If you have credit card debt, paying it off can seem overwhelming, especially if your balance is high relative to your discretionary income. While there’s no magic formula to get rid of your credit card debt, knowing the fastest ways to pay off credit card debt and adopting smart habits can certainly make the process easier.
With that in mind, here are seven of the fastest ways to pay off credit card debt, and stay out of debt after it’s gone.
Ignore your minimum payment
One of the smartest ways to pay off credit card debt is to always pay more than the minimum payment your card issuer requires. Many people don’t realize, but depending on your balance and credit card’s terms, paying just the minimum can take over 20 years to pay off your balance, and even worse, the interest you pay along the way can be several times the amount of your debt. Paying more than you have to can help you pay off credit card debt years sooner than the minimum payment.
Ideally, we’d all pay off our credit card balances in full each month. But we completely understand that isn’t always practical. But unless you absolutely can’t afford to, you should always aim to pay significantly more than the minimum.
Consider this example. Let’s say that you have $10,000 in credit card debt at 23.99% APR and that your issuer requires a minimum payment of $210 per month. In this case, it will take 154 months (about 13 years) to pay off your debt, and you’ll pay over $22,000 in interest. On the other hand, if you can bump your monthly payment to $300, you’d have the credit card debt paid off in less than five years and would pay less than one-third as much interest compared to just making the minimum payment.
Use the snowball method
If you have several different credit cards, paying them off can seem overwhelming. Adopting a debt repayment strategy that is designed to produce clear and visible milestones along the way can help keep yourself encouraged so you can pay off credit card debt as fast as possible
One popular strategy of debt repayment is called the debt snowball method. In a nutshell, the debt snowball method involves aggressively paying down your smallest debt while making the minimum payments on the rest. Once the smallest debt is gone, move on to aggressively paying the next smallest debt, and so on. The idea is that paying your smallest account aggressively is the fastest way to pay off a credit card in full and you’ll start seeing clear and encouraging progress.
Create an avalanche of debt
An alternative to the snowball method is called the debt avalanche method. It’s similar in principle, as it involves aggressively paying down one of your credit cards as fast as possible at a time until they’re all gone.
However, unlike the snowball method, the debt avalanche strategy involves aggressively paying down your debt with the highest interest rate first, then moving on to the debt with the next-highest rate, and so on. With either method, the idea is that by aggressively focusing on one debt at a time, you’ll start seeing progress quickly and can be encouraged by seeing accounts reach a zero balance. But with the avalanche method, you can end up saving money on interest by eliminating your costliest debts first. As we saw earlier, taking steps to pay less interest is one of the fastest ways to pay off credit card debt.
Maintain responsible spending habits
Paying your credit card companies is just one part of getting out of credit card debt. It is equally important to commit to responsible spending habits as well.
Think of it this way. Paying your credit card debt as fast as possible isn’t going to be effective if you continue to spend beyond your means on your credit cards. If you do, you’ll remain trapped in a cycle of credit card debt that can be difficult to get out of.
There are a few strategies you can try, such as formulating and sticking to a budget. One exercise you might find useful is to examine the last couple of months of your credit card and bank account statements and highlight any expenses that weren’t things you needed to buy. To be sure, you don’t need to eliminate all non-essential expenses to budget effectively, but you might be surprised at how much room you have to cut back.
In a nutshell, one of the fastest ways to pay off credit card debt is to get your spending under control so when you pay off credit card debt, it stays gone.
Keep an emergency fund
Another effective strategy for not only paying off your credit card debt, but to help you avoid accumulating debt again, is to maintain an emergency fund for unexpected expenses. If you have to use your credit cards every time you get a flat tire, need to go to the dentist, or need to take your dog to the vet, it’s counterproductive to a plan to pay off credit card debt fast.
Most financial planners suggest that you aim to have six months’ worth of expenses saved in a readily accessible place, such as a separate savings account. This might sound like quite a lot of money (and it is), but you don’t need to get there right away. Even a $1,000 emergency fund will put you in better shape than the majority of Americans and should be enough to handle most unexpected expenses without adding credit card debt.
Utilize balance transfers
If you have good credit, you may be able to find a credit card balance transfer offer with a promotional 0% APR for a certain amount of time. You may be able to do this through one of your existing credit card accounts if they offer it, or by opening a new account with a card specifically designed for balance transfers.
Let’s be clear. Paying as much as possible to your credit cards while you have a 0% APR is one of the fastest ways to pay off credit card debt. If you do this, every penny you send to your credit card company is applied to the principal balance, not to interest.
Typically, balance transfers come with a 0% APR for an introductory period ranging from 9 to 18 months, depending on the specific offer. While no-fee balance transfers are occasionally offered, they commonly have a one-time fee ranging from 3% to 5% of the amount transferred. In many cases, the fee can be well worth it. If you’re paying 20% interest on a credit card, eliminating that rate for a year or more in exchange for a 3%-5% fee could certainly be a smart financial move.
The downside of balance transfers is that once the 0% APR period expires, your credit card’s APR will increase to your standard rate. So, this strategy is best suited for situations where you feel you’ll be able to pay down the debt before the end of the promotional period.
Watch your credit score go up
Last but certainly not least, one of the best habits you can get into as a consumer (even if you don’t regularly use credit cards) is to monitor your credit. Doing so can allow you to detect if someone tries to steal your identity and can also show you the effects of credit card debt, as well as what happens to your score as you pay it off.
The actual formulas used to calculate your credit score are closely guarded secrets. But in all major credit scoring methods, the amounts you owe are one of the biggest factors in your credit score. Experts typically suggest keeping your credit card balances to 30% or less of your available credit, and it can be an encouraging habit to watch your credit score rise as you put some of the fastest ways to pay off credit card debt into action.