Few people would deny that using credit cards can make day to day life more simple, reducing the need to carry cash and making it easy to shop online and by telephone.
However, spending with plastic can sometimes be a little too easy, as it doesn’t always feel like you’re actually parting with any cash. This means the temptation is to spend without thinking about the consequences too carefully, until you hear the ominous thud of a huge credit card bill hitting the doormat.
If you’ve been caught out like this, the size of your card debt may seem overwhelming, but don’t panic – there are a few simple steps you can take to start getting your debt back under control.
Try and make a little more than the minimum payments:
The minimum payments required by credit card companies have steadily fallen over the years. Where once it was typical to have to repay a minimum of 5% of your balance every month, it’s now common to only have to pay 2.5% or 3%. With repayments this small in proportion to your debt, a large chunk of each payment gets swallowed up in interest charges. Depending on the APR rate of your card, up to 75% of each payment could be ‘lost’ in this way, meaning that it takes a very long time for your balance to reduce to any great extent.
By trying to repay more than the minimum, even if only by a little, you can speed this process up, and in the long term you’ll end up paying much less in interest charges.
Prioritize your card debts:
If you have more than one card with different rates of interest, it makes sense concentrate on the one with the highest interest charges. This means not just the one with the highest interest rate, but the one which actually charges you most each month, which could have a lower rate but a higher balance.
Check your statements to see which card is costing you most in interest each month, and try to focus on repaying this card first by putting any spare cash you have into extra payments while keeping to the minimums on your other cards.
Change your card:
The credit card market is very competitive, and rates have fallen over the last few years. You may be stuck with an old card charging an old rate that is much higher than newer cards. If you can get a new card with a lower rate and transfer your account balance on to it, you could save a lot in interest charges, helping you to bring down your debt. If you can get a card with an introductory rate on balance transfers then all the better – you’ll get a few months of interest free credit which you can use to really drive down your balance as 100% of each repayment will be helping to clear your debt.
If getting a cheaper card isn’t an option or isn’t something you feel happy about, then maybe a consolidation loan would be worth considering. If you take out a loan and use the money to pay off all your card debts, you could benefit from a lower rate as loans are normally quite a bit cheaper than credit cards.
The downside to these loans is that the repayment period might be quite long, and so even though your monthly repayments will hopefully be lower, you’ll stay in debt for longer and so end up paying more in interest. Done carefully, however, consolidation can be a sound move if there’s little chance of clearing your debt in any other way.
Watch your spending!
All the above strategies for getting your debt under control will only work if you stop getting deeper into debt – and this means stopping spending on your cards. Ideally, you’d cut them up so that you can’t use them again, but this might not be realistic as you may need to keep them as a credit option in an emergency. In any case, cutting your spending to an absolute minimum will keeping your repayments as high as possible is the only sure strategy to clearing your debt in the long term.