Do you have credit card debt? Don’t feel bad. Most Americans hold some credit card debt. Credit cards are designed to keep us in debt. My first real job was working at a call center for a large credit card company. When someone called in, their account would pop up on my computer screen, and I could see exactly how much credit card debt they had. It was common to see accounts with ten thousand or more of debt. It scared me, and I stopped using credit cards. I noticed that most of these customers were only paying the minimum payments. At that rate, it would take them years to pay back the debt, if at all.
Because of my background, I have a passion for helping people get out of credit card debt. It’s not easy, but if you are willing to put in the work, I am confident you will be successful in paying them off. I want everyone to take control of their spending and achieve financial freedom. I’ll break down how to get out of credit card debt into a few simple steps.
STEP 1: Understand your debt
First, you have to know exactly how much debt you have and who you owe. You may have other debt, such as a car loan or mortgage, but I’m specifically talking about credit card debt today.
Gather all of your credit card statements. Look over them and see exactly how much you owe each company. The statement will also show you other things like your annual percentage rate or APR.
Now find the box showing how long it will take to pay off the debt if you only pay the minimum payment. Shocking right!?! As I write this, I’m looking at my latest credit card statement. It says it will take me seven years if I only make the minimum payment to pay off the $1942.52 I charged this month. And I will have paid a total of $3193 with interest. That’s $1250.48 in just interest charges! I pay my credit card off in full each month because I only use it for the cash back rewards but still, it’s sobering to look this information over. Now let's see if we can reduce some of the balance before tackling the debt ourselves.
STEP 2: Work smarter, not harder, to reduce your debt, and just ask.
As you look over your statements, do you see any fees? Credit card companies love fees. They have a fee for everything.
Common fees include:
Balance transfer fee
Foreign transaction fee
Cash advance fee
Returned payment fee
All these fees get tacked onto your already existing debt, making it harder to pay them off. For example, the minimum payment on my credit card is $40 and can you guess the fee for paying late? You guessed it $40. So even if I pay the minimum, but it arrives even one day late, the debt stays the same. The credit card company not only makes money on my now higher balance in interest charges, but they also just made a quick $40 in fees. What do I get? A potential ding on my credit report for the late payment.
But here's the secret. You can almost always get these fees reversed if you just call and ask. Trust me. When I worked for the credit card company, I worked in the customer service department, and I removed fees all the time.
Most of these fees can be avoided, but if you get a late fee or some other fee you were not expecting, just call and kindly ask them to remove it. Did you notice my emphasis on kindly? We were trained to be nice to the customer, but it's in our nature to get defensive if the person on the other end of the phone is upset. So just calmly ask for the fee to be removed. Even if it was an error on your end that caused the fee, just acknowledge it, and they should still remove it.
Now, if the customer service rep says no and refuses to take it off, just call back and try again with another representative. You may have to call a few times, but I'm sure you will get one that will take it off. If they still do not remove the fee after a few tries, ask to speak to their supervisor. Maybe the representative didn’t have the authority to remove the fee, but the supervisor should. If you are a good customer, there should be no reason for them not to remove the fee.
Now that you have all your fees removed, you are going to ask for something else.
Look at the APR on each of your statements. In many instances, those rates can be lowered. Having a lower interest rate will allow you to pay off the balance faster.
Again you are going to call customer service. Start with the rep who you get on the line and be nice. Explain to them that you are focused on paying off the debt and would like your APR lowered. More than likely, the initial rep will not have the authority to lower the rate. So sooner rather than later, ask for their supervisor. Be persistent with the supervisor and nicely demand that the rate be reduced so that you can pay the balance down faster. They will probably have to talk with their supervisor or the customer retention department.
Companies spend a lot of money on customer acquisition. So customer retention is a high priority. Once they have you, they don’t want to lose you. Remember that! The ball is always in your court.
Try saying something like, ‘I just got another offer from a different credit card company with 0% (or whatever amount you were offered) interest rate if I transfer my balance to them. I enjoy using your credit card. What can you do to keep me as a customer? Can you match that offer?’ or something to that effect. There is a good chance they will reduce your rate to keep you as a customer.
STEP 3: Decide how you will pay off the debt
How you choose to pay off the debt doesn’t matter, just as long as you make a choice and stick with it. You will often hear the strategies for paying down credit card debt referred to as the snowball, avalanche, or blizzard methods. I have no idea who came up with these terms, but snowball and avalanche are the most common methods for paying off debt.
I like this method because you get a psychological boost that will help you keep going when you quickly pay off that first card. In this method, you pay the minimum payment on all of your credit cards except the card with the smallest balance. The card with the smallest balance you make as large of a payment you can to it each month until the card is paid off. So fairly quickly, you should have your first credit card paid off. And that freeing feeling will motivate you to keep going on your debt-free journey.
Now that the first card is paid off you go to the next card with the smallest balance. You continue to make the minimum payment on all the other cards, and the one now with the smallest balance gets tackled with as large of a payment as possible. As you continue to pay off credit cards, the amount you are paying to the card with the smallest balance gets bigger and bigger like a snowball rolling down a hill.
I like this method if all of your credit card balances are about the same. In this method, you pay the minimum payment to all cards except the card with the highest APR. The card with the highest APR gets as large of payment as you can afford each month.
After the first card is paid off you go to the next card with the highest APR. Continue to make the minimum payment to all the other cards and pay as much as you can to the card with the highest APR. As the cards get paid off, the payment gets bigger and bigger, causing an avalanche effect wiping out all of your debt.
This is a hybrid of the two. You first pay off the card with the lowest balance to get that psychological hit. Then you tackle the card with the highest interest rate. All while making the minimum payments to the other credit cards.
STEP 4: Go harder
As you see your debt starts to dwindle your enthusiasm to pay it off will grow. But to pay it off faster, you need more money. If you haven't already done so, look around your house and see if there is anything you can sell, and then put that extra money towards your debt. Maybe you can pick up some extra shifts at work or start a side business to bring in some extra cash. Every extra dollar you can find should go to paying off your debt.
STEP 5: Don't go backward
This step can make or break your efforts. You have to stop using your credit cards. What's the point of making a $500 payment to one card while charging just as much to all the others? You have to get your spending under control if you truly want to be debt-free.
Things you can do to keep yourself on track:
Make a budget and stick to it
Use cash when making purchases
Have a clear financial goal for why you want to get out of debt
Make sure the entire family is on board with getting out of debt
Let your friends know that you’re on a mission to get out of debt, so you may not be able to go out as much. And if you keep saying ‘no’ to their invitations to go out that it's not them, it's you.
Work with a financial coach to keep you accountable *wink, wink
A WORD OF CAUTION: Balance Transfers
You might hear that doing a balance transfer can help you pay off your debt. Let me explain why I am not a huge fan of them. I also advise against balance transfers unless you already have your spending under control.
Reasons to be cautious of balance transfers:
Balance transfers typically have a fee, usually around 2%. I would only take a no-fee balance transfer offer. They do exist. When you call your credit card company, they often offer you a balance transfer promotion. Only accept it if they waive the fee.
Only make a balance transfer to a card that has a zero-dollar balance. Because, if you transfer a balance to a card with an already existing balance your payment will only be applied to the lower APR balance transfer amount. Your payment will not be applied to the already existing debt at the higher interest rate. So the high-interest rate balance will just grow until you pay off the balance transfer.
Know the terms of the transfer first. Most balance transfers give you a set time period to pay off the balance at the introductory interest rate. If the debt is not paid in full, you get charged interest on the total amount of the balance transfer, not just the unpaid balance. If you do a balance transfer, only transfer an amount that you know you can pay off before your time frame is up.
I know it is not easy to get out of credit card debt, but it is definitely doable. If you are not seeing results and you need extra help after a few months, do not hesitate to reach out to me. I am more than happy to help you assess your situation and keep you accountable as you become debt-free.