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How To Pay Off Credit Card Debt

Negotiating debt and choosing a repayment strategy can make paying off your credit card debt more manageable.

Author
By Emily Batdorf

Written by

Emily Batdorf

Writer

Emily Batdorf is a personal finance expert, specializing in banking, lending, credit cards, and budgeting. Drawing on her scientific background, she's developed a knack for analyzing financial products in the context of different needs. She finds joy in helping readers understand their best options and shuns a one-size-fits-all approach.

Edited by Jared Hughes

Written by

Jared Hughes

Editor

Jared Hughes is a personal loan editor for Credible and Fox Money, and has been producing digital content for more than six years.

Updated January 26, 2024

Editorial disclosure: Our goal is to give you the tools and confidence you need to improve your finances.

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If you’re struggling to figure out how to pay off credit card debt, you know how suffocating it can feel. Piles of debt that keep racking up interest can put a huge damper on your budget — and your state of mind.

Luckily, there’s a way out. Regardless of your credit card debt balance, there are strategies you can use to formulate a plan to pay it off. If you’re serious about paying off debt but you’re not sure where to start, continue reading for some helpful tips.

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Debt consolidation loan

If you have good credit, a debt consolidation loan — like a personal loan or home equity loan — might simplify your debt payoff plan and save you money on interest. When you take out a debt consolidation loan, you use the proceeds to pay off all your credit card debt. Then, instead of making payments to several creditors, you repay a single loan over monthly installments. If you qualify for a loan with low interest rates, this strategy could save you money.

Tip: Before getting a debt consolidation loan, calculate how much it’ll save you after paying any fees. The better your credit, the more likely you’ll qualify for a competitive interest rate on a new loan. If you don’t have good credit, debt consolidation may not save you any money.

Finally, if you’re considering a secured debt consolidation loan — like a home equity loan, for example — make sure you’re comfortable backing your loan with collateral. If you default on the loan, you could lose those assets.

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760

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Negotiate credit card debt

Before creating a debt payoff plan, it’s worth giving your credit card companies a call. You may be able to negotiate your credit card debt, and doing so could make your debt payoff journey a little easier.

Tip: Before you call, make sure you have your balances and annual percentage rates (APRs) handy. Note any fees, too. When you call, explain your situation and ask if you qualify for any relief. You can ask about waiving fees, securing a lower interest rate, or getting on a payment plan. In general, credit card companies want to keep their customers and get paid, so they may be willing to negotiate.

Keep notes detailing the conversation, and ask for any new terms in writing.

Determine a debt payoff plan

Once you’ve negotiated down your credit card debt, it’s time to create a payoff plan. Start by listing out all your credit cards and their balances, APRs, and minimum payments. If you have any other debts — like personal loans, car loans, or home equity loans — list those, too. Keep track of all this information in a spreadsheet.

Making a payoff plan also requires knowing your income and expenses. If you don’t already have a budget, spend some time figuring out how much money comes in each month and how much goes out. Without knowing how much money you can put toward your debt each month, you’ll have a hard time creating and sticking to a plan.

Tip: As you organize your numbers, you might want to play around with a debt payoff calculator online. By plugging in your balances, interest rates, and potential monthly payments, you can estimate how long it’ll take to pay off your debt.

Debt repayment methods

Laying out all your debt in a well-organized spreadsheet helps you execute a debt repayment method. There are two popular debt repayment methods, each with its own merits: the debt avalanche method and the debt snowball method.

The debt avalanche method pays off your debts one by one according to their interest rates. Here’s how it works:

  1. Organize your debts according to interest rate, from highest to lowest.
  2. Make minimum payments on all your debts. Put any extra cash you can afford toward the debt with the highest interest rate until it’s paid off.
  3. When the first debt is gone, put the money you would have paid toward it — plus any extra — toward the next debt on your list. Repeat until all the debt is gone.

This method ends up saving you money in the long run because you’re getting rid of your highest-interest debt first — which costs the most, relative to your balance. However, it also takes longer to pay off your debt.

The debt snowball method, on the other hand, has you pay off your debts according to balance. It works like this:

  1. Organize your debts according to balance — from smallest to largest.
  2. Make minimum payments on all your debts. Put any extra cash you can afford toward your smallest debt until it’s paid off.
  3. When the first debt is gone, put the money you would have paid toward it — plus any extra — toward the next debt on your list. Continue until all the debt is gone.

This method isn’t the most cost-effective, but it may be the easiest to stick to. By paying off the smallest balance first, you can celebrate a quick win and use that momentum to keep yourself going.

Balance transfer credit card

A balance transfer credit card lets you transfer high-interest balances to a card with a no-interest promotional period. You’ll pay a fee, but you’ll also enjoy 0% APR during the card’s introductory period — usually six to 18 months. During that time, you can use any money you’d spend on interest to pay down your principal.

Using a 0% balance transfer card can be a great way to make progress toward debt payoff since you won’t be accruing interest during the promotional period. Plus, it can simplify your payments by consolidating them in a single card. But it may not be the best idea if you can’t pay off your debt within the introductory period or if the fees outweigh potential savings.

Other alternatives

If the above tactics aren’t enough to make a significant dent in your debt, you’re not out of options. You can always get support with the alternatives below:

  • Use credit counseling services: Typically employed by nonprofit organizations, credit counselors can help you create a personalized budget and debt payoff plan. They may even set you up with a debt management program (more below), which can help you save on fees and interest. Check out the National Foundation for Credit Counseling to connect with a counselor.
  • Consider a debt management program: A credit counselor may help you negotiate lower monthly payments as part of a debt management program. You’ll give your monthly debt payments to a credit counselor, and they’ll handle the payment to creditors on your behalf — potentially for a small fee.
  • Explore bankruptcy as a last resort: Bankruptcy isn’t ideal, but it’s something to consider when you’ve run out of other options. Bankruptcy is a legal process that can help give you a clean slate, by either selling your assets to repay debts or setting up a repayment plan. While bankruptcy can provide a fresh start for some, it severely hurts your credit for 7 to 10 years and can make borrowing more difficult in the future.

FAQ

What happens to credit card debt when you die?

Your estate typically pays any outstanding credit card debt. But if there isn’t enough money to cover the debt, it may go unpaid. If any of your accounts include cosigners or co-borrowers, they’ll be responsible for paying off the debt.

How much credit card debt is too much?

It depends on your financial situation, but there’s no magic number when it comes to the “right” amount of credit card debt. However, there are a couple of benchmarks — like your debt-to-income ratio and credit utilization — that you may find helpful. If either of these is too high, you may have a hard time staying on top of your debt payments or qualifying for loans and credit in the future.

How can I improve my credit score while paying off credit card debt?

Stay on top of all your debt payments. Even if you’re prioritizing paying off one credit card at a time, it’s important to make minimum payments on all the others. Payment history is the biggest factor affecting your credit score, so making consistent, on-time payments will go a long way in helping you build credit.

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