By choosing a card that will not only help you pay off debt but benefit you long after your debt is gone, you can sidestep the temptation of canceling it.
According to a recent survey by Bankrate, about six in 10 Americans are uninformed of the consequences of canceling a credit card, with 40 percent citing the completion of debt payoff as a factor in canceling.
Many Americans are unaware that closing credit card accounts, especially those that have been open for a significant amount of time, shortens the length of one’s credit history — a factor that accounts for 15 percent of a credit score.
Generally, the longer your credit history, the better your score. This three-digit number touches various aspects of your life — from buying a house or car to applying for more credit cards in the future, so it’s important to take caution when making choices that might impact it.
To get started choosing the right card for you, we recommend digging into how much you’ll owe month-to-month.
Jump-start your credit card debt payoff
To get started on paying off your credit card debt, first find out how much you owe and set a payoff timeline.
Bankrate offers a credit card payoff calculator that can help you determine your monthly payments based on your account balance, card interest rate and desired number of months until payoff.
After you’ve established your payoff timeline, you can focus on a plan of action.
Credit card debt payoff methods
In general, there are two popular methods for tackling debt: debt snowball and debt avalanche. These methods will make the most sense for you if you hold debt in more than one account.
The avalanche method focuses on paying off the card with the highest interest rate first, then continuing to the card with the next-highest interest rate.
You’ll still need to tend to any other credit card debt you may have, but by paying off the card with the highest APR first, you’ll save yourself from accruing a larger amount of interest.
With the snowball method, you’ll make minimum payments every month on each card you owe money on. Then, you’ll apply any extra money to the card with the lowest balance. This method continues until you’ve paid off all your debt.
Consider a balance transfer card
Though both the debt avalanche and snowball methods are beneficial, you may look into moving all of your debt onto a balance transfer credit card.
What a balance transfer card can do for you
A balance transfer card acts as a vessel for you to move debt from one account to another. These cards tend to offer low interest rates and 0% introductory APR offers, giving you the option to pay off all debt before accumulating interest.
Introductory APR offers tend to range from 12 to 21 months and can require a fee for each transfer — commonly 3 percent of the total amount with a $5 to $10 minimum.
Our top picks for balance transfer cards
When choosing a card, it’s important to consider the value it can offer you after your balance is paid off.
Look for cards that will earn you rewards on the spending you do every day. The Chase Freedom Unlimited®, for example, offers a 0% introductory APR for 15 months on balance transfers (16.99%–25.74% variable APR thereafter).
For no annual fee, you’ll earn 3% cash back on up to $20,000 spent your first year, then an unlimited 1.5%. Keep in mind there’s a 3% fee for each balance transferred ($5 minimum).
The Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card gets you a 15-month long 0% introductory offer on balance transfers (15.74% – 25.74% variable APR thereafter), but you’ll need to pay a 3% fee for amounts transferred in the first 15 months.
You’ll receive an unlimited 3% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on everything else, all with no annual fee and a $150 cash bonus when you spend $500 in the first three months.
Balance transfer cards with no transfer fee
If you’re dead set on a balance transfer card that doesn’t charge a fee on transfers, try the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express.
The EveryDay card offers a 0% introductory offer for 15 months on balance transfers (15.24% – 26.24% variable APR thereafter) and won’t charge a balance transfer fee or an annual fee. Plus, you’ll get 2X points at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year) and 1X points on everything else.
The information about the Amex EveryDay Credit Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.
If your credit card comes with a mobile app, look for features that can help you track your payoff progress. Additionally, take advantage of benefits like free monthly access to your FICO® Score and money management tools.
Setting up automatic payments for your card can prevent any late fees and help you stay on track. Should you be the forgetful type, the Citi Simplicity® Card doesn’t have any late fees, penalty rates or an annual fee. It also offers a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers for 21 months (16.49% – 26.49% variable APR thereafter).
Keep your card, don’t cancel
Once you’ve paid off your balance, the best thing you can do is keep your card rather than cancel it. Canceling your credit card can shorten your credit history, in turn, harming your credit score.
“Paying off card debt is fantastic and should be celebrated — just not by canceling a card. With credit card rates at record highs (the average is close to 18 percent), it’s smart to pay off your debt ASAP. But once the debt is gone, keep the old card active, even if it’s just in the background. Having more available credit should lower your credit utilization ratio, a key component in your credit score,” said Ted Rossman, industry analyst at Bankrate.
You may be tempted to switch to a new card under the same issuer after paying off your debt. Before applying, keep in mind that your issuer may turn you down, especially if you have a large credit limit already or have been an unsatisfactory cardholder in the past.
To avoid any temptations, follow our advice and choose a card that will continue to benefit you long after your credit card debt has been paid off.
The bottom line
Credit card debt can be a scary thing, but canceling a card and watching your credit score drop can be just as frightening. For a smooth debt payoff process, follow these tips:
- To pay off credit card debt, start by calculating the number of monthly payments you’ll need to make in order to diminish your debt.
- Consider a debt avalanche or snowball method for consolidating your debt, should you have more than one account in debt.
- Look into a balance transfer card with perks that will benefit after you’ve paid off your balance.
- Keep your card rather than canceling it to ensure a strong credit history and overall credit score.
Still have questions about consolidating your debt with a balance transfer card? Browse Bankrate’s complete balance transfer catalog for everything you need to know before applying for one of the year’s top balance transfer offers.