Americans are carrying record levels of credit card debt. And, with the average credit card annual percentage rate (APR) for purchases now averaging 24.59%, the interest on debt can be as crushing as the balance alone.
Getting out from under high-interest debt can seem like a daunting prospect. The good news is that there are ways to make the process more manageable and a lot less overwhelming. While it can take some time, using a mix of smart paydown strategies can help you reduce your debt, lower your interest rates, and put you on the road to debt-free living. Here’s a look at some of the best ways to reduce your credit card debt.
Start by Creating A Budget
If eliminating credit card debt is the destination, creating a budget is like the road map that gets you there. While it may sound like a complicated process, it doesn’t have to be. These simple steps will get you started.
1. Gathering financials. It might be a little painful to comb through bills and account statements, but the more information you have from the start, the easier it will be to set up a realistic budget. Try to collect the last three months of these statements in digital or paper form:
◦ Utilities (water, gas, heat, internet, cable, HOA, etc)
◦ Pay stubs
◦ Credit card and auto loan statements
◦ Student loans or other miscellaneous recurring loans and bills
◦ Subscription services (Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, etc)
Taking the time to gather these documents can give you a clearer picture of what you’re spending each month. It can also help you suss out easy places to cut back, such as a gym membership you no longer use or a streaming service you rarely watch.
2. Determining expenses vs. income. Once your finances are all laid out, you can tally up your average monthly income (after taxes) as well as your average monthly spending. Hopefully, the amount you spend each month is less than the amount you bring in each month. You’ll also want to make a list of your usual expenses and divide them into essential and nonessential monthly expenses.
3. Implementing budgeting guidelines. A budget is simply a plan for how you will spend your money. Once you see how you are currently spending your money, you may realize that your spending doesn’t necessarily line up with your priorities. There are many ways to look at budgeting, but one easy framework is the classic 50/30/20 budget. It doesn’t require complicated spreadsheets or tricky apps to get started. The 50/30/20 method simply stipulates:
• Half a person’s take-home pay should go towards “essential spending.” This includes housing costs, health insurance, groceries, utilities, minimum payments on debt, and anything else you need to pay each month.
• One-third of a person’s post-tax pay should be tagged for “discretionary spending.” This is spending you could cut back on if needed, such as meals out, entertaining, clothing, or a gym membership.
• Finally, 20% of post-tax income should be set aside for saving and debt payoff. The rest of a person’s paycheck is ideally reserved for retirement, emergency savings, and making debt payments beyond the minimum.
The 50/30/20 budgeting method can work well for beginners because of its simplicity and flexibility. Trying to adhere to the percentages can sometimes show budgeters their blind spots, or perhaps highlight areas where they might need to improve. But, it can also be flexible. Depending on the cost of living in your area and your priorities, you may want to play with the percentages.
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Paying More Than The Minimum
When you have multiple credit card accounts racking up charges and interest, it can sometimes feel overwhelming. You might be unsure which, if any, to prioritize for payoff, and end up just paying the minimum due on every card each month.
But, if you just make the minimum payment due you might be surprised to learn how much more you end up paying in interest as the account balance accrues. Paying more than the minimum amount owed each month could lead to saving in the long run since there’s a smaller balance to charge interest on. SoFi’s credit card interest calculator can give you a general idea of how much you could possibly save on interest by calculating different repayment options.
Debt Payoff Strategies
Paying off more than the minimum each month is great, but coming up with a payoff strategy could offer a better outcome in the long run. Employing a method that works for your lifestyle could result in things like building momentum, alleviating stress, possibly making it simpler overall to conquer debt.
There are a number of simple debt-paydown strategies but here are two popular ones to consider.
• Snowball Like a snowball rolling down a hill, this method starts with the smallest debt balances first, then builds towards the larger balances. You start by listing your debt balances from smallest to largest, without considering interest rate. You then put extra cash toward the smallest bill, while paying the minimum on all of the others. Once that bill is eliminated, you put extra cash toward the next-smallest bill. You keep the pattern going until all debt is gone.
The snowball method sometimes gets a bad rap because focusing on small debt balances first could mean paying more interest in the long run. But this method can actually have a positive psychological effect. Wiping away smaller debts can give you a sense of accomplishment that helps you power through the rest of the debt repayment process.
• Avalanche If small wins off the bat don’t matter much, then you might turn to the avalanche method. This strategy starts with paying down the biggest interest rate debt first, paying minimums on all other debts. You contribute all free cash to the bill with the highest interest rate until it’s paid down or off. Continue, paying down debt with the next highest interest rate. Keep going until all debt is gone.
This method allows you to save on interest payments over the life of each credit card balance. The downside is that it takes longer to see any “wins.” But, once things start moving, it should have an avalanche effect, with each loan toppling.
Consolidating Multiple Debts
Having multiple bills, due dates, and accounts can lead to confusion over amounts due, resulting in missed payments and late fees. For some, a credit card consolidation loan might help to cut through the confusion by rolling all their revolving debt into one unsecured personal loan.
How can a personal loan possibly help? If you have outstanding amounts owed on multiple cards, you may be able to consolidate all the debt into one personal loan with a single fixed rate payment.
What’s more, unsecured personal loans often come with a fixed interest rate that’s lower than the average credit card rate, which means less interest charges could accrue each month.
Depending on how quickly you pay off a personal loan, you could save money on interest over the life of the loan with a lower fixed APR. Streamlining debt can also lead to more peace of mind, as can having a set term with a final payment date, instead of a revolving debt like a credit card. Rather than having multiple open-ended debts of differing amounts with varied APRs, you end up with one payment a month, with one rate and a payoff date.
Unsecured personal loans aren’t for everyone. While their APRs are generally lower than credit cards, not everyone will qualify for the lowest possible rates. And taking out a personal loan is still taking out additional debt, so it’s important to weigh the ramifications of adding a loan to one’s credit history.
If you’re struggling with high-interest debt, know you’re not alone. Also know that there are a number of ways you can tackle the problem. A good first step is to look at your current income and expenses, set up a budget, and select a payoff strategy (such as the snowball or avalanche method).
You might also consider consolidating your debt to simplify repayment and, ideally, lower your interest rate. If you’re curious about this option, SoFi can help. With a low fixed interest rate on loan amounts from $5K to $100K, a SoFi personal loan for debt consolidation could substantially lower how much you pay each month. Checking your rate won’t affect your credit score, and it takes just one minute.
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