If you’re saddled with credit card debt, you’re not alone. A recent study based on Federal Reserve and Census data found that over 45% of households in America carry a credit card balance, and that their average balance is $6,270. Considering the average credit card interest rate is just under 17%, that average balance could end up costing Americans quite a bit in interest.
Not only can reducing your credit card debt allow you to stop making hefty interest payments, but because 30% of your FICO Score® is determined by your debts owed, reducing your debt could potentially help improve your credit. If you’re working on getting out of — and staying out of — credit card debt, here are some tips on being a savvy credit card user.
How to Use a Credit Card Wisely: 7 Tips
If you have a credit card, it’s crucial that you use your credit card responsibly. Here are some tips to keep in mind to ensure your credit card usage stays in check.
1. Always Try to Pay Off Your Statement Balance in Full
Again, with average interest rates around 17%, credit cards can be a very expensive way to borrow. It’s extremely important to pay off your statement balance in full after each billing cycle if you want to avoid dealing with high-interest charges.
If you’re already in the habit of paying your balance in full when it comes due, you could consider leveraging your credit card spending to earn favorable reward points, such as points toward travel or cash back rewards.
2. Cut Your Interest Rate if You Have Credit Card Debt
If you have a large balance or multiple cards, paying off your credit card debt is likely top of mind. It could help to consolidate your credit card debt with a personal loan, as consolidating your credit card balance(s) might help you pay off your debt at a lower interest rate.
When you pay off a credit card, you’re still able to spend using that card, which would increase your balance even as you’re trying to deplete it. That’s because credit card debt is revolving debt, which is the debt you can continue to grow even while paying some of it off.
However, if you consolidate your credit card debt with a personal loan, you’d be paying off your debt in monthly installments without adding to that debt and, hopefully, at a lower interest rate. A personal loan is considered installment debt, which is debt that has a set, regular payment schedule until the balance reaches $0.
3. Make Sure to Pay on Time
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s still worth discussing. Paying your statement balance after the due date may mean that you’re incurring late fees or other interest charges. And because payment history is 35% of your FICO Score , paying late can also potentially hurt your credit.
4. Build an Emergency Fund to Avoid Turning to Credit Cards in a Bind
Emergencies happen, and ideally, you’d be able to turn to your savings instead of leaning on a credit card to take care of an unexpected expense. If you don’t have an emergency fund yet, it might be a good goal to prioritize once your credit card debt is under control. In general, an emergency fund makes for a much better safety net for these situations.
5. Use the Snowball Method to Help Pay Off Debt More Quickly
Haven’t heard of the snowball method? Here’s how the popular debt payoff method works:
• Target the account with the smallest balance to pay off first. You’ll want to pay as much as possible on this target account to pay off the debt as soon as possible. Meanwhile, you’ll continue making minimum payments on all other accounts on time to avoid late fees.
• Once the target account is paid off, add the amount that you were allocating to the old target account to the account with the next lowest balance. Make that account the new payoff target.
• Repeat this process until all debt balances are paid off.
For many, this method works by providing incremental victories from knocking out smaller debts, which can offer momentum toward tackling larger balances.
6. Keep Your Card Open Even After You Pay Off the Balance
Having access to available credit that you don’t use can help to improve your FICO Score. This is because you’ll be using a smaller percentage of your available credit. Remember, “amounts owed” accounts for 30% of a FICO Score.
To keep your available credit as high as possible, even if you make the occasional purchase or automate a bill payment on the card, you’d probably want to pay off the balance either on or before the due date.
7. Try Sticking to Cash to Reduce Credit Card Spending
Paying in cash instead can, paradoxically, be easier to track than swiping a credit card for purchases. If you only withdraw a certain amount of cash to spend for the week, it could potentially help reduce unnecessary spending.
To try this method, you’d want to decide how much you need to spend each day and put that amount of cash in your pocket. When it’s gone, you’re done spending for the day. It may take a lot of discipline, but if it helps you successfully pay off your credit card debt, it could be worthwhile.
Using your credit card responsibly is key to avoid racking up interest charges and potentially harming your credit score. You’ll want to ensure you make at least the minimum payment on time each month and, if you can, pay off your balance in full. Other tips for using credit wisely include ensuring you have an emergency fund and considering sticking to cash for more strict budgeting guide rails.
And if you do find yourself in credit card debt, consider exploring solutions like the snowball method or securing a lower interest rate through a personal loan. With a SoFi personal loan, for instance, you could get funding as soon as the same day to start paying off your high-interest debt.
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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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.
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