Get Out of Debt Now: Crushing Credit Card Debt

crushing credit card debt
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Credit card debt can be spirit-crushing, bone-crushing and life-crushing. It’s truly one of those things that can spiral out of control really quickly, like a frat party gone bad.

In 2016, the total credit card debt for an average U.S. household was $16,748, according to the Federal Reserve and 2016 American Household Credit Card Debt Study.

In addition, in 2016, the average household carried a balance of $6,885 from month to month and paid $1,292 a year in interest, with an average annual interest rate of 18.76 percent.

There are two types of credit card users:

1. Those who pay off their credit card balances every month.

2. Those who carry all or part of their credit card balances from one month to the next, so they pay interest on that balance.

If you’ve found yourself in precarious situation number two, the most important thing you can do for yourself is to get out of credit card debt as quickly as possible.

Overwhelming? Maybe.

Crushing credit card debt

First, before you even begin paying off your debt, find out if your credit card company will lower the interest rate it charges you—and don’t take “no” for an answer.

Be absolutely persistent on this until you have renegotiated the interest rate on your debt.

The financial guru David Bach has step-by-step advice on how to do this:

1. Figure out how much interest you’re paying right now. That involves reading the teensy print on your credit card statements.

2. When you’re talking with a customer service representative, ask them to lower your interest rate. If they say no, ask to speak with a manager. If the answer is still no, tell them that you’ll be closing your account and transferring your balance to another credit card company.

3. Consolidate your debt. Tell the company that you’d like to move all your credit card debt to the company that offers you the lowest rate.

More than likely, they’ll want to keep you as a customer, and none of this hurts to ask, particularly because it will benefit you in the long run. A lower interest rate? Always a good thing.

What now?

If all credit card companies refuse to lower your interest rates (and this could happen), you’ll have to tackle the debt one credit card at a time. In that situation, it’s a great idea to use either the debt snowball or debt avalanche methods.

crushing credit card debt snowball

Debt Snowball

Here’s an easy-to-understand, very possible scenario that illustrates exactly how to use the debt snowball method with credit card debt:

Katie has credit card debt on three different credit cards. She is overwhelmed by her debt and doesn’t know which balance to tackle first. Here’s what she’s facing:

Ann Taylor Loft credit card: $2,000 at 18 percent interest rate
American Express credit card: $4,000 at 20 percent interest rate
Kohl’s credit card: $8,000 at 16 percent interest rate

According to the debt snowball method, Katie should:

  • Make the minimum payment on all of her loans.
  • Next, she needs to figure out how much extra money she has left over at the end of the month.
  • Finally, she needs to tackle the Ann Taylor Loft credit card with all of her leftover money because it’s the smallest balance.
  • After her Loft card is paid off, she’s free to pay off her American Express balance, and then the Kohl’s credit card.

Ultimately, in the debt snowball method, the debt with the smallest balance gets paid off first.

What isn’t obvious in this scenario, though, is how amazing Katie will feel once she’s paid off even just one of those credit cards! Most of the time, once you’ve paid one off, you feel excited and even more motivated than ever to pay off the other two cards.

Debt avalanche

Now, let’s take Katie’s exact scenario and apply it a little differently—with the debt avalanche method instead. We’ll use the exact credit card debt:

Ann Taylor Loft credit card: $2,000 at 18 percent interest rate
American Express credit card: $4,000 at 20 percent interest rate
Kohl’s credit card: $8,000 at 16 percent interest rate

Which one does Katie pay off in the debt avalanche approach? You got it. She’ll do the following:

  • Make the minimum payment on all her loans, just like in the debt snowball method.
  • Again, she figures out how much extra money she has at the end of the month.
  • Finally, she tackles her American Express credit card balance with all of her extra money because that interest rate is the highest.
  • Then, tackles the Ann Taylor Loft credit card balance, and then the Kohl’s credit card after both of the other cards are paid off.

This method ends up mathematically saving Katie money over the long run because it attacks the higher interest debt first, but it takes longer to pay off because the balances are higher.

There’s less immediate gratification.

However, if you just can’t stand to waste money on interest, then maybe you roll right past the debt snowball method and attack the avalanche. It really is a personal choice.

Again, both of these methods work best if you aren’t able to consolidate your credit cards.

Really the best way is to consolidate and throw every extra penny you have toward paying them all off at once, with a reduced interest rate.

Debt snowflaking

Here’s another method: debt snowflaking!

Debt snowflaking is a process where you take any extra money you make or unexpected money you receive and apply it to your debt immediately. So, for example, if Katie hosts a garage sale and makes $120 from the sale, she will apply it directly to her debt. Same thing with the $50 of birthday money from her grandma. Instead of buying a cute pair of pants, she’ll apply it to her debt—and depending on which approach she’s taking, whether debt avalanche or debt snowball, she’ll apply it accordingly.

Little by little: It’s truly that type of conscious dedication toward paying off your debt that will propel you toward financial freedom.

How much extra money should I throw at my credit card debt?

Any. Extra. Penny. You. Have.

That’s it. If you’re serious about getting out of credit card debt, it’s a really good idea to sit down and plan out your budget.

Plan out exactly how much you can live off of, and attack that debt with gusto.

Ultimately, to get out of credit card debt equals an amazing feeling of financial freedom.

While it may seem impossible, it does take discipline and a really conscious choice to chip away at the mountain, little by little.

Melissa is a Midwesterner with a penchant for travel (the further away, the better!) and personal finance. Previously, she worked as a writer/editor for a gardening magazine and has done lots of writing and editing for publications. Now, she works in the admission office of her alma mater, Central College in Iowa. She has special interests in reading about finance and politics, and together with her husband, spends most of her time chasing after their two kiddos.

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