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The minimum payment math on credit cards is brutal. If you have the average balance ($5,733, according to TransUnion) and only make minimum payments at the average credit card rate of 20.37 percent, you’ll be in debt for 207 months (more than 17 years!). Overall, you’ll owe a grand total of $14,013 (the original $5,733, plus $8,280 in interest).
Minimum payments clearly aren’t enough to make sizable progress — the typical formula is just 1 percent of the balance plus interest each month. Ideally, you would pay your credit cards in full each month in order to avoid interest, but that’s not always feasible. Almost half of credit cardholders (46 percent) carry credit card debt from month to month, according to a December 2022 Bankrate survey. And almost three-quarters of credit card debtors added to their debt in 2022, our sister site CreditCards.com found.
Inflation and rising interest rates have combined to push credit card balances to the highest level on record. This debt is so expensive that it should be toward the top of your household’s financial priority list. If you can’t afford to pay your entire balance all at once, here’s some advice for chipping away at the burden so it doesn’t stick with you for decades.
Balance transfer cards
My favorite credit card debt payoff tip is to open a balance transfer credit card. Signing up for one of these allows you to transfer your existing, high-interest debt over to a new card with an interest-free term lasting as long as 21 months. Divided evenly, you would only have to pay $273 per month for 21 months in order to pay off that average balance of $5,733. Note that these cards charge balance transfer fees ranging from 3 to 5 percent, but that amounts to between $172 and $287 on the average balance. That could be well worth it, considering all the money you could save on interest payments.
If you’re committed to paying off your credit card debt within 12 months, you could sign up for one of these cards and pay it off ahead of schedule. Divided evenly, 12 monthly payments of $478 would knock out the $5,733 balance within a year. It’s also possible to avoid the transfer fee if you opt for the First Tech Federal Credit Union Choice Rewards World Mastercard*, which offers 12 months with no interest on balance transfers made within 90 days of account opening (followed by a variable APR between 13.25 percent and 18.00 percent).
I think the best way to use one of these cards is to avoid adding any new purchases. Even if they’re not charged interest for a while, adding new purchases forces you to hit a moving target and makes it more likely that you’ll have an expensive balance remaining after the interest-free term expires.
The snowball and the avalanche
Even though we’re just starting summer, a couple winter metaphors are worth considering as debt payoff strategies. The snowball method involves paying off your lowest debt balances first and building momentum to tackle the higher balances, similar to a snowball rolling downhill. The avalanche method is when you prioritize your debts from the highest interest rates to the lowest. In both cases, you should make at least your minimum monthly payments on all cards. These strategies reflect what you could do with additional money beyond the minimum payments.
In terms of which is best, it’s personal preference. I tend to think there’s a psychological element to paying down debt, so I’d favor the snowball method for that reason. It seems that a lot of people would find it easier to remain motivated if they’re experiencing some quick wins. The avalanche method, on the other hand, could take longer to demonstrate noticeable progress but would save you more money on interest charges.
It’s also worth pointing out that even a “low rate” credit card could easily have an interest rate in the double digits. That’s why a 0 percent balance transfer card would be preferable, in my view. Although you generally need good to excellent credit in order to qualify for one of those, which could be an obstacle for some people.
Look for ways to up your income and cut your expenses
Regardless of which debt payoff method you choose, finding opportunities to earn more and spend less can turbocharge your efforts. I’m a big fan of taking on a side hustle to raise some extra funds that can be used to pay off debt. You could also consider selling stuff you don’t need and/or lowering how much you spend, perhaps by dropping little-used subscriptions, shopping around for better deals (on car insurance, cellphone service, etc.) and cutting back on discretionary expenses, such as new clothes and dining out. A dollar saved is a dollar earned, after all.
The bottom line
Paying off your credit card debt within a year is a noble goal. It will probably require some near-term sacrifices, but it should be well worth it in the long run. After all, it’s hard to build wealth when you’re paying the credit card company 20 percent or more in interest, year after year.
Credit card debt can be a persistent cycle, unfortunately. It’s one of those things that’s easy to get into and hard to get out of. Six in 10 people with credit card debt have been in debt for at least a year, according to CreditCards.com. But you can dare to be different. Following these aforementioned strategies can help you knock out your debt relatively quickly, greatly improving your overall financial situation in the process.
Have a question about credit cards? E-mail me at email@example.com and I’d be happy to help.
*The information about the First Tech Federal Credit Union Choice Rewards World Mastercard has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.