As stimulus checks arrive, consider paying off credit card debt

1

At Bankrate we strive to help you make smarter financial decisions. While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here’s an explanation for .

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired.

In mid-April, many Americans received their promised stimulus check, and according to a recent survey from Bankrate, 25 percent plan to use it to pay down debt.

If you’re included in the quarter of Americans who are looking to dwindle their dues —  namely, credit card debt — here are a few tips to consider no matter if you’re currently holding onto the money or are waiting to receive it.

First, acknowledge your financial situation

It goes without saying, but if you have more pressing financial needs in your life that your stimulus check can assist with, prioritize those first. For context, the survey found fifty percent of Americans anticipate using their check to pay bills and 41 percent to cover day-to-day essentials.

If your day-to-day needs are met and you have a sufficient amount in emergency savings (a minimum of three months’ worth of living expenses and six months, ideally), debt payoff could be in the cards for you.

Rank your debts by priority

Before starting the credit card debt payoff process in particular, first, make sure it’s one of the more urgent debts that you owe.

Compared to most other debts, credit card debt can be the most detrimental. Debt can be bucketed into “good” and “bad” (also known as efficient and inefficient debt), with the key difference being the value you obtain from taking on the debt.

Credit card debt (bad debt), for example, is most often accumulated from not being able to pay for purchases and typically carries higher interest rates. Student loan debt, on the other hand, is considered good debt since you have or are obtaining an education from it.

Create a credit card debt payoff plan

Once you’ve solidified that tackling credit card debt is your top priority, creating a debt payoff plan can help ensure you stay on track and won’t heighten the amount you owe.

Understand what you owe

This step is simple; if you have debt on more than one credit card, take note of the amount owed on each, along with the corresponding interest rate. You’ll also want to note each card’s minimum payment requirement.

Once you have your ducks in a row, you can decide on the payoff method that best fits your situation.

Zero in on a payoff method

Two of the most common debt payoff practices include the debt avalanche and snowball methods. Matt Elliott, financial planner at Pulse Financial Planning, recommends the debt avalanche method.

“This involves making minimum payments on all your loans and allocating any extra dollars towards your highest interest rate loan,” says Elliot. “Once your highest interest rate loan is paid off, begin chipping away at the next one. This strategy minimizes the amount that you’ll end up paying in total interest.”

The snowball method, on the other hand, focuses on putting as much money as you can toward your smallest debt while still making minimum payments on your other debts. Once the smallest debt is paid off, you can continue by paying off the second smallest amount and so on.

Both methods are great options for paying off your credit card debt, but you’re likely to save more money by way of the avalanche method.

“Technically speaking, [the avalanche] method allows you to pay off your debt quicker in most scenarios and make the most ‘financial’ sense,” says Jovan Johnson, financial planner and owner of Piece of Wealth Planning. Johnson notes, however, that the snowball method can be more motivating if you like to cross small wins off your to-do list.

Consider a balance transfer card

If your current credit card is charging a high interest rate and you have the means to apply for a balance transfer credit card (i.e., a good to excellent credit score), doing so could end up saving you a significant amount of money on interest.

Start by looking at however much you can comfortably afford to pay off each month. Zero percent introductory APR offers range from 12 to 21-months, so be sure your payoff timeline doesn’t exceed the interest-free period offered by whichever card you choose.

One thing to note is that balance transfer cards (and credit cards in general), might be harder to obtain during the coronavirus pandemic. Alongside reports of credit limit reductions for new and existing cardholders, lenders may be raising standards for credit card approvals.

The bottom line

Once you’re on track to completing your credit card debt payoff, keep the momentum going and take a look at any other debts you have.

“Debt can be particularly stressful when income is less stable and other investments are down,” Elliot says. “Use this as an opportunity to get organized and create your plan to get out and stay out of debt.”


Editorial disclosure: All reviews are prepared by Bankrate.com staff. Opinions expressed therein are solely those of the reviewer and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including card rates and fees, presented in the review is accurate as of the date of the review. Check the data at the top of this page and the bank’s website for the most current information.