Sound familiar? Don’t feel bad; you’re not alone.
According to CBS News, the average credit card balance per US household is now $9600. And with credit card interest rates running between 16% and 24%, credit card debt is growing $1600 to $2300 annually.
As such, it’s safe to say that we’re all feeling the post-December pinch, but the good news is that there are ways to alleviate some of that pain.
Here are eight smart strategies to tame your credit card debt:
Start with a plan
Call it a plan or a New Year’s resolution, just get something in place that details how you’re going to attack your debt.
Natasha Rachel Smith, personal finance expert at TopCashback.com, suggests a couple ways to approach this.
“Some borrowers enjoy focusing on paying off small debts first because it feels like an accomplishment or an easy win. Other borrowers prefer to chisel away at debts in order of significance: secured borrowing first, then each additional debt in order of which has the highest interest rate first. This allows them to retire their debt in the cheapest manner available while minimizing the risk of property loss.”
Consider a balance transfer
I once had credit card debt spread across multiple cards that I consolidated onto one new card that offered 18 months of 0% interest. It was a wise decision, and in fact one that saved me a couple thousand dollars over the long term.
Carla Dearing, CEO of SUM180, an online financial wellness service, endorses this tactic too.
“Watch for credit card offers you receive in the mail, for which you are pre-approved,” she says. “Often, these offers include a low fee to transfer your balances and then a period of time with 0% interest.If you’re able to transfer the balances from a higher cost card, you can pay that balance off much more quickly if it’s not accumulating interest.”
Be aware that the 0% interest rate does not apply to new spending.
Pay off small debts first
Referred to as the “debt snowball method,” making large payments on your smallest debts while paying the minimum on larger debts will clear out what you owe quickly.
“Once you’ve paid off one small debt, move to the next smallest and eventually all you’ll have left to is your larger debts,” explains Cody Green, CEO of online financing company USA Drives. “This method makes budgeting and financial planning easy, as it allows you to focus on paying back one debt at a time instead of juggling multiple.”
Consolidate what you can
If you have a lot of debt from multiple lenders, consolidating it might be a good option if you’re having a hard time keeping track of what you owe.
“It’s hard to juggle different debts, but applying for a personal loan, a line of credit or a balance transfer card means you only have to pay back one lender instead of multiple,” Green says. “This option is great for saving money, as consolidating your debt means that you’re only required to deal with one interest rate.”
Strive to pay more than the minimum
Too many people are committed to paying the bare minimum on their credit cards, and I can’t stress enough how terrible this decision is. To give the situation some context, let’s work with hypothetical numbers. For instance, if you’re carrying a $2000 balance on your credit card that has an APR of 18%, paying the minimum would take over 30 years to pay off. Thirty years! You have to ask yourself, do I really want to carry this burden for half my life?
Pay extra where it counts the most
To save the greatest amount of money, allocate any extra funds you have to the debts with the highest APR.
“If you prioritize your high interest debt, you’ll clear your larger debts first, which minimizes the amount of accumulated interest that you’re required to pay,” Green explains.
Call your credit card company and ask for an APR reduction
My mother always told me that I’ll never know the answer to a question if I don’t ask it — and the worst someone can tell you is “no.” When it’s your finances you’re dealing with, you owe it to yourself to ask money-saving questions every chance you get. Call your credit card issuer and ask for a reduction on your APR. If it works out in your favor, you’ve just potentially saved yourself a heap of cash that you can use to pay down your debt faster.
Tap into credit card rewards lying in wait
Instead of waiting to cash in your rewards for gift cards or other tangible junk you don’t need, use the cash-rewards option to send money toward your bill.
“It may not be considered saving but it feels like free money and can help towards repaying debt,” Smith adds.
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