Racking up credit card debt is like getting a crack in your phone screen. The longer you ignore it, the worse it gets. (Thanks, double-digit interest rates.) And working around it is no way to live.
Enter: the Genius Bar for fixing debt problems?
That’d be nice. Start by writing down your financial stats, like monthly take-home pay, regular expenses, and any savings. Then make a list of all your credit card balances and interest rates. Use your credit card and bank statements as cheatsheets if you don’t have these numbers memorized.
If you don’t have a budget yet, now’s a good time to make one. This can help you see where to cut back and put more money toward your debt. Psst...your food budget is one of the easiest places to trim.
Seeing it all laid out can be overwhelming. But the whole ‘getting out of debt’ thing will go better if you have a plan. Trust.
The first big step in your get-out-of-debt plan is building up your savings account. Yes, you read that right. You need a safety net so you won’t have to go deeper into debt if something goes wrong. Eventually, you’ll want three to six months’ worth of take-home pay in an emergency fund. But that can take a while. And interest charges don’t stop rolling. So start with mini goals of saving $1,000, then one month's worth.
Oh, and don’t forget to keep up with your minimum payments the whole time to avoid late fees and dents in your credit score.
And then back to paying off debt?
Exactly. If you have balances on multiple cards, pick a strategy to pay it all off.
If you make to-do lists just to cross things off, you might like the snowball method. That’s when you pay off your smallest balance first, then the second-smallest, and so on. A lot of experts like this approach because knocking out entire balances can build motivation to keep going until all your debt is gone.
If efficiency is your middle name, you might prefer the avalanche method. That’s when you focus on paying the balance attached to the highest interest rate first. This saves you more money over time because you’ll pay less in interest.
K. Anything else?
Just a few more tips for staying on top of credit card debt:
Don’t write checks you can’t cash. An oldie but a goodie. Because you shouldn’t be buying anything you can’t afford, especially while you’re trying to pay off debt. If it helps, use cash to cover anything on your wants list to make sure you won’t overspend.
Drop it low. You may be able to lower your interest rate by opening a balance-transfer credit card, consolidating with a personal loan or calling your card issuer and asking nicely. Seriously. Read more about those options here.
Put it on auto-pilot. Scheduling automatic credit card payments means you’ll never get hit with a late fee. Just make sure there’s always enough in your checking account to cover the payment.
Avoid the upgrade. Lifestyle inflation (aka spending more when you get more) is real. If you get a raise, bonus or tax return, treat yo'self with something small. Then put the rest toward your debt.
Credit cards are all about buying now and paying later. Make that later now by coming up with a solid plan, so you can move on to doing bigger and better things with your money. Like investing, buying a home, sending your puppy to kindergarten...the choice is yours.