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Tips for Paying Off Credit Card Debt

August 8, 2013 by Lucy Lazarony

Paying Off Credit Card Debt

Want to take charge of your financial life? Pay off your credit card debt.

High balances and high finance charges can put a real drain on your wallet and limit your financial options. And if you let those balances linger long enough, they could keep you from achieving other important goals and dreams, such as buying a home.

Whatever your financial goals and dreams, paying off high-interest credit card debt is the first important step in the right direction. These pay-down tips and strategies will show you how.

Get organized. Step 1 is getting organized. Gather up all your credit card information. Make note of the balance, interest rate, due date, and minimum payment for each card. How bad is it?

Do you have lots of balances spread out over lots of different cards? Do you have one big balance and several small ones? Have you consolidated your debt to one card but can't seem to make any headway on your balance? Have you been playing the balance transfer game for months and months?

Next, add up the minimum payments on each of your credit cards. How much money must you pay each month just to stay current on your credit card bills? Can you afford to pay more than the minimum payment on one or more of your cards? If so, get ready to do it. Debt can pile up for all kinds of reasons. Paying it down is pretty straightforward. Pick a pay down strategy and stick with it until your balances are paid off in full.

Let's take a look at three different credit card debt pay-down strategies

Pay off the balance with the highest APR first

From a dollar and cents point of view, this strategy makes the most sense. With this strategy, you increase your payment on the credit card with the highest annual percentage rate while continuing to make the minimum payment on the rest of your credit cards. Once you pay off the balance on the card with the highest interest rate, you move on to the card with the second highest interest rate, and so on.

Doubling or tripling your minimum payment on the card with the highest interest rate is a good way to start. Whatever payment boost you can afford, do it and stick with it. If you start by paying $150 on a credit card, keep on paying at least $150 each and every month until the card is paid off.

Be sure to stick with your boosted payment amount even as your balance and minimum payments slip lower and lower. Remember: the aim is to get your balance to zero. Easing up on your payments as your balance creeps lower will slow your progress.

Pay off the card with the lowest balance first

This strategy is a great way to build up a little momentum. With this strategy, you increase your payment on the credit card with the lowest balance, while continuing to make the minimum payment on the rest of your credit cards. Once you pay off the card with the lowest balance, you move on to the card with the next lowest balance, and so on.

It's quicker and easier to pay a $500 balance down to zero than a $2,500 balance. And it feels good to pay a credit card bill in full, no matter what size balance you begin with. Plus, every low balance card that you pay in full is one less minimum payment that you have to pay each month. By knocking out one or two smaller balance cards, you'll have more money to focus on larger balances.

Consolidate your debt to a single card or loan

Like things simple? This pay-down strategy might be for you. By consolidating your credit card debt to a single card or debt consolidation loan, you have a single payment to make each month rather than four or five. One payment to pay each month - that's it. You can even automate payments so you never have to worry about paying late. Just be sure to choose a payment amount much more than the minimum each and every month so you can make some real progress on paying off your debt.

This payment strategy makes things easy, but it also makes it easy to let things slide. So pick a payment amount, double or triple your minimum payment (or whatever you can afford), and be sure to stick with it.

Stop charging. Whatever pay-down strategy you choose, it's essential that you curb your credit card spending. It's awfully hard to pay down credit card debt when you keep ringing up new balances each month. Put your credit cards on ice while you focus on paying down card debt. Pay with cash, check, or debit card instead. If you must use your credit card, only charge items you can pay off in a month or two.


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Lucy Lazarony Lucy Lazarony is a freelance personal finance writer. Her articles have been featured on Bankrate, MoneyRates, MSN Money, and The National Endowment for Financial Education. Prior to freelancing, she worked as a staff writer for Bankrate for seven years. She earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Florida and spent a summer as an international intern at Richmond, The American International University in London. She lives in South Florida.