Credit card debt can weigh heavily on your shoulders and wallet. If you’re tired of the anxious feelings and precarious payments, you’ll need to learn how to quickly pay off credit card debt.
While there are few instant fixes outside of a major windfall, there are plenty of steps you can take to minimize the damage credit card debt can cause and ultimately get rid of it. After all, a gradual journey to success is still a journey to success.
These tips can help you go from drowning in debt to living debt-free.
How Can I Pay Off My Credit Card Debt?
When faced with a daunting credit card balance, some might be tempted to just make minimum payments or ignore the debt altogether. However, there can be dire consequences with this strategy.
For starters, credit card interest quickly adds up. Most credit card issuers require a minimum payment of 1% to 2% of your balance. So, let’s assume, for example, you owe $6,000 on a credit card with a 15% annual percentage rate (APR) and your issuer requires 2% of that balance as a minimum payment. You’d wind up paying close to around $9,184 in interest, were you to only make that $120 minimum for the full 355 months it would take to pay that $6,000 balance down.
(To help you come up with a better plan, you can use our credit card debt calculator.)
Plus, mega-interest aside, those credit card balances might be dragging down your credit scores, too. Payment history and amounts owed are two major factors used to calculate your credit score, so getting on top of them ASAP is a smart choice.
(If you want to see how your debt is affecting your credit, you can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)
Choose to be money smart and control the debt before it controls you. Consider trying these strategies for how to pay off credit card debt instead.
1. Go in With a Plan
A strong strategy usually starts with taking stock of the situation. Start by rounding up all your credit cards. For each card, track the amount of debt, the limit, interest rates, minimum monthly payments and other crucial information. This will help you form a clearer understanding of your debt status. Doing so will also show which cards are weighing you down the most. While this can be overwhelming, it will help you create a concrete plan to move forward.
Credit card consolidation is one such plan you may want to consider. If you have several different credit cards, then you find yourself making several payments each month for all of these cards. Each credit card will also come with its own balance and interest rate that may be different from the others.
Sometimes, when the credit card debt is stacked too high, consumers will choose to consolidate this debt into one manageable monthly payment. Meaning, the balances on all the credit cards combined will be lumped into one balance you will pay each month, rather than several.
Consolidating credit card debt may be a viable way to simplify the process and may even help lower and manage interest rates more effectively than if you continue to pay each credit card separately every month.
2. Tackle the Smallest Balance First
It might be tempting to tackle the biggest balance right off the bat, but small victories are a great motivation. If you have multiple credit cards with various balances, tackling the smallest balance might be the way to go.
Take the account with the smallest balance and try to pay double or triple monthly payments, or whatever you can afford each month. Do so while continuing to make the minimum payment on your other credit cards — neglecting the other cards entirely can lead to major consequences.
Once that smallest balance is knocked down to zero, tackle the card with the next lowest balance. This payoff strategy gives you the satisfaction of seeing a card balance flip to zero early on in your payoff plan. Hopefully, this feeling will help you keep motivated to battle each card’s debt as you pay off charges.
3. Pay Down the Card With the Highest Interest Rate
Finance charges on your credit cards can quickly eat away at your funds. To keep your debts from growing, you may instead want to focus on paying off the credit card with the highest interest rate first.
Pay double or triple your minimum payments on the card with the highest interest rate and most costly monthly finances charges, while continuing to make the minimum payments on your other credit cards. This strategy is the most efficient way to attack your debt, but it takes discipline to stick with it, especially if the card with the highest interest rate has a hefty balance.
Once you pay off the card with the highest interest rate, move on to the card with the next highest interest rate and so on.
Choose a payment strategy that works for you and stick with it. You may even adopt a combination approach. Maybe the card with the highest interest rate also has the lowest balance.
You’ll get the double satisfaction that comes with attacking the credit card with the highest APR and seeing a smaller balance flip to zero early on in your this-debt-must-go plan.
4. Consider a Balance Transfer Credit Card
Many credit card issuers offer 0% introductory APRs to customers who transfer a balance over to their card from another. That 0% APR will expire eventually — usually within 12 to 15 months, though some of the better balance transfer credit cards last as long as 18 to 21 months. Also keep in mind that most offers involve an account balance transfer fee, typically 2% to 5% of the balance you’re carrying.
However, for someone carrying a high-interest credit card, the right balance transfer card can be a lifesaver.
Just remember to read the fine print of any balance-transfer offer you are considering carefully and refrain from running up new charges on the card. This credit card is to help with paying off debt, not for racking up new chargers. The goal should be to pay the balance off before the introductory APR period expires. When assessing balance transfer credit cards be sure to note:
- How long the introductory 0% APR lasts for
- Whether that APR applies to purchases and not just balance transfers
- What the go-to APR on balances transfers and purchases will be after the introductory rate expires
- The fee associated with transferring the balance
You can find the right credit card for you using Credit.com’s credit card finder, which allows you to sort offers by various features (such as low APR or no annual fee). You can also sort offers by credit score to see which cards you actually qualify for.
Finally, while the best balance-transfer credit cards refrain from charging retroactive interest, some cards touting deferred-interest financing, particularly store credit cards, will require you to pay interest on the full balance you transferred if you can’t pay it all down before the 0% introductory APR offer expires.
So, again, you’ll want to comparison-shop for the best offers by reading their terms and conditions closely and be realistic about how long you think it will take you to pay the card off.
5. Look Into a Personal Loan
You can also consider taking out a personal loan to pay off all of your credit card balances. These personal loans, sometimes referred to as debt consolidation loans, can be a good option for someone who doesn’t trust themselves to not continually run their credit card balances up.
Personal loans are installment loans — borrowers agree to make a set monthly payment at a certain interest rate for a specific period of time. That means, in taking out the loan and using it to pay off your credit card debt, you’re given a hard date in which that debt will be completely off the books.
Keep in mind that you’re locking yourself into a set monthly payment. If you get in a jam, you can’t make a minimum payment like you can on a credit card. Plus, interest rates on personal loans are primarily determined by your credit scores, meaning you may or may not qualify for a lower rate than the one you’re already paying.
Again, it helps to read all offers carefully and do some research on lenders ahead of time. To summarize, when vetting personal loans look into
- What you qualify for (For example, if your credit score is high enough)
- Whether the APR you can qualify for will be lower than the one your credit card(s) are carrying
- The length of time you’ll have to repay the loan
- If the monthly payment fits into your budget
- Whether there are any penalty fees associated with paying the loan back early
Remember: The last thing you want to do after using a personal loan to pay off your credit card debt is to run those balances up again. Otherwise, you’ll wind up with more debt than you started with.
If you go this route, it might be a good idea to hide your card while you’re paying off your personal loan.
6. Re-evaluate Current Expenses
This sounds like a no-brainer but embarking on a mission to pay off credit card debt is the perfect time to re-evaluate your budget and expenses. Do some number crunching to figure out where you’re racking up the most debt. Cutting down on credit card expenses, especially monthly or yearly subscriptions, can help you decrease the amount of debt you’ll need to pay off.
Maybe your daily morning latte is costing more than your cable bill. Are you paying a monthly gym membership fee for a gym you only use once a month? Or maybe you can totally live without that monthly beauty subscription box.
There may also be certain necessary services for which you’re overpaying. Try actively seeking ways to lower your bills, articles like 11 Ways to Lower Your Air Conditioning Bill are helpful for those who don’t want to eliminate certain luxuries but wish to use them more frugally. There are countless small ways to lower bills that can make a big difference.
Think of cutting out spending as cutting off weights that are holding you back from financial freedom. You’re not depriving yourself of luxuries, but rather you are working towards allowing your future self to have more financial freedom and fewer worries about debt.
Do Debt Relief Programs Affect a Credit Score?
If adhering to an aggressive and high payment schedule to help rid yourself of oppressive credit card debt is becoming too much to handle, then debt relief programs and a credit counselor may be your only option moving forward.
You are then faced with two different options: debt settlement or bankruptcy. Both of which will seriously impact your credit scores.
If you file for Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, you will be able to regain control over all your assets such as your property, but you will still be required to pay all of your unsecured creditors, credit card companies included. The amount you pay them must be equal to the value of the nonexempt assets you have. Although it is also important to note that these bankruptcy exemptions may vary slightly from state to state.
Choosing to file for bankruptcy due to oppressive credit card debt is a decision not to be taken lightly because of the profound consequences it may mean for your credit score. Ask yourself a few questions:
Can you afford to pay back your credit card debt if you are put on a monthly payment plan? How is your debt-to-income ratio? Do you make enough per month to cover this payment? Also, are you being harassed or even sued for the debt you owe? The answer to this question will rest mainly on just how delinquent the accounts are and how much is owed on each.
Now that we know that bankruptcy can hinder your credit, what about other debt management programs? With a debt management program, you are essentially making a single payment to a counseling agency. The counseling agency will then take this payment and disburse it to your many creditors.
Yes, this strategy will affect your credit in several different ways.
The counseling agency will certainly help keep you on track with your payments which can help improve your scores with some time. It can also help bring your accounts back into a current status which can also work to improve your credit scores and credit standing.
Before choosing which way you are going to begin to tackle your oppressive credit card debt, you should always be completely informed of all the options available to you and understand how they can negatively or positively affect your credit score and standing and how long it will take you to become more financially stable.
Paige DiFiore contributed to this article. This article has been updated. It was originally published Nov. 17, 2017.