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If you’re wondering how to pay off debt fast, you’re not alone. One in three Americans carries a balance on their credit cards month to month. If you’re one of them, and you want to reduce your balance, the strategies below can help you figure out how to quickly pay off any credit card debt you have.
How much debt you have?
The first step to paying off your credit card debt is to figure out how much debt you have since sometimes you may underestimate how much you truly owe.
Make a list of all your credit card balances and loans, along with the minimum monthly payment and APR for each. If you’re not sure how many cards you have open, you can check your credit report for free to find out. Your credit report will list your credit card accounts with the most recently reported balances and contact information for those accounts. You can check your bank or credit card issuer to get the most up-to-date information.
Next, make a list of all the non-credit card bills you have to pay each month. It can be your rent or mortgage, auto or student loans, utilities, phone bill, groceries, child care, gas, etc. Add the tallies from the two lists (your credit card bills and your monthly living costs) together to get your minimum monthly expenses.
Now, compare that total with your monthly net income or take-home pay. Ideally, your income should be more than your total monthly expenses. If you have money left over, decide how much extra you’re willing to put aside to pay down your debt.
A majority of Americans have a plan to reduce their personal debts within specific timelines, based on a poll conducted by Northwestern Mutual.
Set Your Target
It’s important to set for yourself realistic goals for paying off your high-interest credit cards as well as other types of consumer debt (overdraft, line of credit, vehicle loans).
While it is easy to run up balances in a short period of time, it takes time and self-discipline to pay them off. Monitor your progress regularly to help you stay on track and motivated to reach your goals.
Pay Off Debt Fast Using One Of The Following Strategies
Do you carry a balance on more than one card? If so, make sure you always pay at least the minimum on each card. Then focus on paying down the total balance on one card at a time. You can choose which card you target in one of two ways:
1. “The Snowball Method”
Pay off the card with the smallest balance first, then take the money you were paying for that debt and use it to pay down the next smallest balance.
It might be tempting to tackle the biggest balance right off the bat, but small victories are a great motivation. In case you have multiple credit cards with different balances, tackling the smallest balance might be the right thing to do.
Start with the account with the smallest balance and try to pay double or triple monthly payments or the amount 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 en with major consequences.
When the smallest balance is knocked down to zero, now – 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 kick off will help you keep motivated to battle each card’s debt as you pay off charges.
2. “The Avalanche Approach”
Read the interest rate section of your statements to check which credit card charges the highest interest rate, and concentrate on paying that debt off first.
Finance charges on your credit cards can eat away your funds quickly. To prevent a debt increase, you may instead want to focus on paying off the credit card with the highest interest rate first.
Pay double or even triple your minimum payments on the card with the highest interest rate and the most expensive monthly finances charges, while continuing to make the minimum payments on the rest of your credit cards. This strategy is the most effective way to attack your debt, but it takes discipline to stick with it, especially if the card with the highest interest rate has a high balance.
Once you pay off the card with the highest interest rate, you can proceed to the card with the next highest interest rate and so on.
Decide a payment strategy that works for you andsticksk with it. You may even use a combination approach. Maybe the card with the highest interest rate also has the lowest balance.
The following methods can be added to your strategy:
Balance Transfer Credit Card
Many credit card issuers offer 0% introductory APRs to users who transfer a balance over to their card from another. The benefit of 0% APR will expire eventually — usually within 12 to 18 months, though some of the better balance transfer credit cards last as long as 24 months. Also keep in mind that most offers include an account balance transfer fee, usually 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
Consolidate Your Debt to a Single Card / Loan
Like things simple? This pay-down strategy might be for you. By consolidating your credit card debt to a single card or a debt consolidation loan, you’ll be left with only making a single payment each month rather than four or five. You can even automate payments so you don’t have to worry about paying late.
Remember: Just because you’ve transferred all your debt to one place doesn’t mean it went away. You’ll still want to focus on paying this debt off, so it’s a good idea to pay more than the minimum due each month.
Carrying a credit card balance can be a massive impediment to financial health. However, there are 0% credit cards that allow you to pay down your debt without incurring interest within the introductory period.
As you can see from this FED Survey of Consumer Finances data chart, the age group that tends to carry the highest credit card balances is the 75 and older age group with $8,000 on average. This is closely followed by the 45 to 54 age group with an average of $7,670.
Debt Consolidation Loan
In circumstances where you may not have not enough cash flow to impact your debt as needed for the previous methods, a debt consolidation loan could help you pay off the credit card debt with an installment loan that has a fixed monthly payment amount. Basically, you obtain a new loan to pay off multiple other debts such as credit cards.
Depending on your credit, these loans can have lower interest rates than what you would pay on a credit card, so a debt consolidation loan can reduce the amount of interest you pay and help you repay the debt faster. Just like a balance transfer, a debt consolidation loan can also simplify your monthly payments by rolling multiple payments into just one.
If your credit is fair or poor, the interest rates could become very high and the likelihood of qualifying for a personal loan could be low. For more serious debt and for individuals with poorer credit, a debt management plan could be a good option.
When you’re deciding which strategy is best for you when paying off credit card debt, it’s important to consider the interest rate and length of the loan. Is it more important to you to reduce the total cost of your debt by lowering interest charges? Or are you more concerned with repaying your debt quickly?
You also should be aware that depending on the debt consolidation loan and how you manage it, there could be implications for your credit. Make sure you cover all the bases to ensure you understand how things will be handled by the company you work with on it.
Useful Ways to Paying Off Credit Card Debt
There is no one true “best” way to eliminate credit card debt, as doing so all depends on your individual situation. You can focus on getting each card paid off individually, transfer your balances to one card, ask for a lower interest rate or even get a loan to pay off the balances.
Whatever your financial goals and dreams, however, paying off your credit card debt is a good step in the right direction. These pay-down tips and strategies will help you find out how to pay off your credit card debt.
Use Savings to Pay Debt Down Faster
Many people regularly contribute to a savings plan, which is great, but consider that this is money that could help you pay down what you owe faster.
Once you have established an emergency fund and are saving for irregular expenses, you may want to consider suspending extra payments to IRAs or other savings accounts until you have paid off what you owe. This is especially beneficial for those who aren’t saving for something specific like vehicle repairs.
The money you save by paying down your debts faster will be substantially higher than the interest you will earn in a savings account. Also consider using income tax refunds, pay increases, or other unexpected funds to pay down your debts.
For even more ideas of where you can find money to help pay down your debt, have look here (the ideas are about all the places you can find money to save. You're just going to use the money to pay down debt instead).
Buy Less Than The Usual
When you’ve been working on paying debt off for several years you might have lost sight of what other expenses you can cut. Rather than looking for expenses to cut permanently, look for temporary quick fixes, e.g. memberships, subscriptions, and packages or bundles where you don’t need all of the services.
Contact utility and cell phone companies to see if your services are available for a better price. Check if you can scale down to a more basic package for the time being. If you haven’t tracked your spending for a while, tracking it again now might show you where you can save.
Understand How You’re Affecting Your Credit
High balances on your credit cards can be bad for your credit scores. As we mentioned, payment history is the biggest influencer of your scores, but the second biggest is your debt usage.
Experts recommend keeping your debt at 30%, ideally 10%, of your credit limit to have the best effect on your scores. And if you’re maxing out your cards, that certainly won’t be keeping you at that level.
This chart created with Experian data shows that those with an average to good credit score have an average credit utilization ratio of the optimum 33%. This ratio drops significantly for those with very good and excellent scores.
At the other end of the scale, the chart shows that those with poor credit scores typically have a very high credit utilization ratio, with an average of 73%. This will be a massive factor in lending decisions for those in this group.
Pay The Maximum
Look at your credit card statement. If you pay the minimum balance on your credit card, it takes you much longer to pay off your bill. If you pay more than the minimum, you’ll pay less in interest overall. Your card company is required to chart this out for you on your statement, so you can see how it applies to your bill.
Simple solution: Pay a bit extra each month. Every dollar over the minimum payment goes toward your balance—and the smaller your balance, the less you have to pay in interest.
A friendly competition to keep yourselves honest and on track is a great way to stoke the fires of motivation, which must be an essential part of your plan. Set realistic goals and budget accordingly. It took time to get into debt; as you know, it takes time to get out of debt again too.
I would encourage all of you to continue supporting each other even after your debts are all paid off. Redirecting money you spent on debt payments to savings goals will give you the freedom to live as you like sooner than you might expect.
Credit Card Pay Off Calculator – Definitions
Current outstanding balance on your credit card.
Interest rate (APR)
The annual interest rate being charged for this credit card.
Payoff goal (in months)
Your goal for paying off this credit card. This is the number of months by which you would like to have completely paid off this credit card balance.
Current monthly payment
The amount you are currently paying per month on this credit card. Please enter the amount you actually pay, not the minimum payment. This amount is used to calculate how long it will take you to pay off your balance.
Additional monthly charges
Total new charges you expect to put on this credit card per month.
Your annual fee for this credit card, if any.
If you expect a major purchase beyond your normal charges, enter the amount to be spent here.
Months before purchase
Number of months before your major purchase will occur.