In a perfect world, you’d be able to zap away debt in a flash. But the reality is, sprinting through payments on high-interest debt isn’t exactly easy to do. That’s because you’ll still need to juggle staying on top of bills and covering daily expenses, among other financial obligations.
If you’re wondering whether it’s better to pay off your credit card or keep a balance, the answer largely depends on your particular set of circumstances. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of paying off credit cards in full vs. over time to help you determine if you should pay off your credit card in full or space payments out a bit.
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Does Paying Down Credit Cards Slowly Affect Your Credit Score?
Paying off credit cards slowly can impact your credit score because it can affect your credit utilization, which makes up 30% of your consumer credit score. When you’re slow to pay off your credit card balance, your credit utilization — or how much of your total credit you’re using — can be higher. A higher credit utilization rate can adversely affect your credit score.
What Is Credit Utilization?
Credit utilization measures how much credit you have against how much credit you’ve used. This ratio is expressed as a percentage. You can find your credit utilization ratio by dividing your total credit card balances by your total credit limits across all of your cards.
How Credit Utilization Works
As we discussed, credit utilization is expressed as a percentage, and you can find it by dividing your credit card balances by your credit limits. As an example, let’s say you have three credit cards, and your total credit limit across those cards is $30,000. The total of your credit card balances on all three cards is $9,000.
In that case, your credit utilization is 30%, as demonstrated by the math below:
Credit limit on Card 1: $8,000
Credit limit on Card 2: $12,000
Credit limit on Card 3: $10,000
Total credit limit: $8,000 + $12,000 + $8,000 = $30,000
Total balances across Cards 1, 2, and 3: $9,000
$9,000 / $30,000 = 0.30, or 30%
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How Credit Utilization Can Affect Your Score
The lower your credit utilization, the better it is for your credit score. It’s generally recommended to keep your credit utilization ratio under 30% to avoid negative effects on your score. Keeping your score below this threshold indicates to lenders and creditors that you aren’t stretched financially, are a responsible user of credit, and have available credit that you can tap in to.
If you’re wondering, do credit card companies like it when you pay in full? The answer is that it certainly helps with your credit score, as a low credit utilization ratio can positively impact your credit score, and credit card companies generally look more favorably upon higher credit scores.
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Differences Between Paying a Credit Card in Full vs Over Time
Trying to determine whether you should pay off your credit card in full? Here are some of the key differences between paying off credit cards in full compared to making payments over time:
|Paying a Credit Card in Full||Paying a Credit Card Over Time|
|Might need to spend less or earn more to speed up payments||Can make payments based on current income and budget|
|Can save money on interest charges||Costs more in interest payments|
|Frees up money sooner for other financial goals||Continue juggling debt payoff with other financial goals for longer|
|Can lower credit utilization, potentially improving your credit score||Won’t make as much of an impact in lowering credit utilization|
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Reasons to Always Pay Off Your Credit Card in Full
When it comes to paying off your credit card in full, there are a handful of reasons why it could be a good idea:
• Helps with your credit score: As we talked about, paying off your card balance means keeping a lower credit utilization, which can help keep you maintain a solid score.
• Frees up money for other goals: By paying off your credit card bill sooner than later, you’ll free up that money you were putting toward debt payments. In turn, you’ll have “extra” cash to put toward savings, retirement, and your short-term and long-term goals.
• Allows you to save on interest: The longer you stretch out your payments, the more you’ll end up paying in interest. By paying off your credit card in full each statement cycle, you won’t owe interest, given how credit card payments work.
Reasons to Pay Down Your Credit Card Over Time
While it may be ideal to pay off your credit card all at once, credit card debt is hard to pay off — especially when you’re spinning a lot of plates money-wise. Let’s take a look at why you might opt to pay down your credit card over time instead:
• Allows for a more manageable debt payment schedule: Paying down your credit card over time won’t put pressure on you to cut back on your living expenses, or find ways you earn more so you can pay off your credit card balance more quickly. Depending on your situation, gradually making payments might feel like the more reasonable route.
• Frees up money now: By not focusing on aggressively paying off your credit cards, you can potentially work on other money goals, such as saving for retirement or creating an emergency fund. Still, you’ll want to at the very least make your credit card minimum payment to avoid the consequences of credit card late payment.
Strategies for Paying Off Credit Card Debt
If the idea of paying off your credit card debt feels overwhelming, here are a few popular strategies to consider for crushing your debt.
Debt Avalanche Method
With the debt avalanche method, you focus on paying off the card with the highest interest rate first. Meanwhile, you’ll continue making the minimum payments on all of your other accounts.
Once your account with the highest interest rate is paid off, you’ll move on to focusing on the account with the next highest rate, continuing to make minimum payments on the others. You’ll continue this cycle until all of your debt is paid off.
The major benefit of this method is that you’ll save on interest payments.
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In this strategy, you make the minimum payments on all your cards by the credit card payment due date. Then, you put any remaining funds toward paying off the card with the lowest balance. Once that’s paid off, you move on to the card with the next lowest balance.
The main advantage of the snowball method is that it keeps you motivated to continue to pay off your debt. That’s because it feels good to get a card paid off, which is easier to do with a card that has a lower balance.
With debt consolidation, you take out a new loan that you then use to pay off all of your outstanding debts. This effectively rolls all of your credit card payments into a single fixed payment each month.
In turn, debt consolidation can simplify your payments, and potentially lower your payments. However, depending on the new payment schedule and terms, you might end up paying more in interest over the course of the loan. Also keep in mind that you’ll generally need a decent credit score to qualify for debt consolidation.
When Carrying a Balance Hurts Your Credit Score
Carrying a balance on your credit card hurts your score if it pushes your credit utilization too high. You’ll want to keep your credit utilization under 30% to avoid adverse effects.
Keeping a low balance, which decreases your credit utilization, can help your credit score. Besides paying off your cards, other ways to lower your credit utilization are to open a new credit card or request a credit limit increase. Both of these actions will increase your overall credit limit, thus potentially improving your credit utilization rate.
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While paying a credit card in full can help with your credit utilization, which also can improve your score, it’s not always realistic. You’ll want to weigh the pros and cons of both paying off credit cards in full and making payments over time to see which one is right for your current situation.
While making credit card payments is one way to lower your credit utilization, another option is opening a new credit card.
If you’re looking for a new credit card, you might apply for a credit card with SoFi.
The SoFi Credit Card offers unlimited 2% cash back on all eligible purchases. There are no spending categories or reward caps to worry about.1
Is it better to pay off your credit card or carry a balance?
While paying off your credit card in full can help with your credit utilization ratio and save you on interest, spreading out your payments over time might make debt payoff more manageable. Which approach is best depends on your financial situation and preferences.
Does completely paying off a credit card raise your credit score?
Paying off a credit card can lower your credit utilization, which can positively affect your credit score.
Why did my credit score go down when I paid off my credit card?
Paying off your credit card doesn’t usually bring down your credit score. However, your credit score may drop if you closed your account after paying it off, as that can impact your credit mix or the average age of your accounts. It could also decrease your available credit, which can drive up your credit utilization.
Do credit card companies like it when you pay in full?
Paying in full shows creditors that you’re a responsible cardholder and that you have the financial means to pay off what you owe. It can also help to improve your credit score, which credit card companies look upon favorably.
Photo credit: iStock/Foxyburrow
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