How to pay off high interest credit card debt during an economic downturn

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If you are one of the roughly 110 million Americans who have credit card debt during the Coronavirus pandemic, you may be wondering how you can pay your bills during this unprecedented economic downturn. While debt is always stressful, it is even more difficult to manage in this time of uncertainty when millions of people are losing their jobs or temporarily furloughed.

If this applies to you, it may seem like a path to becoming debt free is more difficult to achieve than ever before. It’s important to note that whatever debt reduction strategy you choose, now is also the time to reach out to your issuer to explain your financial situation.

Debt reduction strategies during an economic downturn:

 1. Apply for a balance transfer credit card.

 You may be wondering “how can applying for another credit card solve my credit card debt?”

While it can seem counterintuitive to apply for a new credit card when you are struggling with high interest credit card debt, it is important to note that a balance transfer credit card offers several benefits that can help cardowners struggling with debt.

A balance transfer card that allows you to transfer a balance with a high APR to a new account with a predetermined low or  no interest introductory period — sometimes for as long as 21 months. The benefits of a balance transfer card are undeniable. With an added zero percent APR period, it’s easier to tackle debt through manageable monthly payments without the burden of additional interest. If you have a high credit card balance that you can’t afford, a balance transfer may be a good option for you.

It’s important to know that with most balance transfers, you won’t be able to transfer a balance within an issuer’s network. For example, if you have a high balance on a Citi credit card, you won’t be able to transfer it to another Citi card.

Here’s our top picks for the best balance transfer cards with a long zero percent introductory APR.

2. Snowball method

 If you’re looking to tackle your high interest credit card debt without opening a new line of credit, the debt snowball may be a good debt reduction strategy to try.

The snowball method is simple — you focus on the smallest debt you have (regardless of APR) and work to pay off that debt as quickly as possible. Once you have paid off your smallest balance, you begin to focus on the next smallest balance. You continue this process — all the while making minimum payments on the accounts you aren’t focused on — until you have eliminated all of your credit card debt.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of the snowball method is that it allows you to see progress being made towards reducing your debt. If you are making scattered minimum payments to multiple avenues of debt, it may feel like you are never making progress towards becoming debt free. If you start with your smallest debt, however, you will quickly see the results of your effort as the balance shrinks.

What to know if you plan to use the debt snowball method:

One downside of the debt snowball is that it doesn’t take interest rates into account when paying off debt. If you are using the debt snowball method and tackling the smallest balances first, regardless of interest rate, you risk spending more money in interest in the long run.

3. Avalanche Method

 Unlike the debt snowball, the debt avalanche method focuses on paying off balances with the highest interest rate first, and then successively paying off remaining debt in the order of highest to lowest interest rates.

The avalanche method allows you to tackle high interest debt first which can help you reduce your overall debt and added interest over time. Like with the snowball method, however, the debt avalanche will only be effective if you continue to pay the minimum balance towards all accounts while prioritizing the balance with the highest interest rate.

What to know if you plan to use the debt avalanche method:

 The debt avalanche is an effective method to reduce credit card debt, and by prioritizing balances with the highest interest rates it can save you more money in the long run. However, one downside of the debt avalanche is that you don’t see the same quick results that you may with the debt snowball method. Paying off balances based on interest rates takes patience and can be hard to maintain if you have multiple accounts with high balances.

Final Thoughts

If you, like so many Americans today, entered 2020 with credit card debt, the strain of keeping up with your bills during the Coronavirus pandemic may seem overwhelming. Following a debt reduction plan like the avalanche or snowball method is a good way to both keep your finances in order and also to see results as you work towards reducing your overall debt.

If you are facing extreme financial hardship, however, even making the minimum payments towards your debt may not be possible. If this is the case, methods such as the debt snowball or avalanche may not be realistic as they prioritize aggressively paying off one balance at a time.

If this is the case for you, a balance transfer card may be your best option, because it allows you to continue making small payments without the burden of added interest.

No matter what your financial situation may be, there are always debt reduction methods available. Reaching out to your creditors to explain your financial situation is a good way to learn what they are doing to help customers manage debt. Many credit card issuers are offering customer assistance in response to Coronavirus such as the option to skip a payment or to temporarily waive fees and penalties.