Many Americans are falling into the trap of buying more than their incomes will support because they don't want to wait until they can afford to pay cash. Besides the "I want it now" mentality, people are also finding themselves in debt as the cost of living continues to rise while wages remain the same. When an emergency situation comes up, like a job layoff, an unexpected medical procedure or a natural disaster, the usual outcome is increased credit card debt.
Don't let yourself be caught unaware when your interest rate suddenly skyrockets
Getting a loan through a bank or other lending institution is not something most of us can do instantly. We have to apply and wait for the decision. But our credit cards are there, waiting in our wallets. Credit cards can act as instant loans, but the consequences of using them (think high interest rates) without being able to pay off our balances are not pretty.
To prevent increasing your debt load, read your credit card statement very carefully every month. Credit card companies typically notify you of changes in the fine print on your statement. Read carefully, as well, any notices that come to you separate from your bill. Don't let yourself be caught unaware when your interest rate suddenly skyrockets or you are levied an annual fee for not carrying a balance on your card.
As for the debt you already have, there are ways to pay it off and free yourself. Unfortunately, they take work, and the chances of coming into a huge inheritance, winning a big lottery or writing the screenplay to the year's most acclaimed movie are slim. If you are a typical middle-class American with debilitating credit card debt, you'll have to discipline yourself and carefully take steps to eliminate your debt load.
Paying the minimum amount required will do nothing to eliminate your debt. Actually, this is exactly what most credit card companies want you to do, because your minimum payments go straight to their bottom lines. You can literally end up owing twice as much as you charged in the first place. Instead, add at least $50 extra to the minimum amount due. It would be better, of course, to add more, as much as you can, to eliminate the debt as quickly as possible.
Don't use your card while you pay it off. Put it on your dresser or in a safe. Lower your unnecessary expenditures so that you can pay cash for what you do need while you are paying off credit card debt.
Pay off your highest interest rate cards first. Once you have paid off the card with the highest interest rate, move on to the next highest. Try with all your might to pay as much as you can possibly afford every month. It may be human nature to want to pay off the credit card that has the highest balance first, but instead, choose the card with the highest interest rate. This is the one you really want to get rid of.
Figure out which of your credit cards has the lowest interest rate. If it still has an available open balance on it, you might consider transferring the debt on a high-interest card to this one. As you pay it off, you will save money by paying less in interest.
If transferring debt onto a lower-interest card
that you already possess is not possible, then check out some of those unsolicited credit card offers you're probably getting in the mail. Most of them will be offering you the opportunity to transfer credit card debt onto their new card with the promotion of a very low interest rate for a certain period of time. Some even have a 0 percent rate. If you're cautious, this could work to your advantage. First, figure out whether or not you can pay off the debt entirely before that initial teaser interest rate goes up. If so, do it! Send in the extra money you would have paid on the higher-interest card, which will now be applied to the principal of your debt instead of to an astronomical interest rate. If you cannot pay off the debt entirely before the interest goes up, be careful. Read the fine print on the offer, because if you think you can simply do the same thing again and transfer the remaining debt onto yet another low-interest teaser card offer, you might get zinged badly. Some credit card companies penalize you if you transfer any balance off that card within a certain length of time, like a year, and force you to pay higher interest retroactively back to when you first got the card.
Some of us are lucky enough to have family willing to give us a loan. It is something to consider. Just be sure everything is clearly understood and in writing. Do all you can to avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
A home equity loan
can often be a great idea for debt consolidation. Do you own a home? If so, do you have some equity built up? The equity in your home is what a buyer would pay for your home, less the outstanding debts, such as how much you owe on your mortgage. The reason this can be a good idea is that a home equity loan almost always offers a much lower interest rate than your credit card. Plus, because it involves mortgage interest, it is almost always tax deductible. Do not take out a home equity loan to pay off credit card debt then turn around and charge up your credit cards again while you are paying off the home equity loan. You will end up in a deeper pit of debt than you were to start with. Do not take out a home equity loan if you have any fears or doubts about being able to pay it back in full. If you default on this loan, you could end up on the street. For a free no obligation home equity quote, go to our home loan center
If you have a savings account, you might consider using the money in it to pay off your high-interest credit card debt. You are probably not earning anywhere near the interest in your savings that you are paying on your credit card debt. As soon as you get that high-interest debt paid off, you should begin building up your savings again.
If you have a 401K retirement plan at work, it might be a good idea to borrow from it to pay off your debts. The drawback is that you will probably end up paying taxes on the loan and interest twice: once as you pay it back with your after-tax dollars and again when you start withdrawing that money to live on after retirement. Also, be careful about your employment status. If you think you could lose your job or quit before the loan is paid back, you will be required to pay back the loan in full within a very short period of time, usually 30 days. If you don't, you'll get stuck with taxes and a 10 percent IRS penalty for early withdrawal, unless you are over the age of 59.
Another idea you might not have thought of is borrowing against a life insurance policy, if you have one and it has built up a cash value. Most insurance companies allow this, and the interest to pay this loan back will be less than your credit card interest. Just remember that if you die before paying back this loan in its entirety, you will leave your beneficiaries with less money than you intended, because the insurance company will keep what they are still owed.
If all other avenues have been exhausted, try renegotiating with your credit card issuers
. If you can convince your credit card issuer that you are on the edge of filing bankruptcy and you cannot make your payments, they might be willing to change a few things in order to get some of the money they feel they deserve. They might lower your monthly payments, dissolve some of your debt, give you a lower interest rate or work out a different repayment schedule. It's worth a try.
Bankruptcy is something you must try to avoid as it can greatly harm your future credit rating and score. This black mark will stick to your credit report for ten long years. But as a last resort, it might be a way to escape serious, debilitating credit card debt.
Make a commitment
The deeper you are in credit card debt, the harder it will be and the longer it will take to get out. But you can do it, if you commit yourself and hang in there. As you eliminate one debt after another, you will have more money to dedicate to the remaining debt. This is called the "snowball" effect. Results will be hard to see at first, but if you keep at it, you will eventually see your debt disappear.
Just imagine the day you send in the final check to eliminate the last of your credit card debt. When that day comes, you ought to celebrate. You surely will have earned it.