If figuring out how to pay off your credit card debt is one of your personal finance goals, you’re not alone. In fact, 53% of Americans have carried a balance on their credit cards for over two years, and the average household with credit card debt owes $12,229.
Thankfully, paying off credit card debt isn’t rocket science, but you need a plan.
- How credit card debt spirals out of control
- How to avoid paying interest on credit cards
- How balance transfer credit cards can help you pay off debt
- How to choose the best balance transfer card for you
- Use a personal loan to pay off credit card debt
- Is it possible for me to DIY my debt repayment strategy?
- What if these options don't work for me?
- Bottom line
How credit card debt spirals out of control
It’s easy to let credit card debt spiral out of control, eventually getting so big that it feels impossible to repay.
Here’s an example that illustrates the point:
- Let’s say you’re putting $250 per month toward paying down $10,000 in credit card debt, and your credit card has 18% interest.
- After a year, your monthly payments would add up to $3,000.
- But with 18% interest, $1,800 of the money you put toward paying down your credit card debt went toward paying the interest, not the principal. That means $1,800 of your hard-earned money went straight into the credit card company's pockets.
- Meanwhile, only $1,200 was actually applied toward paying down your $10,000 principal balance. At this rate, you’ll not only pay an additional $5,386 in interest, but it will also take 62 months (aka 5.17 years) to pay off.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can get out of debt.
How to avoid paying interest on credit cards
Take advantage of your credit score! If you have good or excellent credit, use it to your advantage by having banks compete for your business as a balance transfer credit cardholder.
Doing so could save you $1,800 annually in interest and potentially lower your monthly payments based on the current rates. It can also reduce the time it would take to pay off your debt by up to 20%.
How balance transfer credit cards can help you pay off debt
Balance transfer cards are credit cards that typically offer a 0% introductory APR for several months, so you get ahead on paying down your debt.
It may feel counterintuitive to sign up for another credit card to pay it off, but using this method with a clear plan is one of the fastest and easiest debt payoff strategies.
By taking interest charges out of the equation for a certain period of time, your payments can work on tackling your debt in a fraction of the time.
How to choose the best balance transfer card for you
Deciding which balance transfer card is right for you when you refinance credit card debt comes down to your personal situation.
While many have similar terms and offers, you may be able to benefit more from one than another. For instance, one card might offer a combination of 0% intro APR for 12 months plus cash back rewards, while another might offer a longer 0% interest period with no additional rewards. It’s all about choosing the best balance transfer card that will benefit your specific financial situation the most.
When no amount of interest is accrued, more money goes toward the principal balance because the interest accrual has essentially been temporarily frozen during the introductory APR period.
However, note that most credit card issuers charge transfer fees, usually around 3%-5%. Balance transfer cards are often still subject to typical fees as well, such as late fees, so be sure to make on-time payments.
How it works
When you get your new balance transfer card, divide the amount you transfer by the number of months during your introductory period. So, if you transfer $3,500 and your introductory period is 18 months, that’s a payment of just under $200 a month until your balance is back to $0.
Use a personal loan to pay off credit card debt
A personal loan could be worth considering if you’re looking for an alternative to a balance transfer card. Depending on your credit score, you may be able to find a lender with a lower interest rate than your current credit card. You can even look for a personal loan term that can cover multiple credit cards if you qualify for the total amount of your debt.
How it works
What you’ll do with the personal loan is immediately pay off your credit card(s), so the balance is $0. If you had multiple credit cards, you’d now have one single payment instead of managing multiple payments each month — a method of credit card consolidation. Also, you won’t need to decide if you should make a larger payment on a particular card. You can add it to your personal loan payment.
Benefits of using a personal loan
A major benefit of using a personal loan to pay off your credit card debt is that it will happen quicker than paying the minimum payment on your cards each month. Depending on a variety of factors, you could spend more than 20 years paying off your credit card if you’re only paying the minimum payment — that’s a tough number to accept.
With a personal loan, you’d typically repay the loan in 3-5 years. The monthly payment may be higher than your credit card payment was, but if you can afford it, it’s worth it to erase that debt sooner rather than later.
TipNote: Companies like Tally specialize in helping people manage their credit card debt. Tally offers a low-interest line of credit where you can consolidate your debt and helps simplify and prioritize your monthly payments. With Tally, you make one monthly payment to them, and they handle all your monthly card payments.
Is it possible for me to DIY my debt repayment strategy?
If you’re self-motivated and self-disciplined, it’s completely possible to create your own debt repayment plan. However, many individuals have trouble staying motivated because the temptation to use a card for an “emergency” or impulse buy is too great.
Having the means to succumb to peer or societal pressure to afford something might make you waiver from your repayment strategy, which could land you further in debt.
Put some preventative measures in place to keep yourself on course. For example, if you’re determined not to use a credit card while paying it off, leave it at home instead of in your wallet.
Debt snowball vs. debt avalanche
There are two common strategies you can use to pay off your cold-hearted debt: debt snowball and debt avalanche.
The debt snowball method is paying off your smallest debt first. You will still make all of your minimum payments and pay some extra toward that credit card. When it’s paid off, you’ll put that total amount toward the next credit card that will be paid off the fastest.
The debt avalanche method involves paying off debt with the highest interest rate first. You’ll create a payment strategy similar to the debt snowball method, which will have you paying more toward that high-interest debt. This method saves you money on interest but can take a bit longer to eliminate all of your debt.
What if these options don't work for me?
You might feel like these options aren’t going to work for you, and you’re not alone in feeling that. No matter your situation, it’s crucial to be responsible with your payments or risk creating a worse financial situation for yourself.
- Debt consolidation: These loans typically combine all your debts into one loan, and the interest rate is the average of what you’re already paying. It might not save you money, but if you’re struggling with managing multiple payments, it can help you get out of debt.
- Debt settlement: Debt settlement companies negotiate with your creditors to secure a reduction in your overall debt. Then, you make a payment to the debt settlement company to absolve your debt. This strategy is typically best for consumers facing bankruptcy or other severe credit problems, as it may negatively impact your credit history.
- Debt management plan: If you have an overwhelming amount of debt and a debt consolidation loan is not an option, you can look into a debt management plan. Basically, debt management is a program set by your creditor to help you pay off your debt long-term with possibly a little less interest.
Before making any decisions regarding consolidation, debt management, or bankruptcy, be sure to fully understand your options and how they might affect your credit report.
Credit card debt is one of the hardest types of debt to tackle, mostly because of high interest rates. If you only pay the minimum, it sometimes feels like you're standing still. It's important to get to the root cause of why you're in debt. What's going on that could be contributing to these behaviors?
Make sure you address the underlying issue even while you work on your financial goals to stop spending and pay down your debt. Cut your ties to the habits of the past, and work toward building yourself a rewarding and debt-free financial future.