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How to pay off credit card debt fast
Four tried-and-true ways to pay of your credit cards plus what you should know about credit card debt
Unless you (lucky if you do) wake up with a gift of unexpected cash, you’ll have to pay off your credit card debt the old-fashioned way. But paying down your debt can be done at a predictable pace if you stick to a pay-off plan.
Four methods have proven to pay off credit card debt, whether you have one credit card or a few. All methods take into account trying to avoid paying high-interest rates.
Paying off your credit card debt will improve your credit rating, increase your monthly available cash flow, decrease your debt to income ratio, and likely raise your available credit limits.
4 Proven methods for paying credit card debt
Paying interest on your credit cards and loans can add up quickly if you have high-interest cards or only make the minimum payment. The average credit card interest rate is 14% to 15%. However, a high-interest card may be nearly 30%. If you pay only the minimum amount required, it can take many years to pay off a credit card balance.
To put interest payments into perspective, consider this – if you have a balance of $1000 on your credit card, pay 14% interest and $50 per month. It will take 23 months to pay it off and you’ll pay over $140 in interest. If your interest rate is 19%, the credit will take more than two years to pay off and you’ll pay over $200 in interest.
These payment methods used to pay off credit card debt attempt to help you pay the least amount of interest as possible. Of course, all techniques depend on you not using your credit cards and making all payments on time.
1. Snowball: Pay off the smallest balance first
The benefit of this method
It may cost a bit more than the avalanche method described below in the long run, but it gives you a sense of accomplishment more quickly.
Using the snowball method for paying off debt, you make the minimum payment on all of your debt, except the lowest balance account. You pay extra towards the lowest balance to pay it off quickly. Once you pay off the lowest balance, you add what you were paying to the lowest balance card to the next lowest balance card plus its minimum payment.
If you were paying $200 per month towards paying off your lowest balance, you take that $200 and add it to the $150 minimum payment you were paying on your second lowest balance card. So, $350 in total towards the next card you aim to pay off. You repeat this process until all debt is paid off.
2. Avalanche: Pay high-interest debt off first
The benefit of this method
You likely will end up paying less interest overall, but it might take a bit of patience.
Using the debt avalanche method for paying off credit card debt, you make all of your minimum payments but pay extra towards the debt with the highest interest rate. After you pay this debt off, you take the amount you were paying towards that debt and add it towards paying down your next lowest interest rate credit card.
If you have one credit card that charges 19% interest and another 14% interest, you first pay off the 19% interest card first. If you were paying $200 per month on the 19% card, you add that to what you were paying on the 14% card. You repeat this payment method until all of your debt is paid in full.
3. Balance transfer: Use a 0% interest or low-interest card to pay off debt
The benefit of the method
Using a balance transfer card you can pay off debt interest-free if you can pay the entire balance within the card’s introductory term.
If you have good credit and not a lot of debt, you can use a 0% balance transfer credit card to pay off your interest-bearing credit cards. You must make sure you can pay off the balance within the 0% interest or no interest period. Often the term is a year. Sometimes you’ll find cards that go longer.
You acquire a balance transfer credit card that charges zero interest for 15 months. You move your $1200 in credit card debt to that card and pay off the balance before the 15 months is up.
4. Personal loan: Use a low-interest rate personal loan to pay off debt
The benefit of the method
You may be able to pay off debt while also paying less interest. Additionally, payments are often the same amount each month and you’ll know when your pay-off date will be.
If you have good credit and a steady income, you may be able to qualify for a personal loan with your bank or personal loan service. Personal installment loans often offer lower interest rates than credit cards. If your credit is poor, you may not be able to get a rate lower than the rate your credit card charges. But it is worth trying in case they can offer you a lower rate.
You may be able to get a loan rate as low as 5%-6% if you have good credit.
How much debt-to-income ratio is too much?
Your debt-to-income ratio is expressed as a percent and it compares your debt to your ability to pay (your income). The lower the percentage, the better.
- 0% to 30%: This is the zone you want to be in to earn the best loans and rates.
- 30%-40%: Often, you can still get a loan or credit card if you are sitting in this range.
- 40%-50%: You may get approval, but the terms may not be ideal.
Do I need to use my paid-off credit cards?
After you pay off your credit cards, it may make sense to get rid of a few, not use a few or to use a few. In most situations, it may make sense to close your accounts that charge an annual fee. If you are disciplined, keep the rest open and only use them (and pay them off within 25 days) about once every three months to keep them active and positively affecting your credit.
Your credit score will be positively impacted if you keep your credit cards, keep the balances low or paid off, and you keep your utilization low.
Utilization is how they refer to the balance on your credit card versus your available balance. Like your debt-to-income ratio, you’ll want to keep it to around 30%. Of course, if you use your cards and plan to keep a balance, use the cards with the lowest interest rates.
“Credit Utilization is the second most important factor in determining your creditworthiness (accounting for 30% of your credit score) and is oftentimes the “hidden killer” in terms of maintaining good creditworthiness. Consumers often overlook utilization. Always make sure you keep your utilization rate below 30%. This means if you have a $10,000 credit limit, keep your balance below $3,000 in order to maintain good credit.”
— Adem Selita, CEO & Co-founder of The Debt Relief Company
Will paying the minimum payment ever pay off my credit cards?
If you are just making the minimum payment on your credit cards, it may seem like you will never pay off your balance. This is because the minimum payment doesn’t pay much more than the month’s interest charges.
If your minimum payment is $50 and the interest charged is $40, only $10 is going towards paying off the balance. If you want to pay off your credit cards more quickly while also paying less interest, you have to pay more than the required minimum payment.
Here is a handy tool for helping you estimate how long it will take to pay off your credit cards: credit card pay-off calculator.
What about bankruptcy or debt settlement?
If you don’t have mountains of debt, bankruptcy is rarely worth it and you cannot usually relieve yourself of student loans or tax debt. Generally, it is only a smart option if a catastrophe hits you, such as a major illness that racks up medical bills or an extended bout with unemployment due to illness. Additionally, a Chapter 7 bankruptcy can sit on your credit report for up to ten years.
What about debt settlement?
Debt settlement is when your creditor agrees to let you pay a sum that is less than what is owed. Using this repayment method, your payments have to be super behind (like over six months) and possibly even in collections. At that point, you negotiate pay-off amounts with your creditors. You can often pay off your debt with a lower amount than the full amount, but you have to pay the difference in federal taxes as a gain. So, if your debt was $10,000 and you paid $6,000 as the negotiated pay-off amount, you have to pay taxes on the $4,000 difference. You will also negatively affect your credit report making debt settlement not a good option for most.
Paying off your credit cards and becoming debt-free can be done. Many have done it. You can do it too! You just need to pick a plan and stick to it. Once you pay down your debt, you can start working on your rainy day fund.
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