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Updated August 27, 2017

How to Pay Off Credit Card Debt Fast

Editorial Note: This content is not provided by the card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of the issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer.
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Balance transfers can help you pay off credit card debt faster. Read on to learn how to shrink your balance and pay less interest.

How to Pay Off Credit Cards Quickly and Save Money

How to Pay Off Credit Cards
How to Pay Off Credit Cards © CreditDonkey

Credit card debt is not a fun topic. But it's okay, you're not the first person who has taken on more than they can handle.

Maybe you borrowed too much for a big purchase. Or maybe you just went on a few too many shopping sprees. Or perhaps you were in between jobs and got into a cash flow bind. No matter how you got here, the debt is a reality and the interest charges aren't going away any time soon.

When your credit cards have high interest rates, making a dent in what you owe can seem impossible. But it's not. It just takes is the right strategy and some dedication, even if you're on a tight budget.

Tip: Transfer your credit card balance to a new credit card to save money.

If you're not sure where to get started, this step-by-step beginner's guide is here to help get you take the first step towards banishing your credit card balance for good.

Step 1. Decide Which Credit Card to Pay Off First

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To determine which credit cards to pay off first, rank your credit cards in one of two ways:

  • interest rate or
  • total balance.

If you're choosing based on the interest rate, the most effective way to pay off the debts is by starting with the card that has the highest rate (called the debt avalanche method). This saves you the most money on interest in the long term. We recommend this method as being the most efficient.

If you're choosing based on balance, you'll have to decide whether you want to start with the lowest or highest balance first. Knocking out those cards with the lowest balances right off the bat (called the debt snowball method) is a smart move if you need a psychological push at the beginning to keep you motivated.

Tip: A Harvard Business Review experiment found that people who worked on paying off one card at a time (rather than spreading out payments over multiple cards) were the most successful at reducing debt. Furthermore, those who started with the smallest balance felt the most sense of progress, and therefore had the most motivation.

If you need a boost in morale, focus on just paying off the card with the smallest balance first. You'll feel a sense of achievement and it could even get addictive to keep going.

The key to making this approach work is rolling over your payments every time you eliminate a card. The idea is to add to the payment to the next card in line. That way, you knock out the remaining debts faster.

Here's how it works:

Let's say you decided that you can afford to devote $300 every month to paying off credit card debt. So, you're paying $200 a month to one card and just the minimums to all the others.

After you've paid off the balance on the first card, apply that $200 payment to the next card on your list plus the minimum you were paying on the one that's now paid off. In other words, don't think that's $200 extra you've freed up! Roll it over to the next card. By the time you get to the last one on the list, you should be making one large $300 payment each month until it's gone.

Step 2. Transfer Your Credit Card Debt

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This may seem counterproductive at first, but taking on a new credit card is actually one of the easiest ways to make a really significant dent in your debt.

A balance transfer means moving your debt from one card to another. You can even consolidate debt from multiple cards. If you have a big balance (at least a couple thousand dollars), this is the smartest move to help you catch up with your debt.

A balance transfer is the fastest way to get out of credit card debt.

Balance Transfer Deal: Chase Slate offers a $0 introductory balance transfer fee (for transfers made during the first 60 days of account opening). This card has a 0% introductory APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers. After that, a variable APR, currently 16.24% to 24.99%. Plus, you can receive your monthly FICO Score for free. There is a $0 annual fee.

Citi Simplicity offers a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers and purchases for 18 months. After that, a variable APR, currently 15.24% to 25.24% depending on your creditworthiness. There is a 3% balance transfer fee ($5 minimum). There are no late fees, no penalty rates and no annual fees.

The trick is to look for a card with an introductory 0% APR for balance transfers. That way, you can focus your payment toward your actual debt (instead of interest charges). However, keep in mind that you'll likely need a good credit score to get approved for a balance transfer. So if your score isn't that great, this might not be an option right now.

Most 0% promotions have a balance transfer fee (usually 3% of the amount you're transferring), but the savings in interest charges could far outweigh the cost of the transfer fee over the long run. While rare, a few banks do have no fee balance transfers, but the best deals available are usually reserved only for those with a really good credit score.

To qualify for no fee balance transfers, you usually have a limited time period to transfer the balance and take advantage of the promotion. Make sure you transfer debt within the credit card's promotional window (e.g.: transfer within 60 days).

Before you take this step, come up with a realistic payment plan to pay off your new balance before the promotional period ends. Even if there's no fee, it's smart to run the numbers through a calculator.

Use these helpful tools for more on the logistics of a balance transfer:

Tip: Remember, you usually need good credit to qualify for a balance transfer card. Not sure what's on your credit report? You are entitled to a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion - once every 12 months. AnnualCreditReport.com is the only authorized online source for free credit reports.

Step 3. Pay More Than the Minimum

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The tricky part about debt is that it's easy to get in denial about how long it will take you to pay it off.

It can be awfully tempting to only pay the minimum you see in every statement, but that adds up to a lot of money in interest over time. You should pay attention to the charts sometimes buried deep your credit card statements that tell you how long it will take to pay off the balance if you pay only the minimum (hint: it's a long time).

Never pay just the minimum payment if you can help it. Putting in just a little more each month can drastically reduce the interest and payoff time.

Never miss a credit card payment. Late payments can have a lasting impact. Not only do you risk being charged a late fee, but your interest rate may rise as well. Contact your credit card issuer immediately if you are late and explain why.

Payoff calculators like this one will give you a sense of reality. Play around with amounts to see how putting more toward your balance every month will mean paying less in interest charges over time.

For example: if you have $5,000 in debt with a 13.5% interest rate, a payment of $100/ month will take you 74 months to finishing paying off and you'll end up pay $2,390 in interest alone (almost half of the debt!).

But if you put just $50 more a month toward the payment, it'll reduce the payoff time to 43 months and shave $1,088 of interest.

The tips below go into even more detail about how to pay off debt:

Step 4. Reduce Your Existing Credit Card Interest Rate

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Maybe you've looked into getting a balance transfer and have a payment plan, but you're still struggling to make progress in the debt you owe. Did you know that you can ask your credit card issuers directly if they can shave a few points off your rate?

If your account has been open for a while, you've always paid on time, and you don't have a huge balance, they may be willing to offer you a rate reduction temporarily. Just be aware that if your rate is lowered and you miss a payment for any reason, you may be subject to the default rate, which can be up to 29%, depending on the card.

Transfer debt to a low interest credit card: BankAmericard offers a $0 introductory balance transfer fee for transfers made within the first 60 days of opening your account. After that, the balance transfer fee is 3% ($10 minimum). This card has a 0% intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers (made within 60 days of opening your account). After that, a variable APR of 13.24% - 23.24%. There is no annual fee.

Have more than $10,000 in credit card debt?

If you need years (instead of months) to pay off your credit card balance, a personal loan could be an option. You can use a personal loan to consolidate all of your credit card debt. Make sure to carefully understand the terms and conditions and avoid gimmicky settlement companies that seem too good to be true. (They are.)

But please be aware that this option only works if you have created a solid plan to pay back the loan. Otherwise, you will just be stuck with the same debt, just in another form.

If you are considering this, check out our in-depth review of SoFi Personal Loans.

Step 5. Avoid Using High Interest Credit Cards

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One of the first things to do when you're trying to pay off credit card debt is to take an inventory of the cards you have.

Cash back and rewards are great, but the interest charges can sink you if you don't regularly pay off your balance each month.

Organize your cards and zero in on the one with the highest interest rate. Stash that one away where you can't use it. Keep in mind that you may not want to cancel it just yet. Cancelling your cards can actually hurt your credit score, and that's not something you want to do, when you're about to improve how you handle debt.

Once you've chosen the card to stop using, make it a priority to pay off that card first, so the interest doesn't keep accumulating. More on this a bit later.

For a few more tips on this subject, check out these pages:

Step 6. Reduce Your Unnecessary Expenses

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Everyone is prone to the occasional shopping spree or the daily $3 coffee at Starbucks. The good news is that cutting back on these types of expenses can help you pay off your credit card balance.

Track your spending for two weeks - every single expense, no matter how small - and see if there are spending areas that you can cut. What can you live without? Can you cut back on the number of times you order takeout? Can you limit how many times you even step into a store to prevent impulse purchases?

This exercise will help you understand where your money disappears to every month. Once you realize that your daily $3 coffee adds up to be almost $100 a month, you may feel more motivated to cut it out and use that towards your credit card payment instead.

For more on understanding your budget, check out these links:

Step 7. Create a Practical Budget

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Once you understand your spending patterns and, perhaps more importantly, your spending issues, you can come up with a budget.

Most likely, if your credit card use has resulted in a mountain of debt, a lack of a working budget is part of the problem. Luckily, this problem is also easy to fix. You just need the determination to stick to it.

A budget, in its basic form, is just a plan for how you'll spend your money each month. To make one, just add up all of your expenses and subtract that amount from your income. Check out some budgeting software programs or download a budgeting app to your mobile device to help you get started and make sure you're accurately capturing all your expenses.

Do this step in tandem with cutting down on unnecessary expenses (step 4). Once you have a clearer picture of your total expenses and what spending areas you can cut down on, you can come up with a realistic number for what you can put towards paying off debt each month.

For more budget-making secrets, check out these helpful articles:

Step 8. Find New Money to Pay Debt With

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But what if you're already on a lean budget and just can't cut too many expenses? That's okay. Instead of trying to save more, change your tactic to finding new money.

No we don't mean combing the fields with a metal detector. Finding new money is a lot easier than it sounds. First of all, we bet you already have a ton of stuff in your house that you can live without - but your neighbors will love. Host a yard sell and/or list them on eBay or Craigslist. Whatever you make, apply that to your next bill payment.

If you think creatively, there are also a ton of side jobs you can do on the weekends. From baby/pet-sitting to lawn mowing to driving Uber. Don't feel like getting off the couch? No worries - check out our 41 ways to make money from home. If you are serious about paying off debt, you can always find ways to earn more money.

Also apply any windfalls to your balances. For example, if you get a tax refund, why not apply it towards your debt instead of going on a shopping spree? If you're due for a raise at work, try funneling that extra cash into your debt repayment instead of just spending the difference each payday.

Tip: Make More Payments Per Month. This is another easy way to reduce the overall interest. For example, if you normally make a $100 payment to your bill each month, breaking it up into two monthly payments of $50 (or even better - 4 weekly payments of $25) will slow down how quickly the interest accumulate. This is because when you make more payments, you are lowering your average daily balance, so the interest also becomes less.

For more, look to these pages:

FINAL WORD

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Tackling your credit card debt can be a daunting task if you're staring at those rising numbers and have no idea where to start. We hope our beginner's guide has helped to ease your fears so you can start taking on your debt with confidence.

The bottom line is that yes, you can pay off credit cards, even on a tight budget.

But it takes detailed planning and serious dedication. You have really to commit to it. Develop a plan of action and stick with it, and you'll be surprised at just how much progress you can make.

Good luck!

Did You Know: Chase Freedom Unlimited lets you earn a $150 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. You earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase. There is also a 0% intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.24-24.99%. The balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum. The cash back rewards will not expire as long as your card account remains open. There is no annual fee.

Rebecca Lake is a journalist at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and financial education website. Write to Rebecca Lake at rebecca@creditdonkey.com. Our data-driven analysis has been recognized by major news outlets across the country and has helped young adults make savvy financial and lifestyle decisions. (read more)

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are those of the author's alone. Please support CreditDonkey on our mission to help you make savvy financial decisions. Our free online service is made possible through financial relationships with some of the products and services mentioned on this site. We may receive compensation if you shop through links in our content.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. This site may be compensated through the Advertiser's affiliate programs.

Disclaimer: The information for the BankAmericard® Credit Card, Citi Simplicity® Card, and Chase Slate has been collected independently by CreditDonkey. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

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