How to quickly reduce your credit card debt
Credit card debt spiraling? Here are tried and tested ways to bring it under control and get you back on track with paying off the balance, once and for all.
Focus on the highest interest rate first — the avalanche method
While you need to make at least the minimum payment for all your credit cards, this method helps you prioritize where you start to eat into the debt. As long as you remain disciplined and stick to the plan, this method can save you money on interest.
Firstly, list your credit cards in order of annual percentage rate (you’ll see this as APR). Then, rank them in order of the highest to lowest rate. Each month, you’ll pay extra on the card with the highest interest rate until you clear the balance. Then, as your next highest interest rate card becomes top of the list, you repeat the process again and continue until all the cards’ balances are cleared.
The key detail here is that you set an amount that you will pay each month. As you start paying off the balance with a lower rate, you’ll eat into more of the debt with each payment.
Focus on the highest balance first — the snowball method
The snowball method can give you a motivational boost. Start by arranging your credit cards in order from the smallest balance to the largest. Again, it is still important that you make at least the minimum payment for all your cards each month. But you can put additional money towards paying off the debt, starting from the account with the smallest balance.
Once the first one is paid off, you roll your additional payment to the second one. It’s called a snowball effect because it builds momentum fast. You’ll see results as you quickly pay off the first card, and those incremental wins can help keep you focused.
Pay more than once a month
Another way to keep momentum when paying off your credit card debt is to pay more often. Usually the monthly payment is a minimum, and paying every week or two weeks, for example, can help you stay on track. Doing so can be particularly helpful if you’re paid on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
Transfer the balance
It may be possible to transfer your balance to another credit card at a lower interest rate. Some balance transfer credit cards even carry zero per cent interest for the first few months as an incentive to entice new business, though the rate you’re offered will depend on your credit score. Having low, or even zero interest can give you financial breathing space, and you can use your freed-up funds to work on chipping away at the balance as quickly as you can.
With this approach, aim to pay down your full balance before the initial interest rate ends so you don’t get caught by sudden rate rises.
Do some research before you switch. You may be charged a fee to do a balance transfer, which may outweigh the benefits of moving your funds. It’s also worth checking if the new card comes with any annual fees. If there is an annual fee, compare it to the fees and interest with your existing card, just to be sure it still makes sense to transfer.
Remember, the interest rate will rarely stay at zero per cent for long, so get clued up on what the rate will be after that initial period.
Put all your credit card debts in one place
Having just one debt to pay off, rather than multiple credit cards, can give you a clearer view of progress. Not only that, but it can bring your overall interest rate down if the APR you’ll pay is lower than on your cards.
There are a few ways to consolidate your debts. You could do a balance transfer to one card or take out a debt consolidation loan. Do some research to find out what you’re eligible for and whether this route is more cost effective than some of the others, like the avalanche method.
Reassess your monthly budget
It may be that your credit card debt is the result of some unexpected expense, such as a car repair or medical bill. Or the debt may be a sign that you’re currently spending more money than you have coming in.
An effective way to help reduce your spending is to set a budget and prioritize where your money goes. Take a moment to list your spending. These categories can be helpful:
Essentials: rent/mortgage, utility bills, groceries, and gasoline
Debts: minimum payments on your credit cards or any other debt
Treats: restaurants, coffee, entertainment costs, subscriptions
Other expenses: insurance, repairs, haircuts, vet bills, gifts, and travel
Once you have a list, consider ways you might be able to cut back in some areas to free up money to pay off your credit card debt.
If you’d like some help with your spending habits take a look at 7 Good Spending Habits for 2023.
Speak to a professional
Working with a financial advisor could help you get everything in order to pay off your credit card debts and build funds you need for emergencies. They’ll give you impartial advice on the most cost-effective way to manage your debt and the different products that can work for you.
Quickly reduce your credit card debt with confidence
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Charlie Barton is a writer at Unbiased. He has been writing about personal finance and investing since 2017, with extensive knowledge of platforms and products. Charlie has a first-class degree from the London School of Economics.