How to Escape High-Interest Credit Card Debt

January 28, 2020 · 8 minute read

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How to Escape High-Interest Credit Card Debt

You had a long day—there was a crisis at work, you have a major school assignment, or one of your kids has a cold. Exhausted, you’re finally plumping up your pillow, ready to catch some Zs. But sleep won’t come. Why? Because you’re stressing out about your credit card debt.

You aren’t alone. Americans are carrying more credit card debt than they ever have before, and as of January 2020, the average credit card APR, or annual percentage rate, on new offers is 17.30% (and has been hovering around 17% and 18% for the last six months).

When it comes to debt, credit card debt is sometimes classified as “bad debt,” while student loans or a mortgage may be categorized as “good debt.” This is because student loans or a mortgage loan imply that your debt is an investment in something—whether in a house that could appreciate in value or an education that can boost your income. In contrast, credit card debt is rarely an investment. And because of the way credit card interest is charged, it can end up costing you a lot.

Not only can credit card debt mount quickly, but a large credit card balance may adversely impact your credit score. And a credit score plays a big role in our lives in terms of qualifying for mortgages, car loans, and apartment leases, among other things.

If you feel underwater when it comes to carrying a credit card balance, it’s good to know that there are tools you can use to help get out of high interest credit card debt.

Unfortunately, there is no magical quick fix to help you escape credit card debt, but there are actionable steps you can take to reduce and eventually eliminate your credit card debt. It can take some time and effort, but being free of the emotional and financial burden credit card debt can create is often worth it.

The Problem with Carrying Credit Card Debt

Having credit cards is not an inherently bad thing. They help you establish a credit history, which in turn can help you towards owning a car, a home, or your own business. But on the other hand, it’s not hard to amass a large amount of credit card debt.

This is because for every billing cycle where you’re not able to pay the statement balance in full, you’re charged interest. This might show up on your credit card statement as a “purchase interest charge.”

The interest you’re charged on a credit card compounds. Compound interest means interest is calculated not only on the principal amount owed, but also the accumulated interest from previous pay periods.

Essentially, it means your interest is earning interest. Compound interest can pile up quickly, to the point where it might feel like you’re paying financial catch up month after month.

By the time you pay off your credit card debt, you could not only be paying off your purchases, but you could also be paying every interest charge you’ve incurred on that balance.

Getting Out of High Interest Credit Card Debt

Because interest charges grow your credit card debt, it can be hard to get rid of it once and for all. And as already noted, credit card interest rates run pretty high—averaging between 17% and 18% currently. That is because credit cards are considered to be “unsecured” debt vs a mortgage loan which is recorded as a lien on the home. To put that in perspective, as of January 2020, mortgage interest rates are around 3.84%.

So the interest you’re paying on a credit card is approximately four times as much as the interest you would pay on a mortgage. Reducing your credit card debt comes down to the financial strategies you use. Here are three ways you can potentially manage your credit card debt, and in time, completely pay it off.

There’s no single right way to pay off debt, and certain methods might suit you better than others. While paying off high interest debt is a numbers game, it’s also an emotional one.

The best method may be the one you‘ll likely stick to—the debt repayment method that motivates you. If you want to repay your debt, it may not matter which method you select, as long as it helps you stay on track to repay.

To get an idea of the total amount of interest you are likely to pay on your debt, you can consult our Credit Card Interest Calculator.

1. Using the Snowball Method

The snowball method is a popular debt payoff option—people use the snowball method to pay off their student loans, too. For credit card debt, the snowball method works if you have debt across multiple credit cards. First, you’d make a list of all of your credit card debts and put them in order of the smallest to largest balance.

Then, you would focus on paying off the smallest balance first (while making the minimum payments on your other credit cards). Once you’ve paid your smallest balance, you could focus on the next smallest balance, and so on.

By paying the smallest balance first, you will potentially gain momentum that may motivate you to pay off your other debts. Thus, your effort “snowballs.”

Say, for example, you have the following loans:

•   $1,200 medical bill with no interest and a $150 monthly payment

•   $11,000 student loan with 5.5% interest and a $235 monthly payment

•   $15,000 credit card balance with 16% interest and a $400 monthly payment

Using the snowball method, you’d work to tackle the medical bill first, while still paying the monthly minimums on the rest of the debt. Once you pay off the medical bill, you could start contributing its monthly payment, plus additional spare funds, towards the student loan, and so forth. The small debt repayment snowballs into the larger debts.

Some argue that the snowball method isn’t the most efficient way to pay off debt, but in some cases it may be the most effective. The snowball method could dictate paying off a small no-interest loan in its entirety even if a high-interest credit card carried a higher balance.

But, for some people, paying off those small debts is a motivating experience, and can help them stay on track. If those small wins make a difference for your mentality, the snowball method could be for you.

2. Tackling the Highest Interest Debt First

If the snowball method doesn’t appeal to you, you can try tackling your highest interest debt first, sometimes called the debt avalanche. This is similar to the snowball method, except you start with your highest interest debt instead.

A good first step might be making a list of all of your credit card debts and their interest rates. Then, you could pay off the credit cards with the highest APR first, while making the minimum payments on your other debts.

When the highest-interest card is paid off, you could tackle the credit card with the second highest APR, and so on—until your credit card debt is completely paid off. If you choose this payoff method, the goal is to reduce how much you spend on interest overall.

So using our earlier example, you have the following loans:

•   $1,200 medical bill with no interest and a $150 monthly payment

•   $11,000 student loan with 5.5% interest and a $235 monthly payment

•   $15,000 credit card balance with 16% interest and a $400 monthly payment

In this case, you’d throw your support towards paying off the credit card balance first. Once it’s paid off, you’d allocate that $400 a month towards the student loan, making the repayment much faster with additional payments each month. Finally, you’d tackle the medical bill.

This method focuses on building momentum, leading to an “avalanche” of repayments once you really get moving. For some, this method can be discouraging, because, unlike the snowball method, you are budgeting for the long game. However, once the wins come, they may avalanche much faster.

3. Consolidating Your Credit Card Debt into a Personal Loan

If you are paying off several credit cards every month, it may be overwhelming. But if you consolidate all your debt into a personal loan, you’re likely only making one payment each month.

Here’s how it works: You’d take out a personal loan, consolidate all your credit card debt with it, and then you pay back the single personal loan.

The best part? Personal loans typically come with a lower interest rate than your credit cards, and you may be able to set more manageable terms with your lender. And since you’ll only have one payment every month, and you can usually choose a fixed interest rate, it may be easier to keep track of.

Using the above example debt profile, you could end up putting your medical bill and credit card debt into one monthly payment, making a simple single transaction for those two debts each month. (You can’t typically use a personal loan to pay for education debt, but you can refinance your student loans or consolidate them, hopefully, for better rates and terms.)

In paying your credit card debts off with a personal loan, you can consolidate into one simple payment, and possibly save money by potentially paying a lower APR.

SoFi offers personal loans with no fees required. You can apply online in just minutes and manage your payments online as well. Additionally, you’ll have access to customer support, 24/7. With a SoFi personal loan, depending upon the terms, you could potentially get out of debt faster and with less stress—setting you up for a better financial future.

Consolidating credit cards with a personal loan can help improve your financial position. Check out SoFi personal loans.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

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.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

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If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.


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