If you’re in credit card debt, you’re not alone. Some people get into debt because they spend beyond their means, but many people find themselves in debt due to medical emergencies or other factors outside of their control.
Once you’re in credit card debt, it’s hard to pay it off. A February 2019 poll from CreditCards.com revealed that 56 percent of Americans who are currently carrying credit card balances have held those balances for over a year. Finding the money to pay down debt while also covering life’s expenses can be difficult, which is why many people carry revolving balances on their credit cards.
Credit card interest rates aren’t helping you pay that debt off, either. The average credit card interest rate is around 18 percent, but many consumers are paying 20 percent or even 30 percent. These interest rates can make it very difficult to pay down credit card debt, especially if you have a large balance. You’ll make a payment one month, and then new interest charges will put you right back where you started.
But you don’t have to be stuck with high interest rates forever. Use this six-step guide to help you lower your credit card interest rates and pay down your debt. Whether you call your credit card issuer to request a better interest rate or open a balance transfer card to take advantage of a zero percent intro APR, there are ways to pay off your debt without paying a ton of interest in the process.
6 Steps to lowering your credit card interest rate
- Understand your finances.
- Call your issuer and ask for a lower rate.
- Make a budget that will help you pay down your debt.
- Consider a balance transfer credit card.
- Focus on paying down debt as quickly as possible.
- Track your progress.
1. Understand your finances
Before you start paying off your credit card debt, take a good look at your finances. How did you get into debt? Was it a one-time emergency, or a history of spending more than you earn? Were you going into debt on needs, or wants?
By understanding how you got into debt, you can take steps to prevent yourself from getting into similar debt in the future, whether that means setting up an emergency fund or starting a side hustle to earn more money.
While you’re examining your finances, pay close attention to a few specific numbers. What’s the total amount of your debt, and what interest rates are you currently paying on your outstanding balances? What about your credit score — is it good, fair, or poor? As you begin to pay down your debt, you can track these numbers and watch them improve.
2. Call your issuer and ask for a lower rate
If you want to pay off your credit card debt, it’s important to get your interest rate as low as possible. The lower your rate, the less interest will get added to your balance every month. That means it’ll cost less money to pay off your debt in total—and you’ll be able to pay off your debt more quickly.
A March 2017 survey from CreditCards.com found that 69 percent of cardholders who asked for a rate cut received one. So call your credit card issuer and ask if they can lower your interest rate. If you’ve been a loyal customer for years, or if you have a history of on-time payments, let them know—and be prepared to tell them that you’re planning on canceling your card and switching companies if they don’t agree to a rate change.
If the person you speak to says no, consider calling a second time; another customer service representative might give you a different response. You can also make good on your threat to cancel your card, though you’ll have to transfer your balance to a balance transfer card first (we’ll get to that in Step 4).
3. Make a budget that will help you pay down your debt
The next step in your debt repayment process is to make a budget. You’re going to want to know how much money you can put towards everyday expenses while still having enough cash left over to pay off your credit card debt. This means tallying up how much you’re currently spending on everything from gas to food to entertainment, asking yourself if there are ways to cut back on any of these expenses (like buying groceries in bulk or setting up no-spend weeks) and calculating how much money you’ll be able to put towards your debt.
There are lots of different ways to create a budget. Bankrate has a Home Budget Calculator that will help you put together a budget and identify areas where you can cut back on your spending. You can also sign up for a budgeting app or software program like YNAB or Mint. You can even make your own budget using a spreadsheet—there are plenty of budgeting templates for Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets and Numbers for Mac.
4. Consider a balance transfer card
If you want to pay off your credit card debt without paying interest, consider opening up a balance transfer credit card. A balance transfer card allows you to transfer a balance from an existing credit card and then pay that balance off interest-free—as long as you make your payments before the zero percent intro APR period runs out.
The best balance transfer credit cards offer between 18 and 21 months of zero percent APR on balance transfers, giving you more than a year to pay off your debt without paying interest. You can even transfer balances from multiple cards, which is a great way to consolidate your credit card debt.
Be aware that balance transfer credit cards charge a fee every time you transfer a balance (generally 3 to 5 percent of the balance being transferred). For many people, the ability to pay off their balances without paying interest is worth the cost.
Plus, opening up a balance transfer card can have a positive effect on your credit score. By increasing the amount of credit available to you, your credit utilization ratio could decrease and your credit score could go up. As you continue to pay off your debt, your credit utilization ratio will get even better—and so will your credit score.
5. Focus on paying down your debt as quickly as possible
Once you’ve got a plan to pay down your debt, it’s time to start making those payments. Try to pay down your debt as quickly as possible, especially if you’re still getting charged interest on your balance.
Use your budget to help remind you how much money you need to put towards your debt every month. Try making your credit card payments at the beginning of every month (or right after payday) to ensure that money goes towards your debt and doesn’t get spent on anything else. If there’s any extra money at the end of the month, consider putting it towards your debt as well.
Don’t put any new purchases on your credit card until your debt is paid off. If you have more than one credit card, it’s all right to make purchases on a second card while you’re paying down debt on the first one—as long as you pay off your purchases in full every month and don’t accumulate new debt. That way, you can still take advantage of credit card rewards while you work towards becoming debt-free.
6. Track your progress
To stay motivated as you pay down your debt, track your progress. If you’re using a budgeting software program like Mint or YNAB, your progress will be tracked automatically—but why not get creative? Make a wall chart and add stars or stickers every time you pay off another $500. Take a screenshot of your credit card balance, make it the lock screen on your phone and update the screenshot every time you make a payment. Give yourself an affordable, fun reward, like a pint of your favorite ice cream, every time you hit a new payment milestone.
Tracking your progress is a great way to stay motivated—and it might even inspire you to speed up the debt repayment process. Instead of making one debt payment this month, can you make two? Can you increase your previous debt payment by 10 percent?
Remember: the faster you put money towards your debt, the sooner you get that debt paid off. Then, once you’re debt-free, you can start putting that money towards something else!
It’s all too easy to find yourself in credit card debt, but that doesn’t mean you have to get stuck with high interest rates as you work towards paying it off.
Call your credit card issuer to negotiate an interest rate reduction or transfer your debt to one of the best zero interest credit cards. Make a budget, put as much money towards your debt as possible and track your progress. Before you know it, that credit card debt will be a thing of the past—and you’ll be set up for a better financial future.