How to Reduce Credit Card Debt Responsibly

Make a plan before you dive in to tackle your debt.

Make a plan before you dive in to tackle your debt.

Although you’re within your rights when you make only the minimum required payment on your credit card account, you won’t reduce your debt significantly for quite a while, especially if you continue to rack up more debt or if your card has a high interest rate. Spending so much that you can afford to pay only the minimum is not being a responsible credit card user. Once you get out of debt, use your credit card only for what you can afford to pay at the end of the month. That way you avoid interest charges altogether.

Gather all your credit card statements. Write down for each account the amount you owe, the interest rate and your available credit.

Consolidate your debts to the card with the lowest interest rate if possible. If you can’t, call your credit card issuer and ask to get your interest rate lowered. It’s worthwhile to do this if your rate is above 15 percent. Alternatively, apply for an additional card -- one with a zero percent interest rate on transfers of balances from other cards.

Pay as much as you can on the card with the highest interest rate. You want to get rid of that debt first because it’s costing you the most money. Pay the minimum on all the other cards.

Put away the high-interest rate card after it’s paid off and don’t use it. Start applying the amount you were paying on that card to the card with the next-highest interest rate, and continue to pay the minimum on the other cards. Do this with each card until you’ve paid them off.

Tips

  • Don’t close your credit card account when you’ve paid off a balance. It helps your credit score to have an account with available credit. Keep the card active by using it every few months for a small purchase, such as gasoline, and paying it off at the end of the month.
  • Make a budget. You might not be able to pay more than the minimum on a credit card if you don’t curb your spending in other areas.
  • If you cannot afford to make the payments on a credit card, tell your credit card issuer. The credit card company might work out a payment plan or lower your monthly payment.

Warnings

  • If you pay only the minimum, you’ll pay a significant amount of interest. If, for example, you owe $3,700 -- the average credit card debt in 2011, according to an NBCNews.com article -- and you pay the minimum each month, your interest payments would total $758.
  • If there is a balance transfer fee, determine whether it would be worth the cost to do the transfer. If the fee is too much, it might be better not to do it.
  • Know the terms if you transfer your balance to a zero percent APR card. The zero percent rate is usually a fixed rate for a specified period.

Photo Credits

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