Credit card debt is now the most widely held form of debt, according to the most recent Survey of Consumer Finances from the Federal Reserve . This means owing money on credit cards is incredibly common. And credit card debt can, unfortunately, add up quickly, especially when finance charges are thrown into the mix.
Now, simply using a credit card or having a balance on your credit card isn’t necessarily a problem—as long as you consistently pay your statement balance in full at the end of each billing period. In fact, if you just use your credit card for convenience or to earn rewards, and then pay the balance every month, then you’re probably all set.
Congratulations! The rest of us, though—the 65% of credit card users under the age of 50 who carry credit card debt from month to month—have a revolving door of debt. And that’s where the problem occurs.
Even if you’re making minimum payments, credit card debt can stay with you for years, as interest accumulates on the existing balance. The fastest way to pay off credit cards might be to make a payment plan or to consolidate the debt with a personal loan.
How Credit Card Debt Works Against You
The average annual percentage rate (APR) on a credit card, across all commercial accounts in the country, was 13.16% at the end of 2017 . But on accounts that have started to accrue interest, the average APR was higher, at 14.99%.
The problem is that even if you make the minimum payment on your credit card bill, the remainder of the balance still accrues interest, and that starts to add up. Not to mention if you miss a minimum payment, you’ll see added fees and penalties.
And more than two missed payments will likely cause your interest rate to go up. Once your interest rate goes up, it will likely stay there until you make at least six on-time payments. (This is all in the fine print of the credit card terms, which most of us immediately throw out.)
Think of it like this: Most credit cards charge compounding interest either monthly or daily, meaning you actually pay interest on the interest charges as it adds up. For example, if your credit card APR is 10%, then your daily periodic rate is 10% divided by 365 days — in this case, 0.027%. If your interest compounds daily, then credit card companies use that daily periodic rate to calculate the interest you owe every day you have a balance.
For example, if you carried a $5,000 balance at a 10% APR for 30 days past the due date, then you’d be charged 0.027% (the daily periodic rate) x 30 days x $5,000 (the amount you owed each of those days), which comes out to $40.50 in interest for the month. Add that to your balance, and if you don’t pay it off, then you’ll owe more interest on that new amount.
The fastest way to pay off credit card debt is to pay the full balance—including all the interest that has compounded. Of course, that’s not always possible. If you have a credit card balance that is growing with interest charges every month, then you need to start thinking about a pay-off plan to get out of debt.
Make a Plan to Get out of Credit Card Debt
To figure out how long it’ll take to pay off your credit card, you have two options. First, you can figure out how much you can afford to pay each month, and then calculate how long it’ll take to pay off your debt. Or you can decide when you want your credit card paid off by, and then calculate how much you need to pay each month in order to meet that goal.
Because you need to factor in the compounding interest rate while you pay off your debt, it can get complicated trying to figure out how long it’ll take to get out of credit card debt. You can do the math yourself, but it’s often easiest to use a credit card payoff calculator to figure out a payment plan that makes sense. You can also consult our Credit Card Interest Calculator to see how much interest you will pay on your debt.
Think of it like this: Say you have that same $5,000 balance from above at 10% APR, which works out to a daily interest rate of 0.027%. Based on that daily interest rate, in the first month you owe $40.50 in interest, making your new balance $5,040.50.
If you didn’t make any payments, it would just keep accruing interest. But let’s say you decide to make monthly payments of $200 to slowly pay down the balance. That first month, $40.50 of your $200 goes toward interest and $159.50 goes toward your $5,000 balance. Now, the second month you only owe $4,840.50.
For the second month, you calculate your interest at the same daily interest rate (0.027%) for 30 days and you owe $39.21 in interest, so more of your monthly payment will now go toward the principal. You can see how your $200 monthly payments ultimately dwindle down the balance—as long as you don’t charge any more to your credit card.
But if you’re making $200 payments every month, it would still take 29 months to pay off your $5,000 debt. And you’d ultimately end up paying $630 in interest on top of your initial balance. But if you take that same amount of debt and APR, and make a budget to pay it off within a year, then it’d take a monthly payment of $439, and you’d only pay $274 in interest—saving yourself money in the long run.
Once you figure out what monthly payment you can afford, incorporate debt payoff into your budget. If you have debt on multiple credit cards, then you may want to start by paying off the one with the highest interest rate (while still making minimum payments on all your debt to avoid penalties).
Once you’ve paid off your debt on the highest interest card, you can work on paying off the card with the next highest interest rate, and so on. If managing a payment schedule with multiple credit cards seems overwhelming, it might be simpler to consolidate your credit card debt with a personal loan.
What is the Fastest Way to Pay off Credit Card Debt?
The fastest way to pay off credit cards might be with a personal loan. If you have mounting credit card debt, then a personal loan can actually make your debt cost less.
A personal loan gives you the chance to consolidate and pay off your credit card debt. You essentially use the personal loan to pay off your credit cards. Then all you have to worry about is paying off the personal loan in monthly installments.
But personal loans don’t accumulate compound interest in the same way as credit cards. That means as long as you make the monthly payments, your debt won’t increase—no complicated math necessary. Additionally, if you have good credit, your personal loan interest rate can be more reasonable than the rate on your credit card. (Use our personal loan calculator to see how much you’d save paying off your debt with a personal loan.)
And you can decide on manageable loan terms with your lender, so that you’re making monthly payments you can afford. SoFi offers three, four, five, six and seven-year personal loan terms. Typically, the longer your loan term, the lower your monthly payment (though you may pay more in interest).
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.