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Paying off credit card debt can feel like an impossible goal. At least, it felt that way when my total credit card balance was more than $10,000 in 2015. If I continued only making minimum payments, it would’ve taken a decade to pay it off. Plus, I’d have to pay thousands of dollars in interest.
Along the process, I learned some tricks to paying off credit cards that helped me repay my debt in only three years. Here’s how I did it, plus a few additional credit card repayment strategies to try.
1. Create a Budget
Creating a budget makes it easier to find available cash flow to put toward credit card debt.
Here’s how to create a simple budget:
- Determine your monthly expenses. It may help to divide expenses between necessary expenses and miscellaneous expenses to help you see which areas you can cut back on.
- Record your monthly income sources. Include your stable income as well as the average income received from any side gigs.
- Compile all your income and spending information. Putting the information into a spreadsheet can help organize the data, or you can use a budgeting app.
- Review the itemized costs and total expenses. Seeing where your cash flow is going can help to identify the spending areas that can be reduced or eliminated. You can then put the money saved towards paying down credit card debt.
- Revisit your monthly budget. Check back regularly on your expenses to adjust your plan as needed, especially if there has been changes in your necessary expenses or income.
One tip to save money on bills, for example, is by using a bill negotiation app. These apps do the legwork by either negotiating existing rates, finding a lower price or canceling unused subscriptions.
2. Automate Your Payments
Having multiple cards can make staying on top of monthly payments a challenge. Enrolling in autopay, not only avoids potential late fees but also avoids potential damage to credit scores due to poor payment history.
Additionally, choosing to autopay the full amount due each month avoids interest charges that cause an outstanding balance to grow. Just make sure that there is enough money in your checking account to fulfill the autopay payments. Unless you have overdraft protection, you may need to pay overdraft fees to your bank.
3. Look Into Debt Payoff Strategies
Creating a repayment plan to pay off credit card debt can be helpful. Pick a strategy that works for you based on your needs and financial situation. Here are a couple of repayment strategies and how they work.
Debt Avalanche Method
The debt avalanche method involves a debtor putting any extra money they have toward their highest-interest credit card first while making the minimum payment on their other cards. Once the highest-interest card account is paid off, the freed-up cash flow is redirected toward the card with the next-highest interest rate.
Since the card with the highest interest rate is targeted first, this strategy is most effective at saving money on interest charges.
Debt Snowball Method
The debt snowball method operates similarly to the debt avalanche method. But the key difference is a debtor focuses on paying off the card with the smallest balance, first. In the meantime, minimum payments are made for other credit card accounts.
The snowball method is advantageous for those who need quick wins to stay motivated with their debt-free plan. However, the downside is that they might incur more interest over time.
4. Consolidate Debt
Consolidating debt involves combining multiple loans into a single loan. This is done by taking out a new loan or credit account to pay off existing debt. A major benefit of debt consolidation is that if a person qualifies for a lower interest rate, they can save thousands of dollars on interest.
Here are some strategies to consolidate credit card debt, including a couple that I have used myself.
Transfer a Balance
To kick credit card debt to the curb faster, I transferred credit card debt from a high-interest credit card to a balance transfer credit card.
A balance transfer credit card allows consumers to transfer a balance from one credit card issuer to another. Balance transfer credit cards might offer interest-free introductory periods that last from six to 18 months or longer.
Although this option can help borrowers get out of debt, it typically requires good to excellent credit to qualify. Also, it’s important to note that credit card issuers usually charge a balance transfer fee that ranges from 3% to 5% of the amount transferred.
Debt Consolidation Loan
A debt consolidation loan (i.e. a personal loan) is another financial product I used to consolidate my credit card debt. At the time, most of my credit card APRs — interest, plus fees — were more than 20%. I applied for two $5,000 personal loans and qualified for an average 6% APR.
Once I received my loan funds, I used them to pay off my credit card debt. Then, I paid off both loans over the next three years. This move saved me thousands of dollars in interest and helped me pay off my credit card debt faster.
This option is useful for someone with good credit. A higher credit score increases the chance of qualifying for a lender’s lowest interest rate. Borrowers who have bad credit are often charged high-interest rates and fees.
Home Equity Loans
A homeowner might consider consolidating their credit debt with a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC). Both options typically have lower average rates than credit cards since they are secured by the equity in a person's home.
A home equity loan operates similarly to a personal loan. Lenders issue borrowers a lump-sum payment that’s repaid over a certain time period.
By contrast, a HELOC operates similarly to a credit card. Borrowers are issued a line of credit they can borrow from as needed during a draw period that often lasts 10 years.
Both of these options have potential risks. If a person defaults, a lender can foreclose on their home.
A cash-out refinance is another option for homeowners to use the equity in their homes to consolidate credit card debt. With this option, a consumer takes out a new, larger mortgage to pay off their existing mortgage. They then pocket the difference in cash, minus any closing costs.
Since average mortgage rates tend to be lower than average credit card rates, this option could help someone save on interest. But, similar to the home equity loan options mentioned above, a lender can foreclose on their home if they default on the loan. Consult a financial advisor to determine whether refinancing a mortgage makes sense in your situation.
5. Consider Debt Management Plans
If a consumer needs help creating a plan to get rid of credit card debt, they can contact a credit counseling agency. This agency can help them create a debt management plan, also known as a “DMP”, in exchange for a fee. Plus, the counseling agency might be able to negotiate lower interest rates and fees with existing creditors.
DMPs work by requiring debtors to make a monthly lump-sum payment to the agency. The agency uses those funds to pay each creditor.
A major benefit of this plan is that a person’s credit card debt is paid in full — usually within three to five years. As a result, it could help people improve their credit scores over time.
6. Boost Your Income
To pay off debt faster, I also focused on growing my income. I picked up several side hustles — freelance writing, driving for Uber, beta-testing and taking surveys. I put some of the extra money I earned toward paying down my credit cards.
Here are some additional side hustling ideas to consider:
- Dog walking
- Managing social media
- Monetizing a hobby
- Teaching a subject online
- Delivering food
- Renting out a spare bedroom
- Event planning
Outside of picking up a side hustle, landing a promotion at an existing job or landing a job that offers a higher salary can also boost income that can be used towards paying down your credit card debt faster.
Paying off credit card debt can be tough. But with the right planning and some effort, you can create a reasonable roadmap to move closer to being free from those debts.
Yes, it might be possible to negotiate outstanding credit card balances with card issuers. Sometimes an issuer might agree to accept an upfront lump-sum payment that is less than the total amount owed. However, settling credit card debt can negatively impact a person’s credit score.
Using emergency savings to pay off the debt in full might be a good option if you have enough funds to cover unexpected expenses. Otherwise, doing so might result in having to take on additional debt if an unexpected expense arises.
Choosing which bills to pay off first depends on the goal. First, focus on necessary costs, like housing, utilities, food, and transportation. When it comes to credit card debt, consider whether the goal is saving on interest charges, or keeping up the debt repayment momentum by paying down smaller balances first.