How to Take Control of Your Credit Card Debt

Most of us hate feeling indebted to other people. Owing someone can be uncomfortable, whether it’s money or even just a favor. Yet being in debt to companies seems an entirely different thing from a psychological perspective.

Americans seemingly have no problem with racking up mountains of credit card debt, and it’s only getting worse. The reality is that debt can have implications on not just your financial well-being, but also your emotional well-being. Having large sums of debt and seeing no way out is, simply put, stressful.

If you find yourself in this position, it can feel like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Luckily the tunnel is frequently shorter than you may think. To extend that metaphor, you just have to stay on track to reach the end where the light is. Within this article we are going to walk you through some of the fastest and best ways to pay off credit card debt.

Admit There is a Problem

The first and most important step for anyone dealing with credit card debt is to admit there is a problem. If you can’t admit that you’re spending more than you can afford, then you are not in a position to help yourself. You need to know there is a problem before you can properly fix it.

 

Ask for a Lower Interest Rate

No matter how much debt you have, one of the first steps you can take on your path to a debt-free life is to call your credit card company. Talk to them and see if they are willing to work with you on your interest rate. Let them know that you are working toward eliminating your debts and need some help. Depending on your account balances, a 1% decrease in your interest rate could add hundreds of dollars to your repayment efforts each year.

 

Utilize 0% APR Balance Transfer Credit Cards

There are going to be times when your credit card issuer may not be willing to work with you. Even if they are, your interest rates could still be extremely high. One of the best ways to pay off credit card debt is to eliminate interest altogether by transferring your balances to a card with an introductory interest-free financing offer (here’s what to consider when choosing a balance transfer credit card).

Let’s assume that you have $10,000 of credit card debt and you are paying an average interest rate of 17.99%. If you are making $250 payments each month, then you would end up paying $5,380.72 in interest before paying off the debt in full. The idea of paying nearly $5,400 more than your balance will hopefully give you plenty of motivation.

When you apply for a 0% APR balance transfer card, you can immediately move your existing credit card balances over. There are plenty of options available, with some cards offering as much as 18 or even 21 months interest free. Just be aware that they will end up charging a 3% balance transfer fee.

Keep in mind that you are probably going to need a solid credit score to qualify for some of the best offers. Also, because you are applying for a new line of credit you will see a small drop in your credit score. However, it won’t last long. As soon as you start reducing your balance and your credit utilization decreases, you will see positive changes happen to your score.

 

Pay More Than the Minimum Payment Each Month

Depending on the size of your balance, your minimum payments each month might be quite high. Even so, do your best to pay more than just the minimum payment each month. By doing that you will considerably reduce the time it will take to pay off your balance.

Using a debt reduction method like the Debt Snowball or Debt Avalanche can help you organize your monthly payments in a way that helps you whittle down your debts quickly and efficiently (see more details below).

 

Make Multiple Payments Each Month

Making one large payment each month toward your debt might not be feasible unless you are a high income earner. Instead try making multiple payments.

“Set up weekly or twice-a-month payment reminders and split your payments in half,” says Sarah Hollenbeck, personal finance expert with Offer.com. “Not only will this be easier for you to budget, depending on your paycheck cycle, but you’ll be saving more money on interest since you’re not waiting the full 30 days to make a payment.”

 

Create a Trimmed-Down Budget

If you are not currently living with a budget, then that should be high on your priority list. There is no way to really understand how you are performing financially each month when you don’t have a clear picture about where your money is going. However, this budget needs to be a little extreme. If you want to reduce your debt, then you are also going to need to reduce your expenses. Don’t know how to go about building a budget? Check out our explanation on the basics of building a budget.

Once you create a budget based on past spending, look for items that you can trim down or even cut out all together. This will help you allocate money to debt paydown.

“Once that budget has been established, you will need to know if you need to increase your income or decrease expenses to make those credit card payments,” says John Barnes, CFP with My Family Life Insurance. “Trade-offs might need to be made. Often, at this step, a discussion of wants versus needs usually takes place.”

 

Get Familiar with Debt Snowball and Debt Avalanche

If you don’t have a good understanding of both the debt snowball and debt avalanche method, now is the time. These are debt reduction strategies that will help you eliminate debt much more efficiently. Debt snowball helps keep you motivated by paying off your smallest balances first, working your way up to the biggest balances. Debt Avalanche is a little different in that it focuses first on your debt that has the highest interest rates. This approach provides for fewer quick wins than the Snowball approach, but will most likely save you money in the long run. Check out our Debt Snowball worksheet here.

Put Yourself on a Shopping Ban

You got yourself into credit card debt for one major reason: You were spending more money than you were actually earning. Even though it may have been due to some uncontrollable situation like a job loss, you’re going to need to spend less to pay down the debt.

“When making a commitment to paying down debt, it’s important to remove known temptations,” says Jennifer McDermott, consumer advocate for Finder.com. “Not sure you can resist on your own? Icebox is a free Chrome extension which works by replacing the Buy button on the top 20 e-commerce sites and an additional 400 others. The plugin prevents immediate purchase, putting items “on ice” between three and 30 days, thus curbing impulsive online buys and helping people save.”

Start a Side Hustle

Reducing the amount of money you spend each month will go a long way when paying down debt, but you can speed up the process even further by increasing your income as well. We live in a gig economy, which makes it easy to use your talents and interests to earn additional income during your down time.

Websites like Upwork.com offer a marketplace for talent to find income generating opportunities. Maybe you enjoy website design or marketing. Maybe you have a love for writing. Use your talents to boost your income.

 

The Bottom Line

Credit card debt can leave you with a helpless feeling in the pit of your stomach. It can make you feel like there is no way out. However, debt is completely in your control. No matter if it’s credit card debt, student loans, or some other type of debt, paying it off takes a plan and dedication. In the end you can be living the debt-free life that you want.

 

[Editorial Disclosure: PayDownMyDebt.com is a service that provides people with tools to pay down their debts through automatic payments. The purpose of this article, however, is not to encourage users to purchase that service. This article is educational and journalistic in nature and aims to help people learn how to pay down their debt, whether they use our site, another, or go it alone.]