A few days ago, CBS News announced that the amount Americans owe on their credit cards has hit an all time high: over $1 trillion. Now, not everyone carries a balance on their credit cards from month to month, but for those who do, the average balance per household is now $9,600. That equals about 17% of the average U.S. household income. Given that the interest rate on a credit card is between 16% and 24%, that debt grows between $1,600 and $2,300 each year.
I’ve written about this before, but it’s important and bears repeating: interest on credit card debt is usually many times more than that of other kinds of debt, and also many times more than what you could make if you put this same money in a savings or investment account. So every penny you pay down on your credit card saves you a lot of money in the long run.
Here are some strategies you can use to help pay off your credit cards:
- Contact your credit card company and ask if they will lower your annual percentage rate (APR) on the card. Many credit card issuers would rather lower your rate than have you transfer to another company. It’s worth asking.
- Use as much as 50% of your monthly savings to pay down your credit cards completely in the coming months.
- Watch for credit card offers you receive in the mail (for which you are pre-approved). Often, these offers include a low fee to transfer your balances and then a period of time with 0% interest If you are able to transfer the balances from a higher cost card, you can pay that balance off much more quickly if it’s not accumulating interest.
- Do you own your home and have equity in it? Consider whether a home equity line of credit (HELOC) is appropriate for you. The interest rate on a HELOC is often significantly lower than the interest rate on credit cards. By paying off the credit card and moving that balance to a HELOC, you’ve reduced the amount of interest that will stack up and will be able to pay off the debt more quickly as a result.
Once the credit cards are paid off, continue to pay off your credit cards every month, with few exceptions. Do this and you’ll give yourself the peace of mind of knowing that you are living within your means.