If you’re like many Americans, you may carry thousands of dollars of credit card debt. While getting out from under that debt may seem daunting, there are ways to make it manageable. Here’s a look at different strategies for paying off a large chunk of debt.
Why Paying off Credit Card Debt is Important
In an ideal world, you would pay off your credit card every month in full. If you’re able to do that, using a credit card (responsibly) can be a good thing. It’s actually a pretty useful way to pay build credit and gain credit card rewards.
However, according to the Federal Reserve, 48% of Americans carry a credit card balance from month to month. For many, that balance is pretty high, coming in at $6,354 for the average American, as of 2017. When you start to carry monthly credit card debt, things can get a bit dicey, because you’ll start to pay interest.
When you signed up for your credit card, you probably noticed that it came with an annual percentage rate (APR). The APR includes not only the approximate percentage of interest that you’ll likely pay on your credit card balance, but also fees associated with your credit card, such as origination fees or balance transfer fees.
Even if you make minimum payments, interest will still accrue on the balance you owe. The more money you owe, the quicker your interest payments can add up and the harder your debt can be to pay off.
So strategies that help you pay down debt as fast as you can also might help you control your interest rates—and that can help keep your debt from getting ahead of you.
To illustrate some of the debt-demolishing tips in this article, we’re using a nice round number ($10,000). But that’s just a number we chose at random as an example. Everyone’s debt totals will be different, and the right ways to pay down debt will be different for everyone as well. Here, we’re just providing an overview of a few different possible ways to help conquer your credit card debt.
Avoiding Adding to Your Debt
If tackling $10,000 in credit card debt, or really any amount of credit card debt, the very first step might be to stop using credit cards altogether. This can be tough, especially if you’re used to using them all the time. But if you keep spending on your card, you’ll be adding to your debt, and it may feel a bit like you’re walking in sand, taking one step forward and then backsliding. While you get your debt under control, you could consider switching over to only using cash or your debit card.
Building a Budget
A proper budget may help you find extra cash to help you pay down your credit cards. You can start by making a list of all your necessary expenses, including housing, utilities, transportation, insurance, and groceries.
It might be a good idea to include minimum credit card payments in this category as well, since making minimum payments can at least keep you from having to pay additional penalties and fees on top of your credit card balance and interest payments.
You can tally up the cost of your necessary expenses and subtract the total from your income. What’s left is the money available for discretionary spending, or in other words, the money you’d use for savings, eating out, entertainment, etc. Look for discretionary expenses you can cut—you might forgo a vacation or start cooking in more—so you can direct extra money to paying down your credit card.
Consider using any extra windfalls—such as a bonus at work, a tax return, or a cash birthday gift—to help you pay down your debt as well.
Though it may seem frustrating to cut out activities you enjoy doing, it can be helpful to remember that these cuts are likely temporary. As soon as you pay off your cards, you can add reasonable discretionary expenditures back into your budget.
The Debt Avalanche Method
Once you’ve identified the money you’ll use to pay off your cards, there are a couple of strategies that may be worth considering to help organize your payments. If you have multiple credit cards that each carry a balance, you could consider the debt avalanche method. The first step when using this strategy is to order your credit card debts from the highest interest rate to the lowest.
From there, you’d make minimum payments on all of your cards to avoid additional penalties and fees. Then, you could direct extra payments to the card with the highest interest rates first. When that card is paid off, you’d focus on the next highest card and so on until you’d paid off all of you debt. The idea here is that higher interest rates end up costing you more money over the long run, so clearing the highest rates saves you cash and accelerates your ability to pay off your other debts.
The Snowball Method
Another strategy potentially worth considering if you have multiple credit cards is the snowball method. With this method, you’d order your debts from smallest to largest balance. You would then would make minimum payments on all of your cards here as well, but direct any extra payments to paying off the smallest balance first.
Once that’s done, you’d move on to the card with the next lowest balance, continuing this process until you have all of your cards paid off. By paying off your smallest debt you get an immediate win. Ideally, this small win would help you build momentum and stay motivated to keep going.
The drawback of this method is you continue making interest payments on your highest rate loans. So you may actually end up spending more money on interest using this method than you would using the avalanche method.
Only you know what type of motivation works best for you. If the sense of accomplishment you feel from paying off your small balances will motivate you to actually pay your debt off, then this method may be the right choice for you.
Consolidating Your Debt
Interest rates on credit cards can be hefty to say the least. Personal loans can help you rein in your credit card debt by consolidating it with a potentially lower interest rate. With a personal loan, you can consolidate all of your credit cards into one loan, instead of managing multiple credit card payments.
Once you’ve used your personal loan to consolidate your credit card debt, you’ll still be responsible for paying off the loan. However, you’ll no longer have to juggle multiple debts. And hopefully, with a lower interest rate and shorter term, you’ll actually be able to pay your debt off faster.
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