A lot of people use their credit cards without thinking about how they are actually going to pay for it. It doesn’t happen overnight, but little by little they find themselves buried in credit card debt.
The good news? You can reduce your credit card and eventually become debt free with a good plan and some disciplined action.
How credit cards work
A credit card gives you a short loan for the month. If you pay off the full balance for the month, you don’t pay any interest. It’s an interest-free loan with extra benefits like points and rewards. Unfortunately, most people don’t pay the loan in full every month, which means the balance gets carried over to the next month.
The remaining balance then has an interest charge. The interest rate — annual percentage rate (APR) — depends on your card, but it’s usually around 14-20%. And don’t be misled by the name, APR isn’t charged yearly; in fact, it’s charged daily. You can calculate your daily APR by taking your credit card interest rate and dividing it by 365.
It’s a common belief that you can pay for something on your credit card and then pay for it little by little each month until it is paid off, but due to credit cards’ exorbitant interest rates, this is a really bad idea.
For instance, if you have a $5,000 credit card balance at 14% APR and you pay the minimum payment each month — assuming you don’t rack up any more debt — it will take you nearly 10 years to pay off the loan and you will owe over $1,900 in interest alone. Use this Credit Card Minimum Payment Calculator to figure out how long it will take you to pay off your credit card making the minimum payment each month.
5 Ways to Reduce Credit Card Debt
Here are some concrete strategies to help you rid yourself of credit card debt:
1. Review your credit card bill and interest rate
A little knowledge goes a long way when it comes to reducing credit card debt. Unfortunately, most credit card users are not aware of how much their credit card is actually costing them.
Make a list of all your credit cards, and next to each write the total amount of debt, the APR, and the minimum monthly payment. This may require calling the credit card company. You can find the phone number on the back of your credit card.
Great! Now you know exactly how much you owe.
While there are a lot of benefits to using credit cards, including organizing transactions and spending, getting travel points, and extra consumer protection, unless you are paying your credit card bill in full every month, you are paying an exorbitant amount of interest.
Once a week, review your credit card statement to make sure there are no errors. It’s a good idea to keep your receipts so you can compare the charges. If you notice an error, simply contact your credit card company to get it fixed.
2. Decide which credit card to pay off first
Decide which credit card to pay off first. Some people use Dave Ramsey’s “snowball method,” which means you pay off the card with the lowest balance first. This will give you quick momentum and motivation to tackle the bigger debts.
The other strategy is known as the “standard method” and involves paying the minimum on all cards, but paying much more for the card with the highest APR. There are pros and cons to each method, but the most important part is just getting started. Pick and method and get going.
3. Negotiate a lower APR with your credit card company
Ask your credit card company for a lower APR. While it may not work, it’s definitely worth a shot.
Simply call up your credit card company and say that you plan on paying off your credit card more aggressively and would like a lower APR. If you receive pushback, tell them that other credit card companies are offering you a much lower APR, and some have an introductory rate of 0% APR. You’ve been a loyal customer for years and would prefer not to transfer your balance to another card.
As long as you stay cool and collected, you can often lower your credit card’s APR this way. Sometimes, the credit card companies will offer you 0% financing for a limited amount of time to get you back on track. If you are able to lower your APR, don’t forget to update your debt records.
4. Know where the money is coming from
You will need to know how you plan on paying off your credit card. The best way to do this is by increasing your cash flow with a raise or another job and making paying off your debt a priority. You will need to aggressively monitor your spending and get conscious about every transaction until you are free of credit card debt. It’s not easy, but it’s a lot better than taking money from your retirement account or home equity line of credit.
5. Ask for help
DebtBlue is here to help you learn about all of your options for getting out of debt. For those with multiple credit cards and high interest rates, debt consolidation may be right for you. This is a loan that consolidates all of your credit card debt into one bill and one lower-interest payment per month. The interest rate on the consolidation loan is significantly less than the rate on your credit cards.
Another option is debt resolution, also known as debt settlement. This involves an expert debt negotiator working on your behalf to get the credit card companies to settle debts for a fraction of what you owe. This is normally reserved for desperate situations since the process will hurt your credit score.
Every situation is different. It’s best to get all your credit card statements together and contact DebtBlue so we can help you make the best decision for getting out of debt.