Climbing out of the black hole that is credit card debt feels impossible, especially if the total amount owed is high and you’re only making minimum payments each month.
The problem with credit card debt is it can spiral out of control. One small charge at a coffee shop leads to bigger charges for dinner with coworkers and then an emergency medical issue, a shirt for a first date. You stop checking.
When you fail to pay off a balance in full, you not only start incurring interest charges, but interest is added to that interest. In other words, it’s in your best interest to make full payments and relieve yourself of debt as quickly as possible
The good news for debt sufferers
First, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Many Americans are saddled with bad debt. According to LendingTree.com, the total number of consumer debt could reach $4 trillion by the end of this year. The company crunched the numbers from the Federal Reserve on all non-mortgage debt including credit cards, auto, student and personal loans. The second piece of promising news is that climbing out of massive credit card debt is possible.
How to get out of credit card debt in 5 steps:
1. Hold an intervention with your debt
It’s unlikely anyone else is going to intervene in your credit card woes. You’re singularly responsible for getting a grip on your financial circumstances. It may be time for you to do a personal debt intervention.
Your personal debt intervention process begins with writing down all the ways credit card debt is holding you back. List all of the things you can’t do because you’re struggling with credit card debt.
After taking stock of the situation, draft up a strategy. Start a spreadsheet to track the amount of debt owed on each card, the spending limits, annual percentage rates (APR), and minimum monthly payments. This spreadsheet helps form a clearer picture of your debt status and which credit cards are weighing you down the most.
Analyzing each card’s APR will help you decide how to approach reducing your debt. In most cases, tackling the higher-interest cards first will save you money in the long run. Remember that you’re paying interest on your interest. Paying off one card entirely can act as a psychological boost to keep moving toward your more significant goal of total credit card debt elimination.
No one likes visits from the “ghosts of purchases past.” While this task will feel overwhelming and frustrating, it’s a step in the right direction to create a course of action towards eliminating credit card debt for good.
2. Set A Real Budget
Next, create a list of monthly bills including mortgage or rent payments, car loan payments, and utilities. The first step in creating an actionable and livable budget is breaking down your spending into “Must-Haves” and “Don’t Need.” The “Must-Have” items will be obvious. A person must buy basic groceries, put gas in the car to get to work, pay bills so that the heat stays on and the cell phone still works.
The “Don’t Need” column will be a little harder to fill.
A Netflix subscription is nice but do you really need it or utilize it enough to justify the monthly fee? Do you need to spend as much on snacks or eating out? Do you get enough out of the gym to justify the membership prices?
If you can’t go without these items, consider finding inexpensive alternatives. Rent movies from the library, take brown-bag lunches, freeze the gym membership and go on more runs, hikes and long bike rides.
Another key to staying on budget is not allowing the “it’s only” purchases to sway your decisions. These purchases are usually small and take no time at all to talk yourself into splurging on: “It’s only a $3 coffee, and I’m falling asleep at my desk” or “I read this magazine on the train into work. It’s only $17 per year.” These minor, seemingly insignificant purchases add up over time.
It’s easy to justify spending habits. If you’re finding it difficult to identify and eliminate many of the “Don’t Need” items, turn to a trusted friend or relative to analyze your monthly spending. It’s typically more difficult to justify these spending habits to friends or family members. You feel you’ve got an incredibly valid reason for dropping nearly $5 on coffee every morning but might not be able to convince another person as to why you can’t brew the same cup before leaving the house.
3. Consider a balance transfer credit card
A simple way to pay down credit card debt is to transfer balances from cards with high interest rates to a card offering an introductory 0% interest period. Before moving debt from one card to another, do your homework on the best available offers.
Balance transfer cards are the simplest way to consolidate debt and save thousands of dollars in interest payments. The basic premise is this: You transfer high-interest debt from one card to a card offering a long period of 0% interest, during this 0% interest period you work to pay off as much as the debt you can (ideally all of it) before you start incurring interest again. A strong balance transfer card should include a substantial introductory period of 0% interest on the balance transfer and a minimal balance transfer fee.
Check out Bankrate’s balance transfer credit cards list for the best available credit cards offering anywhere from 12-21 months of 0% interest.
The Citi® Simplicity® Card extends a 0% introductory APR period on balance transfers for 21 months (then 16.24% – 26.24% variable) with a 5% balance transfer fee. The Discover it® Balance Transfer card boasts 0% APR on balance transfers for 18 months (then 13.99%-24.99% variable) with no annual fee, plus 5% cash back on rotating categories (up to a quarterly spending limit) and 1% back on everything else. After the initial introductory rate, all cards will revert to a variable APR based on your creditworthiness so it’s important to pay off what you can before this rate kicks in.
To eliminate credit card debt in the shortest amount of time, aim for credit cards with protracted grace periods of 0% interest. Six months is fine but 21 months is great. You’re more likely to get a large chunk paid off in over a year-or-more than in just six months. A word of caution: Watch out for balance transfer fees, a balance transfer of 5% on $15,000 is $750, which is nothing in comparison to some interest rates you may currently be paying but still a cost that should be factored into your analysis. Even with balance transfer fees, many cards with long introductory 0% APR rates can still make financial sense but there are balance transfer cards that offer $0 balance transfer fees for introductory periods too.
If you have a low credit score, there are still options available. Check your credit score before applying for a new balance transfer card.
Even if your credit score is less than perfect, there are balance transfer cards available. That being said, you may also want to talk to a lender about a personal loan, which can be another debt consolidation tool and can also cut down your interest expenses considerably.
4. Consider a personal loan or debt management
Refinancing debt using a personal loan can be a great option. Some lenders will require a good credit score in order to qualify for financing. For example, you might need a score above 600. For some people, this isn’t achievable. No need to fear though, you still have options.
If all else fails, the time has come to ask for help from someone other than a trusted friend. Debt Management offers the credit debt intervention discussed earlier in this article with experienced professionals who have proven methods to help with credit card debt.
There are few reasons to consider a debt management strategy to eliminate substantial debt owed to credit card companies. First, a debt management plan might help to cut your interest rate in half or sometimes more. A debt management program can also help to consolidate several debts into one payment.
5. Pay off your debt
Once you have a plan in place to start tackling your debt it’s important that you stick to it. It can be very hard forgoing some luxuries and perhaps missing out on trips and vacations but keep reminding yourself that it’s not forever. Giving in to temptation can undo a lot of the hard work you may have already put in. If you adhere to your plan you will finally free yourself of credit card debt.
4 ideas to eliminate credit card debt
1. Turn your budget into a game
Healthy competition can help. Turning your debt reduction into a game is one way to stay interested, motivated and slash debt faster. You can play against yourself or find another person and see who eliminate debt more quickly.
2. Minimum payments aren’t helpful
Paying the least amount on debt seems like a good idea. The credit card company gets paid and stays off your case for another month and making minimum is better than making no payments at all. However, minimum payments work in the favor of the lender and end up costing card holders much more in the long run.
Consult this debt paydown calculator and compare the numbers to gauge just how long it will take to eliminate substantial credit card debt if you’re just making the minimum monthly payments versus adding a little more to each payment.
Get in the habit of making more than the minimum payment. Add at least $100 or more (or what you can afford) to each monthly payment. The easiest way to do this is to factor a set amount into your monthly budget and set up automatic payments deducted from your checking account.
3. Eliminate the temptations
One of the biggest influences causing people to fall deep into credit card debt involves an affliction of which you’re well aware: FOMO, or fear of missing out, is a leading cause of debt in the country. Spending to keep up with friends, to be included in the fun or to keep up appearances on social media is counterproductive to your credit elimination goals.
Don’t say yes to every invitation to dinner, weekend trips or destination weddings. Stay off social media to avoid comparing your life to friends and family members. Come up with inexpensive ways to remain social while still keeping on budget.
4. Consider making side money
If you have the time and talent for a side job, go for it. Often, making side money doesn’t always have to involve another “job.” Sell stuff around the house or make money doing things you’re already doing like dog walking, meal prepping and tinkering with graphic design programs.
You can get out of credit card debt
No matter how much is owed, eliminating credit card debt is possible. Take a long, honest look at your spending habits. Set a realistic but strict budget. Consider using a balance transfer credit card or personal loan to consolidate debt and reduce your interest expenses. Avoid the temptations.
The most important first step to getting out of credit card debt is taking immediate action.