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Managing Debt » 5 overlooked ways to curb credit card debt
Get on the debt diet
Getting out of credit card debt can be an overwhelming task. To reach your goal, you may have to make unpleasant changes to your lifestyle, such as spending less of your discretionary income, making larger payments to your card issuers and even selling unnecessary possessions to free up cash.
The main strategies are straightforward enough, but staying on the debt diet is hard to do.
Stay focused and motivated with these five tips for reducing your credit card debt.
Cut off temptation
When you’re trying to reduce your debt load, don’t make the situation worse. “You have to put up the plastic,” says Gail Cunningham, vice president of public relations for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
That means leaving your credit cards at home unless you’re traveling. It also means saying no to new offers of credit that you don’t need, including store card offers to save 10 percent on your purchase. You can even take it a step further by opting out of prescreened offers of credit at OptOutPrescreen.com. You’ll still be able to apply for new credit cards in the future, but opting out now will reduce the number of tempting offers arriving in your mailbox.
Try to negotiate
As a second step, call your card issuer and ask for a lower interest rate on your credit card. Issuers aren’t obligated to reduce your interest rate, so the strategy doesn’t always work.
If it works, however, the savings can be substantial on a large balance. Check out the Bankrate article “Can you get a lower credit card rate?” for advice on how to ask for a rate reduction.
If the request doesn’t work, consider balance transfer credit cards, which can offer rock-bottom introductory rates on debt transferred from other cards. You’ll want to estimate your credit score first, since most balance transfer cards require good credit or better.
Before applying, see if you can negotiate the balance transfer fee, which can be as high as 5 percent of the transfer amount.
Use a pay-down strategy that motivates you
When you have multiple credit cards with balances, a pay-down strategy can help you save money and stay motivated.
One strategy is to make the largest payment on the card that’s charging the highest interest rate and the minimum payments on the other cards. When the card with the highest rate is paid off, you then focus on the card with the next-highest rate. This payment strategy can save you the most money because you’re tackling the most expensive debt first.
Another strategy involves paying the largest amount on the card with the smallest balance. You make the minimum payments on the remaining cards. Once the smallest balance is eliminated, you make a larger payment on the card with the next smallest balance and so on. While this strategy won’t save you as much money, there’s a psychological benefit to receiving fewer bills each month. “It will give you a lot of encouragement,” says Ken Clark, a Certified Financial Planner and author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Out of Debt.”
Get in touch
Connecting with other people in debt may yield not only emotional support, but also up-to-the-moment frugal tips and debt reduction strategies directly from other folks in your situation. You can find debt buddies conveniently online.
“Google some debt support forums or visit some large personal finance sites that have forums,” says Clark.
If you’re having a hard time not using your credit cards, reach out to a nonprofit credit counseling agency. At the very least, you’ll get a free budget analysis from a professional.
“More than 75 percent of the people that call our agency really just need some spending plan advice,” says Thomas Fox, the community outreach director at Cambridge Credit Counseling.
Redeem existing rewards
Have some cash-back or rewards credit cards in your wallet? Check your earnings level online or call your issuer to see if you have enough points or cash-back dollars to redeem. If you have enough, convert those earnings to cash or gift cards you can use in place of cash for items or services you would buy anyway.
While you’re likely going to reap small savings, using up rewards in this way frees up more money you can apply to your credit card debt.