credit cards

Minimum payment on credit card

If you're strapped for cash, it might be tempting to make only the minimum payment required on your credit cards each month. But interest charges can quickly add up, pushing your actual outlay far beyond anything you ever imagined.

That's where the Credit CARD Act of 2009 can come in handy, with a provision that lets you know on your statement exactly how long it will take and how much it will ultimately cost to pay off your balance if you only make the minimum payment each month.

One of the key provisions of the act requires credit card issuers to include a section on each statement that includes a "minimum payment warning." The section tells credit cardholders how many months they will need, and how much they will finally fork out, if they only pay the minimum amount required each month.

With that information at hand, it's much easier for consumers to decide where to focus when it comes to paying down debt.

So if your balance is $3,000, at an interest rate of 14.4 percent, and your minimum payment is $90 each month, it will take you about 11 years, and cost you $4,745 to finally pay off the credit card if you pay the monthly minimum, according to the Federal Reserve.

Just paying a few extra dollars each month can make a huge difference. Simply adding $13 to your monthly payment in the scenario above would slash the payoff time to three years, and save you more than $1,000 in interest charges.

You can determine your own monthly costs by using Bankrate's credit card calculator.

Having that kind of information at hand can make a big difference for consumers, particularly given the fact that the average debt for those credit cardholders who carry a balance topped $5,000 for the first quarter of 2010, according to TransUnion, one of the country's three largest credit bureaus.

By seeing those credit card payoff numbers in black and white, it should be easier for consumers to set priorities when it comes to paying off their debts.

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