Credit card debt and resulting financial crisis can sneak up on you. One minute, you’re paying your balance in full every month. The next minute, you’re telling yourself that it’s OK to only pay part of the balance one month because your finances are tight. Soon, you’re meeting minimum payments just to keep the card company happy and opening up a new card to help you do it.
When you owe a lot of money that you simply don’t have, the prospect of working your way out of debt seems impossible. Interest rates rack up and you’re soon faced with debt several times the size of what you originally spent, spiraling you into a financial crisis. Luckily, there are strategies for paying off your debt. But make no mistake, paying off debt is a grueling process, so if you’re looking for a quick fix, you’re out of luck.
1. Paying Off Debt: Always Pay More Than the Minimum
News flash: If you make your minimum monthly payment every month for the rest of your life, you will never pay off that card. Interest rates add more to your debt than the required minimum payment. Meaning that you could pay the whole minimum payment and have more debt at the end of the month than you did last month. You always need to pay more to make sure that you’re paying off the actual original balance and not just the constantly accruing interest.
2. Pay Off One Card at a Time
If you have more than one credit card carrying debt, focus on one at a time. Of course, this doesn’t mean shirk the minimum payments on your other cards. Meet all of your minimum payments, but then prioritize additional payments on a single card. All of your cards add interest, which means more debt for you. The fewer cards you have, the less interest you’re accruing.
How do you decide which card to pay off first? Focus on the card with the lowest balance or highest interest rate. You could also consider consumer credit counseling to help you more effectively prioritize your debt payments.
3. Consolidate Your Debt
You may be able to move the balances from higher interest cards to a lower interest one. However, be careful. That low interest rate may not last forever, especially if you signed up for a new card with a low introductory rate specifically to pay off debt. If you do this, be prepared to pay the debt off within the time frame of that rate or else your interest could skyrocket.
4. Renegotiate Your Rate
That’s right. You can call your credit card company and ask for a lower rate. However, be aware that your credit score will factor in to their decision. Still, if you’re staring down a financial crisis, it never hurts to pull out all the stops. Some lenders may be happy to work with you for an amicable solution. In fact, debt interest isn't the only thing you can negotiate if you're looking to save money for debt payments.
5. Stay Alert
You landed in this mess because you weren’t paying enough attention to what was happening with your finances. It’s time to create a budget and make a plan to assess your debt balance and payment strategies on a regular basis. When you do create that budget, prioritize paying off debt to ensure that it happens, even if that means having a handful of cheap meals.
It may be a financial crisis, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. It’s possible to pay off your debt and start living a more balanced life. And remember, be it from your lender or consumer credit counseling, there’s no shame in getting a little help.