower interest rate.
“My husband and I used the snowball method to get completely out of debt, including our mortgage. In all, we have paid off over $260,000 in debt,” says Stacie Heaps, personal and family finance writer at Families for Financial Freedom. “I am a big fan of the snowball method because it gives you quick wins at the beginning that help you get motivated and stay motivated to get out of debt.”
Keep in mind that using this method is likely to save you less on interest compared to the avalanche strategy. But if you know seeing immediate progress is necessary for you to continue, the snowball method might be an excellent option.
Try debt consolidation
The idea behind debt consolidation is combining high-interest balances and converting them into low-interest debt, such as personal loans or other credit cards. There are a couple of ways to do it:
Get a balance transfer credit card
Balance transfer cards allow you to transfer a high-interest credit card balance to a new card with a temporary 0 percent APR. The no-interest period typically lasts between 12 and 18 months. Using a credit card payoff calculator can help you find balance transfer cards to fit your needs.
If you pay off the balance during that period, a balance transfer card can be an amazing deal. You won’t just lower the interest — you’ll eliminate interest charges for the length of the introductory period.
If you don’t finish paying off the debt by the end of that period, however, the card’s regular APR will kick in, and it may be even higher than your current interest rate.
To make sure you don’t get caught with high interest rates, consider transferring only the amount you know you’ll be able to pay off in time. You could then set up a payment plan for yourself with higher monthly payments. For example, if you owe $1,200 and your 0 percent introductory period is 12 months, you would pay $100 per month so that it’s paid off in time.
Note that balance transfer cards are typically available to consumers with excellent and good credit. If you know your credit needs some work, you might want to choose a different method to reduce your debt.
Consider a debt consolidation loan
Another option for those with good credit is to take out a personal loan. When you do this, you need to take out a loan with an interest rate that’s lower than your current debt. Once you apply it to your credit card balances, you’re left with a single fixed monthly payment.
This makes a personal loan not only a smart way to pay less in interest but a convenient one, too. It’s easier to keep track of one loan than a few credit cards. Plus, having to make one payment a month instead of many can help alleviate some financial stress.
While a longer-term personal loan can reduce how much you pay a month, aim to pay it off as soon as you can. Longer repayment terms may lead to paying more in interest over time, even if your new interest rate is lower.
Build an emergency fund
According to a Bankrate survey from January 2022, 56 percent of the 1,004 U.S. adults surveyed can’t pay their expenses from their savings account during an emergency.
It’s important to have an emergency fund because it can help you create the security to avoid debt during a financial emergency, plus:
- You don’t have to use your credit card.
- You won’t go into debt for a loan.
You shouldn’t use an emergency fund for your daily spendings or monthly expenses — keep in mind that it’s for emergencies only. A good rule of thumb is to have around three to six months of basic expenses in your savings account.
Today’s inflation might be making it tough to start a savings account. You can start by lowering your expenses in the following ways:
- Reduce the number of your streaming services accounts.
- Instead of constantly buying coffee outside, try having it at home.
- Avoid spending on restaurants and fast food.
- Create a budget and stick to it.
While you build your emergency savings, don’t stop paying the monthly balances of your credit cards. Try to deposit a specific amount in your savings account, either on a weekly, biweekly or monthly basis.
As you tackle your debt using one of these methods, you might also try negotiating with your credit card company to either settle your debt, reduce your interest rate or agree on a more feasible repayment plan.
Credit card debt can be quick to accumulate and tough to get out of. Don’t let it bring you down: Pick a strategy you think you can stick with and keep working at reducing your balances. With enough discipline and patience, you’ll finally start seeing zeros on your credit card statements.