How to Pay Off Credit Card Debt Faster

I've received several questions from Money Girl podcast listeners about paying off credit card debt. It's a fundamental goal because carrying card balances come with high interest, a waste of your financial resources. Instead of paying money to card companies, it's time to use it to build wealth for yourself.

7 Strategies to Pay Off Credit Card Debt Faster

1. Stop making new card charges

If you're carrying card balances from month-to-month, it's essential to understand what it costs you. As interest accrues, it can double or triple the original cost of a charged item, depending on how long it takes you to pay off.

The first step to improving any area of your life is to acknowledge your mistakes, and financing a lifestyle you can't afford using a credit card is a biggie. So, stop making new charges until you take control of your cards and can pay them off in full each month.

As interest accrues, it can double or triple the original cost of a charged item, depending on how long it takes you to pay off.

Yes, reining in your card spending will probably require sacrifices. Consider ways to earn extra income, such as starting a side gig, finding a better-paying job, or selling your unused stuff. Also, look for ways to cut costs by downsizing your home, vehicle, memberships, or unnecessary expenses.

2. Consider your big financial picture

Before you decide to pay off credit card debt aggressively, look at the "big picture" of your financial life. Consider any other debts or obligations you should prioritize, such as a tax delinquency, legal judgment, or unpaid child support. The next debts to pay off are those already in default or turned over to a collection agency.

In many cases, not having a cash reserve is why people get into credit card debt in the first place.

Assuming you don't have any debts in default, focus your attention on your emergency fund ... or lack of one! I recommend maintaining a minimum of six months' worth of your living expenses on hand. In many cases, not having a cash reserve is why people get into credit card debt in the first place.

3. Make more than the minimum payment

Many people who can pay more than their monthly minimum card payment don't do it. The problem is that minimums go mostly toward interest and don't reduce your balance significantly.

For example, let's assume your card charges 15% APR, you have a $5,000 balance, and you never make another purchase on the card. If your minimum payment is 4% of your card balance, it will take you 10½ years to pay off. And here's the worst part—you'd have paid almost $2,400 in interest!

4. Target debts with the highest interest rates first

Make a list of all your debts, including credit cards, lines of credit, and loans. Include your balances owed and interest rates charged. Then rank your liabilities in order of highest to lowest interest rate.

Getting rid of the highest interest debts first saves you the most.

Remember that the higher a debt's interest rate, the more it costs you in interest per dollar of debt. So, getting rid of the highest interest debts first saves you the most. Then you can use the savings to pay more on your next highest interest debt and so on.

If you have several credit cards, evaluate them the same way—tackle them in order of highest to lowest interest rate to get the most bang for your buck. And if a credit card isn't the most expensive debt you have, make it a lower priority.

In general, debts that come with a tax deduction such as mortgages, home equity lines of credit, and student loans, should be paid off last. Not only do those types of debt have relatively low interest rates, but when some or all of the interest is tax-deductible, they cost you even less on an after-tax basis.

5. Use your assets to pay off cards

If you have assets such as savings and non-retirement investments that you could use to pay down high-interest credit cards, it may make sense. Just remember that you still need a healthy cash reserve, such as six months' worth of living expenses.

If you don't have any or enough emergency money saved, don't dip into your savings to pay off credit card debt. Also, consider what you could sell—such as unused sporting goods, jewelry, or a vehicle—to raise cash and increase your financial cushion.

6. Consider using a balance transfer card

If you can’t pay off credit card debt using existing assets, consider optimizing it by moving it from higher- to lower-interest options. That won’t make your debt disappear, but it will reduce the amount of interest you pay.

Balance transfers won’t make your debt disappear, but they will reduce the amount of interest you pay.

Using a balance transfer credit card is a common way to optimize debt temporarily. You receive a promotional offer during a set period if you move debt to the account. By transferring higher-interest debt to a lower- or zero-interest card, you save money and use it to pay down the balance faster.

7. Consolidate your high-rate balances

I received a question from Sarah F., who says, “I love your podcast and turn to it for a lot of my financial questions. I have credit card debt and am wondering if it’s a good idea to get a personal loan to pay it down, or is that a scam?”

And Rachel K. says, "I love listening to your podcasts and am focused on becoming more financially fit this year. I have a couple of credit cards with high interest rates. Would it be wise for me to consolidate them to a lower interest rate? If so, will it hurt my credit?" 

Depending on the terms you’re offered, using a personal loan can be an excellent way to reduce interest and get out of debt faster.

Thanks to Sarah and Rachel for your questions. Consolidating credit card debt using a personal loan is not a scam but a legitimate way to shift debt to a lower interest rate.

Having an additional loan added to your credit history helps you build credit if you make payments on time. It also works in your favor by reducing your credit utilization ratio when you reduce your credit card debt.

If you qualify for a low-rate personal loan, here are some benefits you get from debt consolidation:

  • Cutting your interest expense
  • Getting a fixed rate and term (such as 6% APR for 60 months with monthly payments of $600)
  • Having one monthly debt payment
  • Building credit

A couple of downsides of using a personal loan to consolidate debt include:

  • Being tempted to continue making credit card charges
  • Having potentially higher monthly loan payments (compared to minimum credit card payments)

While it may seem counterintuitive to use new debt to get out of old debt, it all comes down to the interest rate. Depending on the terms you’re offered, using a personal loan can be an excellent way to reduce interest and get out of debt faster.

What should you do after paying off a credit card?

Credit cards come with many benefits, such as purchase protection, convenience, and rewards. Don't forget that they're also powerful tools for building credit when used responsibly. If maintaining good credit is one of your goals, I recommend that you keep a paid-off card open instead of canceling it.

You don't need to carry a balance from month to month or pay interest on a credit card to build excellent credit.

To maintain or improve your credit, you must have credit accounts open in your name, and you must use them regularly. Making small purchases charges from time to time that you pay off in full and on time is enough to add positive data to your credit reports. You don't need to carry a balance from month to month or pay interest on a credit card to build excellent credit.

To learn more about building credit and getting out of debt, check out Laura’s best-selling online classes:

  • Build Better Credit—The Ultimate Credit Score Repair Guide
  • Get Out of Debt Fast—A Proven Plan to Stay Debt-Free Forever

How to Decide If Pet Insurance Is Worth the Cost

Woman deciding if pet insurance is worth the cost

Last fall, our greyhound Tivo refused his breakfast on a Friday morning. He didn't eat or drink water all day, and we were worried. That night, we took him to the 24-hour emergency veterinarian and Tivo was diagnosed with a bacterial stomach bug and dehydration. We went home with antibiotics, a saline IV, and a $200 vet bill.

Thankfully, we could afford this bill for unexpected emergency care for Tivo. But if he were diagnosed with a chronic condition or needed a very costly intervention, we might find ourselves facing some heartbreaking financial decisions.

Pet insurance is often touted as a solution to these worries. With pet insurance covering some costs of veterinary care, you're never forced to choose between your beloved pet and your finances. However, does this kind of coverage make sense for most pet-owners?

Here's what you need to know about pet insurance so you can keep your fur babies bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for years to come.

Premium costs

As with human health insurance, pet insurance charges you a monthly premium for your pet's coverage. According to Value Penguin, the average monthly cost for canine pet insurance is $47.20, and the average for feline insurance is $29.54 for accident and illness coverage.

Of course, this doesn't tell the whole story of what to expect from premium costs. Many pet insurers increase premiums with the age of your pet. Which means the $47 per month you pay to keep your 4-year-old pup healthy could rise with his/her age, making the premiums harder to keep up with just as they're more likely to need age-related medical intervention. In addition, different breeds can have different premium prices, since there are some hereditary conditions that various breeds may be more prone to.

However, even with these potential issues, there are some methods to keep premiums manageable. For instance, some tried and true insurance reduction strategies work just as well for your pet's health insurance as they do for your own. These include increasing your deductible, reducing the percentage that the insurance reimburses, or limiting the annual payout rather than choosing unlimited coverage.

These strategies can keep your premiums affordable while still helping with big veterinary bills. But you need to be prepared to pay anything above and beyond the coverage limits you set up. (See also: 8 Ways to Lower Your Vet Bills) 

Coverage

It's also important to note that pet insurance does not necessarily cover every kind of health cost for your pets. To start, unlike (some) human health insurance, most pet insurance will not cover preventive care and annual exams. So you will need to plan for these costs on top of your premiums.

Pet insurance policies generally come in two varieties: accident and illness policies, and accident-only policies. In general, accident-only policies do not raise their premiums as your pet ages, making this kind of insurance more affordable long-term. However, accident-only policies tend to be cheaper because your pet is less likely to get injured than fall ill. If you decide to invest in pet insurance, getting both accident and illness protection will likely offer you more protection.

That said, each insurer gets to decide which illnesses, conditions, and services it covers, and not all ailments are covered. Many insurers also do not cover the diagnostic exam for a particular illness, even if the treatments are covered. Make sure you pay attention to the details of what your potential insurer will cover before signing up for coverage.

As with many types of human health insurance, most pet insurance policies exclude preexisting conditions. Unfortunately, some insurers consider health problems to be "preexisting" if they crop up within a year of the purchase of your policy. Insuring your pet when they're young is the best way to avert the preexisting condition coverage gap.

Finally, pet insurance coverage is usually handled via reimbursement. That means you'll be on the hook to pay the vet bill at the time of service, and you'll submit your receipts to your insurer to receive reimbursement. (See also: 7 Things You Need to Know About Pet Insurance)

Should you buy pet insurance?

With all the caveats, coverage gaps, and reimbursement requirements, pet insurance is not necessarily a slam dunk for everyone. In fact, many consumer advocates recommend that pet owners put aside an amount equal to the annual premium into a savings account each year. This will give you the same peace of mind that you can cover any potential health care needs for your pet while also allowing you to keep the money if you never need to use it.

However, if you struggle with financial discipline, this strategy will leave you in a difficult situation if your furry friend needs an expensive procedure. Pet insurance can provide you with the protection your pet needs even if you struggle with money. 

Show your love with an emergency fund

Whether or not you decide to purchase pet insurance, remember that you'll have to pay upfront for any veterinary procedures. With insurance, you will get reimbursed for covered care, but you will still need to have access to funds to pay for Mittens' kidney stone removal or Rex's arthritis care at the time of care.

This means that one of the best ways you can protect your furry friends and avoid heartbreaking financial choices is to have an emergency fund. With or without pet insurance, set some money aside for the unexpected so you can enjoy your four-legged family members for years to come. (See also: 7 Easy Ways to Build an Emergency Fund From $0)

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With pet insurance covering some costs of veterinary care, you're never forced to choose between your beloved pet and your finances. Here's what you need to know about pet insurance. | #pets #petcare #insurance




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