Although credit card debt can be quite easy to get into, the high interest rates can make it hard to get out of. Luckily, there are many resources that can help you learn how to pay off credit card debt as fast as possible, so you can save money.
How to pay off credit card debt fast
The good news is: If you’re reading this article, you’ve already taken the first step to paying off credit card debt — that is, you’ve taken the initiative to learn about your options.
Now, here are five steps you can take to get rid of your credit card debt fast.
1. Call your credit card company first
Before diving into a plan for paying off your debt, a good first step is to contact your credit card company (or companies if you have multiple cards). You should make sure you’re up to date on all of your balances and also ask what your options are as far as any help they can offer.
In some cases, you might be able to secure a lower interest rate, temporary payment reduction, or change in payment due date. You’re more likely to get a good result if you indicate you’re looking for low-interest credit cards from other companies.
2. Figure out your plan
Once you’ve done everything you can with your credit card issuers, it’s time to make a plan for paying off your debt. While you certainly want to make the minimum payments on all cards to avoid a negative impact on your credit score, if you have multiple sources of debt it’s worth taking some time to figure out the most effective strategy for your budget.
Take stock of all your sources of debt, including all credit cards and all types of loans (student loans, auto loans, mortgage, personal loans, etc.). Write them all down or create a spreadsheet and note the interest rate on each. Next, consider one of these strategies to get the ball rolling:
- Debt avalanche strategy: Find the debt with the highest interest rate — that should be your priority. The reasoning here is that, over the same period of time, a higher-interest debt will cost you the most (relative to the amount of debt you owe), so you want to pay it down as soon as possible. Then, pay down the debt with the next highest interest rate, and so on.
- Debt snowball strategy: If you prefer consistent, smaller wins as encouragement to pay off all their debt, you should focus on paying off the debt with the smallest balance first, no matter the credit card interest rate. So if you’re worried you’ll lose steam paying off a large sum first, think about first focusing on a smaller balance that you can check off the list sooner.
Choosing the right strategy is ultimately a personal choice, as nobody knows better than you do what will keep you most motivated. Paying off debt can be a long road, so make a plan that reflects your personality — whether you need small wins along the way or will be most encouraged by saving the most money by prioritizing the highest-interest debt first.
3. Explore 0% APR balance transfer options
If you need some time to get your finances back in order and would like to avoid accruing tons of credit card interest charges, a 0% APR balance transfer card could be a great option.
These cards typically offer up to 18 months of 0% APR for balance transfers, which means you can move your old balance onto a new credit card and avoid accruing interest for a number of months. Keep in mind that most 0% APR offers still charge a balance transfer fee — and any purchases you make after opening the card will start accruing interest right away, so be sure to pay those off as soon as possible to avoid getting into debt again.
If you’re planning on taking advantage of a balance transfer offer, make sure the balance is on your new card before you stop making payments on the old one. You wouldn’t want to forget about your payments, as those won’t go away (and interest will keep accruing) until the balance is fully paid off. Also, it’s not a smart idea to close the old account either as that can affect your credit. Instead, keep it open and just stash the card away so you’re not tempted to use it (or even cut it up).
Don’t use the balance transfer as an excuse to ignore your debt for the period of 0% APR, as interest will start accruing right when the introductory APR offer is over. Instead, shoot to save enough so that you can pay off the balance by the end of the introductory period or divide the total by the months you have to pay it and pay off that amount of debt each month so by the time the introductory APR is over, you’ve paid it all off.
4. Consider other consolidation options
If you have good credit, you may be able to pay off your debt with a debt consolidation loan, reducing the total amount of interest you’ll owe.
If you go this route, you’ll need to use a low-interest personal loan to pay off your credit card company, meaning future payments will go to your new lender. But, unlike with compounding interest for credit cards, a personal loan is paid off in installments; you’ll receive a lump sum of cash up front and pay back the loan in fixed installments until the loan and interest are paid off.
Some personal loans charge an origination fee, so keep an eye out for fees you might not be expecting. But Credible makes it easy to see prequalified rates for personal loans with no hard credit pull, as well as transparency into all fees and rates.
If you own a home, another option is to use a HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit) as a source of funds to pay off high-interest credit card debt. A HELOC doesn’t necessarily require excellent credit to secure a good rate, and you can generally get a lower rate than with an unsecured personal loan.
5. Cut out the non-essentials
If you have other significant monthly expenses that you can live without, consider making some sacrifices that can help you get back on your feet.
If you’re ready to make a big change to get out of debt, consider downsizing your house or apartment to something that will decrease your monthly expenditure. You could even get a roommate to help offset your housing costs. This will help you not only get out of debt now, but avoid it in the future.
Even smaller things, like bringing lunch from home to work or school or making an effort to cook at home more (rather than eating out) can help your budget if you make a habit of it.
Every little thing adds up, and might even be costing you more if you’re leaving it on a credit card and paying interest on it.
How to avoid future credit card debt
Once you get out of credit card debt, it’s a good idea to build good habits so that you can avoid a similar situation in the future. The following five strategies can help you stay away from credit card debt going forward.
1. Budget wisely and track your spending
If you don’t already have a budget, now might be the time to start. Make sure your budget includes any non-negotiables, such as rent, utilities, food, and loans first, as these categories take priority.
Once you’ve subtracted fixed payments from your monthly income, you can determine how much money you can realistically spend on your credit card each month with respect to your discretionary categories.
When your budget is in place, use it to track your spending over the course of the month. You can either do this manually by taking stock of your spending every few days or perhaps once a week, or by using an app like Mint or You Need a Budget (YNAB).
Then, reevaluate the budget you’ve created for yourself in two months to make sure you accounted for all of your spending accurately.
An important part of staying within a budget is simply keeping tabs on where you stand financially at any given time, rather than ignoring it until the end of the month, so make a habit of checking in with your accounts regularly. If you find yourself struggling to budget responsibly on your own, you can also consider credit counseling.
2. Build an emergency fund
An emergency fund is simply a savings account where you keep enough money to pay a few months worth of expenses in case something unexpected happens with your income.
There’s no set amount you’ll need, but most experts recommend between three and six months of expenses. For example, if you typically spend $3,000 every month, it’s best to work toward having between $9,000 and $18,000 in your emergency fund.
An emergency fund can also be used to pay off credit card debt before interest starts accumulating, so it’s a good idea to get one established as soon as possible. If you end up dipping into your emergency fund for unexpected expenses, make a point of building it back up as soon as possible.
3. Pay your balance in full every month
While it can be tempting to pay just the minimum on your credit card each month, make a point of paying as much as you can — preferably the full balance. Any credit card balance carried over to the next month will start accruing interest and that costs you more every day.
Carrying a balance on your credit cards also impacts your credit utilization rate on your credit report — which will inevitably decrease your credit score. A decreased credit score may result in higher APRs on loans or other credit cards you take out in the future.
4. Spend excess funds wisely
If you have extra money a certain month, like a tax refund or a bonus from work at the end of the year, you should use those funds strategically.
Think of it this way: Using your tax refund to pay off credit card debt or a loan, for example, will leave you with more money in the long run because you’ll save on interest by paying the debt off sooner.
While it’s hard not to use the extra cash to treat yourself, think of it as a long-term investment, and promise yourself a reward down the road. You can also try using the 50/25/25 rule: Use 50% of the money to pay off some of your debt, 25% toward your emergency fund, and 25% goes into your discretionary budget to buy a little something for yourself — then it’s a win/win.
5. Set up automatic payments
It’s generally good practice to set up autopay for your credit cards and any other monthly payments so that you reduce the chances of missing a payment — particularly if you have multiple accounts and multiple due dates to keep track of.
Late payment fees for credit cards are typically over $30, and some will charge a penalty APR for a late payment, so it’s well worth the setup to avoid these consequences.
But this does not mean you should ignore your bills. Make sure you review every bill that comes in to make sure there aren’t any fraudulent charges on your account and to ensure any refunds you’re expecting come through.
Find the best products to help you pay off debt
For most, the most effective strategies for getting your head above water financially often involve a balance transfer credit card or personal loan.
Once you’ve decided the best route for your situation and budget, the next step is choosing the right card or loan from dozens of available options. Credible is here to help you make the right decision by allowing you to compare credit cards and personal loan options, so you can find the right fit for your needs.
Napala Pratini contributed to the reporting for this article.