Have you found yourself in credit card debt? If so, don’t worry – you’re not alone.
Researchers estimate that as many as 50% of U.S. households have credit card debt. I know from personal experience how it feels, because I had a $3,000 balance on my own credit card as recently as last year. It wasn’t easy, but I paid it all off and along the way I learned some important lessons about credit cards.
Below, I’ll share 4 tips that can help anyone pay off their credit cards:
1. Focus On The Highest Interest Rate First
There are a couple different strategies when it comes to paying off credit cards. One strategy is to take aim at the card with the lowest balance – in other words, the one that can be paid off the quickest. While this strategy can work for some people, a better option is to focus on the card with the highest interest rate, especially if that rate is 15-20% or more.
The reason you want to eliminate that high-interest debt first is it will save you a ton of money over the long run. There is little reason to leave that high-interest debt festering and building up more and more interest charges. Instead, just dedicate all your extra money and all your attention to destroying the highest-interest debt. And in the meantime, pay the minimum payments on your other debts to avoid any fees or penalties. Once you’ve destroyed the first balance, move on to the balance with the next-highest interest rate. For more tips on how to do this, check out our Credit Card Debt resource center.
2. See If A Balance Transfer Could Help You
If you happen to have a really high interest rate on one (or several) of your cards, you should consider doing a balance transfer. The term “balance transfer” means switching your credit card balance from one credit card to another one, usually with an entirely different company. For example, you might transfer your balance from a Chase card to a Citi card, or vice versa.
With a balance transfer, if you have a high credit score, you can sometimes get a much lower interest rate than what you have currently. The way it works is you will usually have to pay a fee up front (about 3-5% of your balance) and then get an introductory period with no interest, which can help give you the incentive to pay off that debt rapidly. It’s really important to read the fine print on balance transfer offers, though, because some of the offers have hidden fees.
3. Find New Ways To Save Money
In order to get your credit cards paid off as fast as possible, you’ll need to maximize your income every month, and that means finding new ways to save money. It’s always a good idea to have a monthly budget or spending plan. If you don’t have one yet, it’s time to create one, so that you can see how much of your money goes to each category of spending in a given month.
Once you can see where your money is going, you’ll be able to identify areas you can cut back on. For example, if you are spending $400 at the grocery store each month and spending $300 eating at restaurants each month, then you can no doubt save money on food by cutting down on the number of times you eat out. You must change your habits in order to save – try planning your meals ahead of time and going to the grocery store with a list of ingredients that will get you through the entire week on home-cooked food. If you can make it a habit, you’ll begin saving money each month that can go toward debt.
The same is true if you realize that you’ve been spending lots of money on things like clothes, music, or anything else that qualifies as a “want” instead of a “need.” Change your habits to avoid the stores or websites that are tempting you to spend, and you’ll be able to save more. For further advice, check out our Budgeting Tips resource center.
4. Get Support To Boost Your Motivation
One of the biggest obstacles to actually paying off your credit cards is the fact that it’s so hard to stay motivated. Let’s be honest: paying off debt can be hard. So how do you keep your focus and persevere until you reach your goal of being debt free? We’ve found that sharing your goal with others is a really important part of the process, because it gives you a support network of people who can give you encouragement during the hard times, when you feel like stopping or giving up.
Decide on a few people you can trust to be positive and to treat you well, and tell them your goal. Then ask them to help you stay on track! As an alternative, or an added boost, write down your goal on a piece of paper and add a photo to remind you of what you’re striving for. Put it somewhere you’ll see it often, and it will help you stay focused throughout your journey to being debt free.
Hopefully these tips will help you pay off your credit cards faster than you even think you can! Let us know in the comments if you have any questions. You can also check out these additional tips on how to get out of debt which may be helpful if you have other types of debt besides credit cards.
Emily @ Financial Money Tips says
Awesome! Paying off those credit cards can be a real bear. I’ve found that putting a little more into them every month tends to get the job done. :)
Benjamin Feldman says
I agree, Emily! It’s amazing how much quicker it goes down when you increase your monthly payments even just a little bit.
Alan Criston says
Definitely! Increasing the monthly payment by 50% dramatically reduced my debt. It was difficult, but surprisingly not as difficult as I thought.
Vincent Duncombe says
What do you think about what Dave Ramsey suggests, paying off the smallest balance first so that you build momentum and also help you work faster when you see progress.
Benjamin Feldman says
Hi Vincent, that’s a good question. Ultimately it is up to the individual, depending on which method of repayment they think will be successful for them. At ReadyForZero we recommend paying the debt with the highest interest rate first because you can speed up your process that way. However, if someone finds it motivating to pay off the smallest balances first, that is totally understandable too.
Chris Desatoff says
These are some great tips. I’ve used them myself, and yeah, they work, but I think there’s one more tip that’s just got to be mentioned:
Tip 5: Stop using your credit cards!
At one point, my wife and I had close to $20,000 in credit card debt! We did balance transfers. We did consolidated loans. We tried snowballing and snowflaking. We increased our income.
But you know what? Our debt never went away until we stopped debt spending. That’s the missing ingredient in many people’s debt reduction plan. You just need to discipline yourself to spend less.
Good luck to all who are still stuck in that debt cycle.
@ Vincent I actually love paying off the lowest balance card first. It’s a great relief and a great way to build some momentum. Thanks for that tip.
Benjamin Feldman says
Chris, that is a great 5th tip! And it is so true – you have to stop using the credit cards in order to make those balances disappear. Once you have gotten debt free, then there’s no harm in using a card and paying it in full every month (as long as you can avoid the temptation of overspending). But while you’re paying them off, it’s much easier if you don’t continue putting more debt onto them.
Max Simpson says
Personally prefer debt consolidation credit cards to pay off other credits. It saves a lot of money, and, what is important, efforts, nerves and time. I used credit cards debt consolidation around 5 years ago, when it was easier, thus, unfortunately I don’t know which offers on the market are the best now for this purpose. If you interested, check any personal finances website – like nerdwallet.com or effectify.com – they have bunh of reviews and guides to debt consolidation cards.