When it comes to your credit card–you feel like you’re taking one step forward and two steps back.
Despite having good intentions you end up with a credit balance each month. By this point, you’re settling with having to make a credit card payment for the rest of your life.
But, is this the right thing to do?
With the average American having $5,000 in credit card debt I don’t blame you for thinking this way. The truth is, carrying credit card debt for the rest of your life isn’t the answer. Although you’re currently in a hopeless situation you can still cut your debt.
How do I know?
Because I’ve been there. At one point I had over $6000 of credit card debt and felt it was normal. Then, one day I became fed up and did everything possible to cut my debt.
Today if my balance passes $200 I get worried. The same can happen to you, but you’ll need the discipline to make this work. Here are a few tactics that’ll help you get out of credit card debt for good.
Paying off credit card debt is a lonely journey.
Many go about it alone feeling like they’re the only ones who’ve made financial mistakes. But, this is the time where you need to seek help the most.
Odds are you carry a credit card balance that’ll take at least a few months to pay off. During these months you’ll benefit having someone hold you accountable and motivate you.
Seek out help from a friend or family member, or get professional help depending on your scenario. For example, if you carry more than $5,000 of credit card debt you’ll benefit having professional help.
Get help from companies that specialize in debt settlement or debt management planning. Don’t make the mistake of going about paying your credit card debt alone. You’ll be more likely to quit along the way and continue being in debt.
It sounds simple, but this is an area most people miss.
Back when I carried thousands of dollars of debt I didn’t have a clue of what my total balance was. Because I had many credit cards it was easy for me to look at my largest balance and assume that was all I carried. Knowing what you owe is one of the most important steps you’ll take towards paying off your debt.
When you know your total balance there’s no denying what you owe. If you owe a large balance this will be your wake-up call to finally make progress towards being debt-free. The best way to know your total debt balance is by inputting all your accounts in Personal Captial.
Otherwise, log in or call each of your credit card providers to get your total balances. Then write all your balances out, along with your credit card’s interest rate.
Did you know that you can negotiate your credit card interest rate?
Most credit cards have an interest rate ranging from 15%–25%– lowering this rate can make all the difference. When I carried thousands of dollars of credit card debt I was making $50-$70 monthly interest payments!
Search for the number in the back of your card and call your credit card company. Start with your oldest credit card first, since you’ll have the most leverage. You don’t need to a pro negotiator, but it helps using techniques that have worked for others.
The worst that can happen is that the customer rep will tell you “no.” Unless you have a bad payment history, it’s worth hanging up and immediately call them back. Repeat this process until you have the best interest rate for all your credit cards.
Now that you know your balance it’s time to set up a payment strategy.
This doesn’t have to be fancy, only enough to help you pay off your debt. For example, if you carry $5,000 in credit card debt, you can set a plan to pay this entire balance off in 18 months. The next step would be to break down the monthly payments you’d need to make.
From the example above you’d need to make a $278 payment each month to pay off your entire credit card balance. Be realistic with your goal. If you set a due date too soon, you’ll not only miss your goal but also lose motivation.
By this point, you have already negotiated your credit card’s interest rate or intend to.
But, this is money wasted that you could’ve applied towards paying off debt. To save even more you can roll over your entire credit card balance into a new credit card.
Apply for a credit card promotion that offers a 0% introductory offer. If you have good credit (700+) you’ll have good odds at getting approved for this type of offer with a high credit limit. After getting approved you can then transfer your balances into your new credit card.
The problem with having bad credit is not getting approved for a 0% introductory credit card–or getting approved for a low credit limit. Use tools like Credit Karma to know where your credit stands and decide which choice to take.
Consolidating your debt into one credit card has its perks. Like making payments to one card or saving money on interest.
You may have heard to not use more than 30% of your credit card limit.
Although this is “ok” advice, it’s best to not buy anything you can’t pay in full. I’ve learned this lesson that hard way after paying off my entire credit card balance. Without wanting to carry a balance I ended up owing an extra $200-$300 each month for my credit card.
There are many psychological factors that credit card companies are using against you. Many of them entice you with accruing points so that you have another reason to swipe. But, it’s best to not use your credit card to buy things you can’t afford.
Open a separate savings account and save up money to make big purchases. You’ll avoid credit card payments and paying interest.
Making credit card payments isn’t fun.
The reality is most of us wouldn’t carry credit card balances if we were more organized. Being organized means tracking your expenses and having a budget that allows you to save money consistently while eliminating debt. Take it a step further by setting a recurring reminder each week to review your budget.
This is how you’ll be able to catch errors before they turn into thousands of dollars in debt. To keep track of your budget use tools like Personal Capital or a simple spreadsheet. Whatever helps you stay organized consistently is the right choice.
As mentioned before credit card companies are using many psychological factors to get you to spend more.
Despite having discipline, using credit cards puts you at risk for over-using them. For the past few years, I vowed to only use my credit card for points, but I’d realized that I couldn’t avoid overspending. Companies like Paypal and Amazon make buying seamless, that racking up debt is easier than ever.
If you’ve never carried a large credit card balance, using your credit card for points may be a viable option for you. For most people, leaving their credit cards at home and removing them from all their online wallets (Paypal, Amazon, etc.) is the best option.
Don’t risk going back to debt after you’ve worked hard to get out.
There are dozens of ways to go about paying your credit card debt.
So, how do you know which option is best for you?
By choosing a strategy that’ll help you make consistent progress. Back when I was paying off my credit card debt I didn’t search online for any strategies. I’d simply set pay off date and broke my credit card balance into monthly goals.
Don’t get fixed on the “how” and instead focus on your “why.” For example, will you feel happier without having to make monthly payments? If you dig deep you’ll find a reason big enough to help you figure out how you’ll achieve your goal.
Imagine not having to make a single credit card payment.
All the money you get on payday is now used to save and make mindful purchases. At one point you were miserable paying off your credit card. But, because of this experience, your finances are now better than ever.
It may seem like a reality that’s not possible, I know. When I carried thousands of dollars of credit card debt I felt miserable. Although I managed to become debt free, it was a long and painful process.
I didn’t let my friends or family know what I was going through. I didn’t take enough time to plan. I was hard on myself.
This doesn’t have to be your reality. You can pay off your credit card debt and feel happy during the process. Use these steps as your checklist before you make your next credit card payment.
Taking some time to plan. Having emotional support will make all the difference. You’ve got one life to live, don’t let debt steal any more of your happiness.
Chris writes personal finance and productivity articles for software companies. He gets fresh ideas through continuously investing in himself and interviewing successful entrepreneurs.