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What Are the Effects of Carrying a Balance on Credit Cards?

By Ashley Kilroy · July 14, 2023 · 6 minute read

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What Are the Effects of Carrying a Balance on Credit Cards?

There’s no doubt that most Americans love their plastic.

When used responsibly, credit cards can be one way to build credit.

However, many people run into issues when it comes to paying off their credit card balance each month. Some 46% of credit card holders carry some sort of debt from month to month, according to a 2023 Bankrate survey. And as of December 2022, the typical American owed around $7,279 in credit card debt.

Although carrying the balance isn’t necessarily an issue, not paying it off every month may cause interest to accrue. That in turn could make a balance more challenging to pay off.

But by understanding the effects of carrying a balance, you can start to figure out a strategy to paying off your credit card debt.

The Effects of Carrying a Credit Card Balance

Carrying a balance on a credit card comes with some potential financial consequences. Let’s take a look at them.

Impact on Credit Score

Can your credit score take a hit when you fail to pay off a credit card balance? Possibly. Nearly one-third (30%) of your FICO score is based on how much you owe to creditors, which is often referred to as a credit utilization ratio. This ratio is the amount of revolving credit you’re currently using divided by the total amount of revolving credit available to you.

You may notice that when you carry a balance on a credit card, your credit score could dip by a few points. Often, the drop is temporary and your score may start to go up again once you pay off the balance.

Accrued Interest

If you’re carrying a credit card balance, you may also want to be mindful of accrued interest. This is the amount of interest that builds up in between payments. Most credit cards charge compounding interest, and the majority of credit cards compound interest daily. Therefore, if anything is owed after the payment due date, the balance can easily start climbing.

The amount that accrues will depend on the balance and the interest rate. You can use a credit card interest calculator to get an estimate of how much interest has added to your balance.

If the balance is paid off in full, interest won’t accrue (not until the next charge is made, at least).

Strategies to Help Reduce Credit Card Debt

Depending on how much you owe, paying off credit card debt can seem like an uphill battle. But fortunately, with planning, commitment, and tools, it can be achieved. Here are a few strategies you may want to consider.

Budget to Repay Credit Card Debt

When you’re looking to pay down credit card debt, rethinking or creating a budget can be a natural starting point. You can record this information in a spreadsheet or a spending tracker app, whichever is easier for you.

You may also want to incorporate a debt repayment strategy into your budget to accelerate the process. If you’re someone who is motivated by seeing fast results, you may want to consider the snowball method of repayment. This strategy prioritizes paying off credit cards with the smallest balances first. Once you pay down the smallest balance, you move on to the second smallest balance.

The avalanche approach, on the other hand, calls for prioritizing paying down credit card balances with the highest interest rates. Once you pay off the balance with the highest interest rate, you move on to the next highest interest rate, continuing until all debt is repaid (while making at least minimum payments on all other balances, of course).

Both debt repayment strategies have advantages and disadvantages. It’s a good idea to consider which method you’ll be most able to stick with, or use them as inspiration to create a plan that will work for you.

Open a Balance Transfer Credit Card

Another option to consider is to open a balance transfer credit card. The idea is to open a new credit card with an introductory interest rate that is significantly lower than your current credit card interest rate. This can allow you to pay off your credit card balance at a lower rate as long as you pay it off in the introductory time frame.

You can potentially pay off your balance within a shorter time while saving money on interest. It’s important to note that the low-interest rate on balance transfer credit cards is usually only offered for an introductory period, usually between six and 18 months. Once that period expires, the rates typically increase.

If you plan to repay the balance before the introductory period ends, a balance transfer credit card might be worth pursuing. Make sure to account for a balance transfer fee, which is usually 3% to 5%.

As with any other credit card application, your credit history will determine if you qualify and what rate you’ll receive. If your credit isn’t ideal, this might not be an option.

Make Extra Payments

If you don’t want to open a new credit card, you can make extra payments to reduce interest costs. Again, credit card interest is typically calculated on the account’s daily average balance. Therefore, by making one or more extra payments throughout the month, you can lower the total interest accrued by the time your bill is due.

Even if you can only put a few extra dollars toward each payment, it can help minimize the interest cost.

Use a Personal Loan

If you have high-interest credit card debt, a debt consolidation loan could be an option worth considering. Consolidating your debt into a single loan may help streamline finances and include other benefits, but it isn’t a magic cure-all. A loan will not erase your debt. However, it might help you get to a fixed monthly payment and reduced interest rates.

It’s important to compare rates and understand how a new loan could pay off in the long run. If your monthly payment is lower because the loan term is longer, for example, it might not be a good strategy, because it means you may be making more interest payments and therefore paying more over the life of the loan.

The Takeaway

Having a balance on a credit card doesn’t pose an issue, but not paying it off every month can have an impact on your finances. Interest can accrue, which in turn could make a balance more challenging to pay off. And depending on your credit utilization ratio, your credit score could temporarily hit if you carry debt from one month to the next.

If you’re looking to reduce a credit card balance, there are strategies that can help. Examples include creating a budget, making extra payments, or opening a balance transfer credit card. If you have high-interest credit card debt, a debt consolidation loan could help streamline finances into a fixed monthly payment.

If you are thinking about taking out a loan to consolidate your debt, a SoFi personal loan may be a good option for your unique financial situation. SoFi personal loans offer competitive, fixed rates and a variety of terms. Checking your rate won’t affect your credit score, and it takes just one minute.

See if a personal loan from SoFi is right for you.


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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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