Credit Card Debt (And How To Pay It Off)
Sarah Sharkey8-minute read
July 01, 2021
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means we receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something that we have recommended. Please check out our disclosure policy for more details.
When you first get a credit card, the lure of spending more than you can actually afford can be powerful. Many Americans are drawn into a cycle of spending more than they can afford. In fact, the average credit card debt for an American household is $8,398.
If you’re trapped in credit card debt, it can feel like a black hole that will never allow you to climb out. Although it can seem like a never-ending cycle of payments, it doesn’t have to be. You can take control of your credit card debt and pay it off.
How To Pay Off Credit Card Debt
Credit cards can be a double-edged sword. If used responsibly, you can unlock worthwhile rewards. If not, you may fall into debt before you know what’s happening.
When you find yourself in credit card debt, there are several strategies to consider.
Of course, the best way to get out of credit card debt is to take a lump sum from your savings account. If you are lucky, you might have enough to pay it off in one fell swoop. However, not everyone can make such a large payment.
If you’re unable to make a lump sum payment, you have many other options. Let’s take a closer look at your next steps.
1. Learn About The Debt Snowball Method
As your credit card debt grows, it may feel like you can’t possibly pay off the entire mountainous balance. With a mindset like that, it can be difficult to find the strength to pay more than the minimum.
The debt snowball method is one strategy that takes advantage of a mindset shift. Instead of working on all of your debts at one time, you start by focusing on the smallest ones first. Once you tackle your smallest debt, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and hopefully find the motivation to continue paying down debt.
After you pay off your first debt, you put that newfound payment toward your next-largest debt. Each time you eliminate a single debt, the “snowball” of payments grows to challenge your other debts.
The debt snowball method works best for borrowers who are motivated by trackable progress. If you enjoy marking items off of your to-do list and have multiple debts to tackle, this could be a good option. However, it may not be the most efficient way to eliminate your debt.
2. Try The Debt Avalanche Approach
If you want to eliminate your credit card debt in the most economical way possible, the debt avalanche approach is the way to go. Instead of focusing your efforts on the smallest debt, you channel your extra payments into the debt with the highest interest rate.
This method might be the most accurate answer to the question, “how can I get out of credit card debt fast?” After all, you’ll be avoiding a ballooning balance by eliminating high-interest debt first.
However, debt elimination is only effective if you are able to stick to the plan. You’ll need to make a strong commitment to becoming debt-free. Not only do you need to say you are committed, but you need to follow through. Generally, you’ll have to be someone who is motivated by the numbers and wants to avoid paying any extra interest.
Make sure you’re able to make it to the finish line before you try the debt avalanche strategy.
3. Automate Your Payments
If you struggle to make on-time payments to your credit card balance, you might be making your debt problem worse. Not only will this missed payment hurt your credit score, but it allows your credit card balance to continue growing.
Automating your payments is one effective way to avoid missing any. Although it likely won’t solve your debt problems, it can help.
You may want to consider setting up an automatic payment for your credit card every 2 weeks. For the best results, it is a good idea to align this payment date with your biweekly paydays. With this method, you’ll painlessly make 26 half-payments every year, which translates into 13 monthly payments. At the very least, you’ll be able to make an extra monthly payment each year.
Remember, you can always log in and make an additional payment. This is just a safeguarding measure that will ensure that your debt repayment goals stay on track.
4. Consider Credit Card Consolidation
One difficult part of staying in debt is juggling multiple payments each month. It can be stressful to keep track of all of your debts in order to make on-time payments.
If you’re tired of keeping up with multiple payments, debt consolidation may be the perfect solution. In addition to a single monthly payment, you can often secure a lower interest rate through debt consolidation.
With credit card debt, you have two options for consolidation.
First, you can consider balance transfer credit cards. In this case, you would transfer your debt from a high interest credit card to one with a lower interest rate. Many credit card issuers offer introductory rates of 0%. Typically, you’ll have 6 months to a year to enjoy the 0% interest rate. This time frame will allow you the opportunity to tackle your credit card debts without a ballooning interest rate.
A second debt consolidation loan option is a fixed-rate personal loan. With this alternative, you would roll your credit card debts into a single personal loan. If you can obtain a personal loan with an interest rate that is lower than your credit card debt, this is a great option. You will still have to pay interest on your debt. However, you’ll be able to take advantage of a single monthly payment and the promise of a permanently lower interest rate while you repay your debt.
Getting Help With Credit Card Debt: 4 Options
Asking for help can be difficult, especially when it comes to financial troubles. However, asking for credit card debt help is something that many people should do. Instead of facing a mountain of debt on your own, you should seek help.
If you are at your wit’s end, you may need to go beyond traditional repayment strategies. It might be time to consider other options to eliminate your credit card debt once and for all. A debt professional can walk you through your options and help you get to the finish line with as little damage as possible. Consider finding a reliable debt professional to help you determine which of these solutions is best for you.
1. Negotiate Better Payment Terms
In some cases, you might be able to renegotiate your credit card debt.
If you are in credit card debt due to a short-term situation, you might be able to negotiate for a temporary payment reduction. This might include lowering your minimum monthly payment or lowering your interest rate based on a hardship such as a job loss or medical issue. However, these solutions are only a short-term fix.
Negotiating better terms is typically only a solution for a borrower in extremely hard times. Otherwise, the credit card companies are not likely to offer a deal. After all, they want to collect the full amount owed if at all possible.
2. Create A Debt Management Plan
Debt management plans are created by nonprofit credit counseling agencies. If you seek their help, the nonprofit may be able to tackle your debt.
Generally, a debt management plan will lump your credit card debts into a single payment and provide a structured path to repayment. It will typically take 3 – 5 years to complete a debt management plan, even if they are able to reduce your interest rate.
The biggest benefit of this process is that you will have a credit counselor to help you walk through the process of repayment. Plus, you will repay your original debt. With that, your credit report might not be significantly affected in a negative way.
3. Think About Debt Settlement
If you are looking for a more permanent solution to your credit debt woes, debt settlement might be a solid option.
A one-time settlement might be a better option. In this case, you would work with the credit card companies to offer a lump sum payment that is less than what you owe. Usually, this type of negotiation would only work in your favor if you had a true financial hardship that ensured you would never be able to pay off this balance.
Generally, you will only be able to use this approach if you are in dire financial straits.
4. Understand Bankruptcy
The final, and most drastic, option is to declare bankruptcy.
Although bankruptcy is a way to unburden yourself from debt, it’s far from a simple process. If you think you need to consider bankruptcy, you should seek professional legal help.
Not only will you need to determine which type of bankruptcy is best for your situation, but you’ll navigate the entire legal process. You won’t be required to repay your debts if they are discharged by bankruptcy. However, it can leave a black mark on your credit report that could haunt you for years.
The Pros And Cons Of Credit Card Debt
Although credit card debt can be overwhelming at times, opening a credit card is not a bad thing. In fact, when used properly, a credit card can be a great tool to build your credit.
Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons.
- Regular, on-time payments to your credit card debt can show lenders that you are creditworthy. Once you prove that you’re a trustworthy borrower, you may be able to open multiple lines of credit.
- Life can be unpredictable. If you don’t have an emergency fund, then a credit card can fund necessary purchases like a new furnace when you don’t have the cash available.
- Credit card debt might seem like an insurmountable obstacle, but if you can tackle this, you can tackle anything.
- The ability to invest in yourself. Although it’s not ideal to fund your business venture with credit card debt, it does give you the option to take a chance on yourself.
- If you make late payments or allow your credit card debt to grow, it lets lenders know that you aren’t completely creditworthy. This can lead to a low credit score. In turn, this can make it difficult to secure new lines of credit in the future.
- With high interest rates, your credit card debt will continue to grow over time. If you cannot make complete payments each month, building debt can become overwhelming quickly.
- If you have a high credit limit, then you might feel tempted to spend more than you can actually afford. Instead of maintaining a low credit utilization rate, you might feel tempted to max out your credit card because you can.
- If you finally get your credit card debt under control, you may be tempted to close your card completely. However, this can have negative impacts on your credit score.
Life After Credit Card Debt
Although it may feel like a long road, it’s completely possible to pay down your credit card debt. The key is to pick a strategy and stick to it. Along the way, you may need to lower your expenses or pick up a side hustle to increase your income. Each extra payment can help you march closer to a debt-free life.
Once you’re debt-free, you should absolutely celebrate your success! It is important to reward yourself after achieving such an impressive financial goal.
After the excitement dies down, it’s time to tackle your next financial goal, which might be purchasing your first home. If that’s the case, take the time to improve your credit score in order to obtain a great rate on your first mortgage.
Rocket HQSM has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rocket HQ and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.
Viewing 1 - 3 of 3
What Is A Good Credit Score?
Learn how to determine if your credit score is good, great or bad, and how that affects your financial life.
Can Paying Off Debt Hurt My Credit Score?
If you’re wondering if paying off debt can hurt your credit score, read our article for everything you need to know before paying off debt early.
How To Fix Your Credit After Bankruptcy
Filing for bankruptcy is a tough move for many to make because they know it severely affects their credit – possibly lowering your score by as much as 240 points. If you had to file bankruptcy and want to know how to fix your credit afterward, follow these tips.