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How to get rid of credit card debt

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Many Americans struggle with credit card debt. The average credit card balance is $5,525, according to Experian’s 2021 State of Credit report. And though that national average has decreased since 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic has strained some wallets more than others.

Eliminating your balance could take some time, but a combination of smart money moves can reduce your debt, lower your interest rates and begin your journey toward a debt-free life. Here are some of the best ways to get (and stay) out of credit card debt.

Understanding credit card debt

Credit card debt is a type of high-interest revolving debt, meaning consumers can continue to borrow each month up to a certain limit. Debt can be a useful safety net during an unexpected financial emergency. But if used irresponsibly, credit card debt can lead to a dangerous spiral of overspending and interest.

You can avoid the pitfalls of credit cards in a few key ways. Making on-time payments each month can help you build your credit score, while avoiding the late payment fees and interest hikes that can turn your debt from manageable to overwhelming. You’ll also want to keep yourself accountable for your financial goals by sticking to a budget. Avoid making credit card purchases you know you can’t pay off in full at the end of the month. In other words, use a credit card like a debit card.

Lastly, don’t wait for an emergency to happen. According to Bankrate’s February 2022 poll, only half of Americans have more emergency savings than credit card debt. Building an emergency fund will help cushion the financial blow when life inevitably throws you for a loop.

Even if you know these best practices, credit card debt can sometimes creep up on you. If you already have debt, there are a few tried-and-true ways to tackle it.

5 steps to pay off credit card debt

Here are a few of the best ways to get out of the red.

1. Find a payment strategy (or two)

Making on-time, complete payments every month will help you avoid potential late payment fees and interest rate hikes that can make your debt even more unmanageable. Aside from the basics, you should come up with a specific plan of attack. Two common debt repayment strategies are the debt snowball and debt avalanche methods.

2. Consider debt consolidation

Consolidating your debts into a single monthly payment can simplify the situation, making it easier to stay on top of payments. And if you can secure a lower interest rate, you can reduce the total amount you pay over time.

3. Negotiate with your creditors

If you’re experiencing unusual financial hardship, you might be able to negotiate with your creditors. They might offer you a lower monthly payment, a decreased interest rate or a forbearance program that can make it easier for you to pay down your balance.

4. Seek third party help

Your creditor may also be able to recommend credit counseling firms or other debt management resources to help you get back on track. As a last resort, a debt settlement attorney could negotiate with creditors and collections agencies to reduce and consolidate your debts. Debt settlement can negatively impact your credit score, so be sure you’ve assessed the pros and cons first.

5. Open a balance transfer credit card

If a high interest rate is keeping you stuck in debt, a balance transfer card could help you get ahead. These credit cards allow you to transfer debt from one or more credit cards to a single card. They often offer an introductory zero percent APR period—meaning you can have up to 21 months of no interest while you work on paying down your balance.

FAQs about paying off credit card debt

Here are a few more answers to your burning questions about wiping out your credit card debt.

How will paying off my credit card affect my credit score?

Once your balance is at zero, you might notice a change in your credit score. Credit utilization is the second most heavily-weighted factor in credit scores. Paying down your balance will lower your overall credit utilization and boost your score.

How long after I pay off my credit card will it reflect on my credit score?

Lenders usually report account activity at the end of the billing cycle, so it could take anywhere from 30-45 days for you to see a change in your score.

How much credit card debt can I consolidate?

There isn’t a limit on how much debt you can consolidate, but there are situations where it makes more sense to do so, depending on how much you owe and the terms of your potential new loan. If you’re considering consolidating your debt, speak to your credit card issuer(s) before you decide. Find out how long it will take you to pay off your debts at their current interest rate and compare that to the potential new loan.

The bottom line

The best debt repayment strategy varies by individual. Some may use the debt snowball method to organize and pay off their debts. Others may benefit from a balance transfer credit card. If your debt is overwhelming, you might want to consider hardship programs, credit counseling or other types of credit card debt help.

Want more information about how to reduce credit card debt? Visit Bankrate’s credit card debt resource hub. You’ll learn about payoff strategies, debt relief options and other tools to help you manage your debt and work toward a debt-free life.

Written by
Nicole Dieker
Personal Finance Contributor
Nicole Dieker has been a full-time freelance writer since 2012—and a personal finance enthusiast since 2004, when she graduated from college and, looking for financial guidance, found a battered copy of Your Money or Your Life at the public library. In addition to writing for Bankrate, her work has appeared on CreditCards.com, Vox, Lifehacker, Popular Science, The Penny Hoarder, The Simple Dollar and NBC News. Dieker spent five years as writer and editor for The Billfold, a personal finance blog where people had honest conversations about money. Dieker also teaches writing, freelancing and publishing classes and works one-on-one with authors as a developmental editor and copyeditor.
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