Credit card debt can consume your life if you don’t manage it correctly. If you’re already past the point of no return, not knowing what to do next can be scary.
Fortunately, there are simple ways to manage your credit card debt and even work your way out of it.
Know your Minimum Payments and Make Them
First, always make your minimum payments. This is the amount your credit card company requires. It’s usually only a small fraction (2 – 3% of the balance). If you can’t make it, call your credit card company – don’t just ignore the payments.
If you have a legitimate reason why you can’t make the payments, your credit card company may work with you. They often have payment arraignment options or even deferral plans that allow you a break while you get your finances in order.
Tell your credit card company what you can afford and for how long and they may work with you.
Stop Using your Credit Cards
If you can’t use your credit cards and pay them off in full (or close to it), stop using them. Every time you charge the balance up again, you put yourself three more steps behind.
Until you can get control of your balances and pay them off, act as if your credit cards don’t exist. Put them away in a safe or give them to a trusted person in your life. Just make sure they aren’t easily accessed.
Don’t close the accounts though. As tempting as it seems – closing your credit cards hurt your credit more than charging them up. When you close credit card accounts, you decrease your total credit limit available. If you have more than 30 percent of your credit outstanding, it brings your credit down drastically.
Consolidate your Debt
Look at your credit cards – do you have a lot of high APRs? It’s not unheard of to have credit cards with interest rates of 19.99 – 24.99 percent.
Once you start paying interest on your balances, it’s a hard cycle to stop because the interest charges are so high. If you have good credit, though, apply for a 0% APR balance transfer credit card. If approved, you can transfer over some or all of your debt, depending on the credit line. You then have a balance with no interest. Pay close attention to the card’s terms as most 0% APR credit cards are a limited time offer.
For example, if you have a 0% APR for 12 months, calculate how much you’d have to pay each month to pay the debt off in full. If you can’t afford the payment, pay as much as you can toward the debt so you limit the interest charges once it accrues again.
Choose a Payoff Method
Paying off your credit card debt can seem overwhelming, especially if you have a large number of them outstanding.
Rather than paying them in an unorganized manner, choose a debt payoff method:
- Debt snowball method – This method is great for those who need ‘quick wins.’ Arrange your debts in order of balance smallest to largest (not paying attention APRs). Make the minimum payments to each credit card, but any extra money you can spend, pay down the first debt in line. Let’s say you have an extra $100 to throw at a debt. Pay it in addition to the minimum payment on the first credit card. Keep doing this until you pay the debt in full, then move onto the next credit card in line, adding the $100 plus the minimum payment you paid to the first card to the second card in line.
- Debt avalanche method – If you’d rather pay off your debts with the highest interest rates first, use this method. Line up your debts in order of interest rate highest to lowest. Using the same tactic, make your minimum required payments plus any extra you can afford to the first credit card. It will take longer to pay off that first card, but you’ll pay off the most interest and lower your expenses drastically.
Use your Credit Cards the Right Way
Credit cards create the temptation to spend, but that’s not how to use them. Instead, use them the right way – only charging what you can afford to pay off in full.
Credit cards are a great way to protect large purchases or pay for online purchases, but you shouldn’t use them to live beyond your means. Only charge what you would otherwise pay for in cash, but want the protection of the card.
If you use credit cards for the rewards, that’s okay too, as long as you use the card responsibly. Many people use rewards cards to earn airline miles or hotel stays, charging their monthly expenses that they’d spend anyway and pay the balance off in full each month.
Responsible use is okay and even helpful to your credit score, but irresponsible use only leads to financial issues.
Manage your Credit Card Debt Today
The key is not to ignore your credit card debt and loans. It’s not going anywhere unless you do something about it.
Ignoring your creditors only puts you in a worse position and damages your credit. The combination of credit card debt and a bad credit score is not a good position for anyone to be in.
Take charge of your debts, figure out a plan, whether consolidating it, setting up a debt payoff plan, or working with your credit card companies. With the right steps, you can get out of credit card debt and enjoy the financial freedom that occurs when credit card issues are no longer breathing down your neck.