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Pay off credit card debt: four tips from the personal finance experts

It is one of the most common financial problems and one that can overwhelm you unless you pay close attention to your spending.

Credit card debt can feel like it takes on a life of its own when you’re not looking, and adding to it is too easy – dinner here, little retail therapy there, chasing points. reward for an airline, splashing out on vacation… it all adds up. Worse yet, you find that you are doing this on multiple cards.

It’s time to take a deep breath and make a plan to pay off the debt you’ve accumulated. The independent spoke with three personal finance experts about what they consider to be the best strategies for tackling credit card debt.

Calculate your total debt and set a debt-free date

In order to pay off your debt, you first need to know exactly how much you have. Create a simple spreadsheet or use a personal finance site like Mint and itemize all of your credit cards, their respective balances, and interest rates.

This will help you clarify the scale of the project ahead and allow you to focus and monitor your progress. You might be surprised how quickly you can get to work paying off what you owe, and the difference a few small changes in your lifestyle can make if you use even small amounts to pay off debt.

Then set a deadline for yourself. When do you want to be free from your debts? Danetha Doe, the creator of Silver & Mimosas, a financial wellness platform for the self-employed, says, “Once you have a date in mind, reverse engineer the process to determine how much you need to pay each month and which strategy is best for you. .

Choosing a debt repayment strategy

There are few ways to pay off your debt, so pick one that you think will work for you, but be aware that if you struggle, you have other options.

The first approach is known as the “avalanche method” where you first pay off the card with the highest interest rate while paying the minimum amount on other credit cards. “After you’ve paid off the first credit card, you transfer those monthly payments to the next credit card and so on,” Ms. Doe explains.

Loreen Gilbert, CEO and Founder of WealthWise Financial Services, notes, “People have different opinions on how to tackle credit card debt. Some say pay the smallest first because it is an accomplishment. However, I think tackling the one that generates the most interest makes more financial sense. “

Paying off the card with the lowest balance is known as the “snowball method”. Likewise, as with the avalanche method, you pay the minimum amount on any other cards you own, and then after the first card is redeemed, you snowball those monthly payments onto the next card.

Ramit Sethi, the author of I will teach you how to be rich, is a fan of this method, and notes that if you feel like you’re not ahead of your debt, it’s a quick way to gain a sense of accomplishment in what for many is an uphill struggle.

He advises paying an extra $ 50 per month, either by saving money elsewhere or by making extra money through a side activity to cover that amount. Above all, while paying the minimum on your other cards, pretend they don’t exist to avoid getting into more debt.

Sethi says, “Paying off the credit card with the highest APR might be the best way mathematically, but you know what’s amazing? Pay a card. You’ll regain confidence, gain momentum, and be ready for a bigger challenge. Before you know it, you’ll have paid for it and you can upgrade to the next card.

A third method is to do debt consolidation. This is where you call your credit card companies and ask if they will consolidate your credit card balances into one card.

Ms. Doe notes that if they generally do, they’ll offer a lower interest rate on the card. “This can be great for some people because it translates to just one payment per month versus multiple payments which can be overwhelming.”

As a last resort, she suggests filing for bankruptcy. “Sometimes it’s the only option for people to get out of crushing debt. Work with a legal expert to determine if this is the right course for you.

Consider a balance transfer

Depending on your credit score, some credit cards will offer you the option of transferring your credit card balance to a 0% interest rate credit card. Keep in mind that this 0% interest will only last for a short time, and once the period is over, the interest rate will skyrocket.

Ms. Gilbert notes: “Many people used to living beyond their means use credit cards to finance their lifestyle and then look to shift credit card balances to 0% interest cards. The problem is, rates won’t be low forever, so keeping spending under control is key to getting rid of credit card debt once and for all.

“If you transfer balances to a 0% offer,” she advises, “keep the same payment from your higher interest cards that you had to pay in order to reduce debt faster. “

Be tough on your spending

Use the time you spend paying down your debt to work on setting new financial standards that will hopefully leave you in better health.

“Until the credit cards are paid off, stop using the credit cards altogether,” says Gilbert. “Studies have shown that people spend about 20% more when they use credit cards than when they pay cash. So use cash and break the habit of spending more.

“By the time the credit cards are paid off, you have developed a new habit and you may not feel the need to use a credit card,” she adds.

“If you’re still having trouble sticking to your debt repayment plan, you may need to use a system like the Conscious Spending Plan to manage your spending,” suggests Sethi, referring to the Exact Planning Technique. of how you are going to spend your money up front and stick to it.

“You can also look for big wins that can unlock more income, like negotiating your salary or rent. By earning more (or spending less), you can pay off your debt faster, ”he adds.

Ms. Gilbert suggests a similar practical approach: “Eat half as much a week and use that money to pay off your debts. It may seem like a small amount of money, but that small amount of money can make a big difference. For example, if each meal costs you $ 25, you could pay off the debt of $ 200 per month.

Breaking a cycle of spending and accumulating debt may require a more introspective examination, says Doe. “If you find yourself in a cycle of credit card debt for an extended period of time, or if you are fluctuating between no credit card debt and high debt levels, it is wise to examine your mindset. “

She suggests examining your relationship with money and your beliefs about money to determine what financial behaviors you need to change.

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