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A Guide to Paying Off Credit Card Debt

In the United States, credit card use is a common occurrence. The problem? When you find yourself looking at a balance due that is far larger than you can pay off in a couple months.

As of March 2019, the Federal Reserve has found that the total credit card debt for Americans is just under $4 million. According to a survey from Bankrate, at least 29 percent of Americans had more credit card debt than they do emergency savings—a precarious position to be in. Struggling with credit card debt isn’t easy, especially considering the “if worse-comes-to-worst” situation of having to choose between paying an outstanding debt or paying bills, which can often lead to serious legal repercussions.

The truth is, a lot of Americans live with more credit card debt than they can handle. Thankfully, paying it off is possible. Following the steps below can help you see a finish line that you never imagined existed before – no bankruptcy declaration necessary.

TOTAL YOUR DEBT TO GET A REAL LOOK AT WHERE YOU STAND

Take the time to figure out how much debt you really have. If you have more than one credit card, review any statements with outstanding balances and total them. Seeing that total may be all someone needs to decide things need to change.

A smaller total can mean that the debt will be easier to tackle more quickly, giving the individual more motivation to get it taken care of before it gets worse. In contrast, a larger total can mean it is time to take your credit card debt seriously and, perhaps, time to change the way you spend to avoid getting deeper into debt. The good part about this step is that, as you pay off your debt , it truly helps to see that overall total go down. The reduction in the number relieves stress and pressure on your wallet.

ADJUST YOUR SPENDING ACCORDINGLY

One of the most impactful things you can do to tackle your debt? Stop adding to it.

Some quick fixes include eating or making your own coffee at home, putting some subscription boxes on hold (or canceling them altogether) and cutting down on shopping trips. You may even need to take your cards out of your wallet completely to avoid using them on purchases that you can’t afford.

But, small changes only go so far. For some, this step may involve harder decisions such as trading their car out for a cheaper one that they can actually afford, or canceling that big vacation they were planning for the summer.

Big or small, adjusting how much you spend each month goes a long way in tackling credit card debt. Those outstanding balances shrink much faster when you stop adding to them!

CREATE A “SNOWBALL” STRATEGY FOR PAYING DEBT OFF

Look at the different credit card balances that you have and list them from smallest to largest. From there, pay the absolute maximum that you can afford on the smallest debt while paying the minimum on the others. Once the smallest debt is taken care of, apply this approach to the next debt in line. Continue this pattern until you have all outstanding debts paid off.

The goal here is to be aggressive about paying your debt off. While you should make it a priority, you should avoid letting it cost you your health and your home. Be honest about how much that “absolute maximum” is that you can really afford. If the payment affects your ability to pay your utilities, you may want to lower it a bit until you have more expendable income further down the road.

OBTAIN A ZERO PERCENT APR CARD TO HELP PAY OFF HIGHER INTEREST AMOUNTS FASTER

This trick works well if you stay on top of it. The key is you have to stay on top of it.

If you have a debt (or two) that have especially high APR rates, this tactic allows you to make payments on credit card debt without the added monthly interest charge.

However, as mentioned previously, if you choose to use this approach, you can’t be lax about it. Most cards that start out without an interest charge merely delay it for a certain period of time. The goal is to use the zero percent APR to tackle a debt that would otherwise be near impossible to make any headway on because of the interest before the delayed APR on the new card kicks in.

What you can do with a zero percent APR card will also vary depending on your credit score. However, at the end of the day, having no interest on a debt that previously had a 16-20 percent monthly charge to it goes a long way.

BE CONSISTENT

Paying off credit card debt is hard. It adds up faster than most of us realize and leaves many people in a cold sweat when they notice that they’re in deeper than they can handle.

With dedication, consistent payments and smart spending (or non-spending), credit card debt can become a thing of your past.

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