How to Pay Off Credit Card Debt

Does debt have you stuck? Take control with our expert tips and worksheet.

If you feel overwhelmed by credit card debt, you’re not alone. According to a TransUnion report, the average cardholder is nearly $6,000 in the hole. Yikes!

But it’s never too late to end the cycle of minimum payments, high interest rates, and fees. Once you do, you can focus on bulking up your savings (retirement or emergency fund) and investing for the long term.

Sound good?

To help you bring your balances under control, we created a step-by-step worksheet that will get you organized and ready to commit to a payoff plan. We also spoke to financial experts who shared their best advice for tackling debt.

You can do it!

Credit Card Payoff Worksheet

When you’re deep in debt, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. That’s why choosing and working toward a payoff date can be so effective—and that’s exactly what our worksheet will teach you to do. Your payoff date is the precise day that you’ll pay off all your cards. You calculate it by determining when your monthly payments will bring your balances to $0. It gives you a concrete goal to work toward, and it allows you to imagine your life without debt.

To figure out your payoff date, use this worksheet to calculate the number of months it will take to pay off your debt. Start by making a list of every credit card account you have open. Then, write down the most recent balance on each of those credit cards. After that, find the APR for each account. (It’ll be on your account statements or listed with your other account information online.) Finally, list your required minimum monthly payment.

Now it’s time to determine how long it will take to become debt free. Plug the numbers into a payoff calculator and write down how long it will take to pay off the cards. Take a look at this number. Is it eye opening? Making only the minimum payment means your payoff timeline will be stretched long into the future. But use that realization as motivation. Go back and fill in the extra contribution above the minimum payment that you’ll make each month. The more you devote to payoff, the sooner you’ll be debt-free. Recalculate your payoff timeline based on the total monthly payment. Notice how the timeline decreases as your extra payment amount increases.

 DOWNLOAD THE WORKSHEET

Steps to Pay Off Credit Card Debt

For many people, paying off debt is easier said than done. It’s hard to know where to start, and it can be even harder to stick to a plan—month after month—once you do.

Here are the six steps you need to tackle your debt, as well as expert advice to guide you along the way.

1. Take stock

Start off by taking an overview of your debt. List your credit cards and their balances—this makes you take accountability for each and every credit card you own.

Next, follow the worksheet steps to calculate how long it will take to pay off each credit card. Keep in mind that the longer you take to pay off your balances, the more you’ll pay in interest. To really drive home the point, calculate exactly how much interest you’ll be paying. Ask yourself if the purchases you’re making are worth it.

Tips from the Pros

Todd Christensen, education manager at Money Fit by DRS

Todd Christensen, an education manager at Money Fit by DRS, stressed that to reduce debt, the first thing to do is stop adding to it.

“You can’t get out of a hole unless you stop digging it deeper,” Christensen says.

He explained a clever idea for minimizing the chances of overspending with a credit card.

“While cutting up the card is probably more effective, you can put it on ice, literally,” he said. “Place it in a cup of water and then freeze it. Even with a blow dryer, the extra work and the ten minutes or so necessary to melt the ice might be enough to get you through the impulse to make an unplanned purchase.”

Lisa Hebert, founder of MoneyMindedMom.com

Lisa Hebert, the founder of a personal finance blog, suggested that the best piece of advice when trying to pay off debt is to mentally prepare for the long journey.

“You need to change the way you think about money and reprogram your thoughts and habits,” she said. “You need to start valuing money for what it’s worth. Not that it’ll buy you happiness, rather that it’s holding you back from achieving it.”

She added that once you achieve this, “you’ll realize that sticking to a budget or giving up certain things to get out of debt is not as difficult as they seemed to be.”

Justin Ehrhardt, “The Bearded Financial Pro”

Ehrhardt, an entrepreneur in the financial services industry, emphasized the importance of creating a very strict budget in order to learn how to create a mindset and habit of not using credit cards. By creating a budget you’re more likely to rely on this tool to get out of debt and less likely to fall back on old habits.

Ehrhardt recommended Google Sheets. He uses the application to keep a budget on his phone and track what he’s spending and where.

“People will typically use credit cards as an income buffer because they overspend,” he said. “A great way to not even have spending on a credit card is to eliminate it from all saved transactions online where your card can be auto filled and also stop carrying your credit card around with you.”

2. Consider consolidating or a balance transfer

Consolidating debt and transferring it to a new card with a low interest rate is one tactic for tackling debt. It can work like a charm, but only if done responsibly, financial experts warn.

Tips from the Pros

Riley Adams, CPA

Adams, a certified public accountant and financial analyst, understands that it’s not an easy process to get out of credit card debt. Between the high interest rates and late fees, it hurts even worse to know that your balance will only continue to grow without a sound debt management plan.

Luckily, there’s a perfectly legitimate hack of either consolidating your multiple credit card debts into a single loan or to balance transfer your debt to a new credit card with a low introductory APR and no annual fee.

“If [paying off debt] will span multiple months or even years, it might be worth considering a personal loan for a lower interest rate,” Adams said. “If you can find a low-cost (0 percent interest with nominal balance transfer fee < 3 percent) balance transfer on a credit card offer, it may make sense to apply for that to transfer the balance and make as many payments as possible before that balance transfer starts costing you more money.”

What this means is that you transfer your debts to a card without interest for an introductory period—typically six months to a year. This allows you to put more money toward the principal amount instead of merely paying interest each month.

Uri Abramson, co-founder of OverdraftApps.com

Abramson, a cofounder of the personal finance blog OverdraftApps.com, agrees with the balance transfer method. However, the solution isn’t the right choice for everyone. Here’s why, he writes:

1. You must have access to new credit.
2. You must stop making new debt.
3. You must be able to schedule and execute your monthly payments––religiously! Even with 0 percent interest it might not be easy. Say, you have a $12,000 debt and a 12-month 0 percent intro period. You would have to pay roughly $1,000 a month without borrowing more money from a credit card––any credit card you hold!
4. You must pay off your balance completely by the time the regular APR hits OR…
5. If you can’t pay it off completely, make sure to find a new Intro 0 percent balance transfer credit card to transfer the remainder of your debt.

The underlying problem with credit card debt is continuing to spend and rack up debt.

“If that doesn’t change, the vicious circle will return,” he said, adding that “after you clean up, there is no carrying balances anymore.”

Reminder: don’t abuse your new 0-percent APR cards either, because at some point the interest will begin to accrue.

3. Choose a repayment method

Two of the most popular methods of paying off debt are the “snowball” and “avalanche” methods.

The snowball method is a debt reduction strategy where you pay off debt in order of smallest to largest, gaining momentum as you knock out each balance. When the smallest debt is paid in full, you roll the money you were paying on that debt into the next smallest balance.

The debt avalanche is a popular repayment strategy in which a borrower works toward paying off high-interest debt first while making minimum payments on other loans. The idea is to target high-interest debt that is likely costing you the most money in interest payments.

Growing interest can make it tough to climb out of debt, so zeroing in on this debt can help tackle this issue and make real progress.

Tips from the Pros

Todd Christensen, education manager at Money Fit by DRS

While the snowball and avalanche methods tend to be the most talked about, Christensen suggested a little-known third method: the credit card level pay method.

“If you absolutely cannot come up with any additional payment above the current minimum payment due, make this month’s minimum payment the amount you send for all future bills, even as the credit card company begins asking you for less and less,” he explained. “Whereas minimum payments will take you 15 to 25 years to pay off your debt, the level pay method will have you out of debt in six or seven years.”

4. Free up money for repayment

How can you find additional money to put toward debt? Paying off a credit card quickly means being creative. Our best suggestion: cut costs.

Maybe you overspend on food. If so, choose not to eat out. Instead, cook at home and reduce your grocery bill with coupons. Even if it’s hard, just do it. Target your money weakness, whatever it is, and put a hold on spending. Then, direct the extra money saved into additional credit card payments.

Another option is to consider adding an additional source of income. Whether you decide to pick up an extra shift, work freelance on the side, sell your belongings, or monetize a hobby, adding another source of income can help, no matter the amount. An extra $20 each week can go straight into a credit card payment. That’s about $80 a month, or $1042 a year!

Tips from the Pros

Justin Ehrhardt, “The Bearded Financial Pro”

The most important reason for why you should allocate more of your income to the repayment of credit card debt beyond minimum monthly payments is simple: interest.

“When it comes to your credit card bill, paying the minimum on your bill will predominantly pay for the interest accumulated for that month,” Ehrhardt explained. “For example, a person may have a $500 credit card bill and their interest for that month could have accumulated up to $20. If your minimum payment is $25, you’re mainly paying $20 straight for interest and only $5 to go to the principal. Credit card companies want you to make minimum payments because it will allow them to keep the debt on longer, which in turn makes higher interest and makes your payment longer over a given time.”

While freeing up money for debt repayment is hard, Ehrhardt stresses that every little bit makes a difference.

“Some families may have tight monthly budgets and feel like they cannot contribute more to their debt,” he said. “Even simply adding $5 to their monthly amount above the minimum can drastically change the length of time for their card,” he urged.

Todd Christensen, education manager at Money Fit by DRS

And Christensen agrees.

“Take 10 percent of your grocery spending, dining out expenses, coffee shop purchases and entertainment for the month and set up an automatic payment from your checking account in that amount,” he suggested. “We call this your PowerCash, and most households can come up with $50 to $200 a month extra to accelerate credit card repayment.”

5. Choose a monthly repayment amount

The best way to decide on a monthly repayment amount is to choose a date in the future as your credit card payoff goal. Use the worksheet to calculate different repayment timelines based on the amount you’re willing to pay. Make sure that you can meet the minimum each month, but plan for extra payments if you can.

Tips from the Pros

Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com

Prevention is the best method, according to Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com. She said that when paying off credit card debt, she advises to only put on the card what you know you can pay off in full. She stressed spending responsibly and said “[d[o not look at your credit card as a way to buy more than you should or can.” Further, she said to “[p]ay off your balance in full as quickly as you can to avoid paying more in high interest rates.”

Karen Ford, master financial coach

Ford, a financial coach, suggested contacting your creditor and discussing the terms of your credit line.

“Ask if they will give you a discount for paying it off early,” she said. “Many times, card companies will give a 10-20 percent discount for early pay off.” If not, at least “[p]ay an extra $5- $20 or whatever you can each monthThis will allow you to pay down that debt even more quickly.”

6. Stick to it

Let’s face it: paying off credit card debt is daunting. It’s a long process with a number of hurdles and no end in sight. Sometimes you need a little help, and there are many support organizations out there that can provide knowledge, resources, and encouragement to help you meet your goals.

Tips from the Pros

Linda Ruescher, author and speaker

Linda Ruescher, an author and speaker on chronic illness, discussed options available to those suffering from credit card debt. While she isn’t a credit expert, she emerged from serious medical credit card debt with the aid of a counseling service.

“When one is overwhelmed with credit card debt simple fixes like hiding credit cards, creating a strict budget, or doing balance transfers are merely band aids on a hemorrhage,” she said.

The first solution is self-examination. It’s crucial to address how one got into an unmanageable amount of debt to begin with.

“Some folks get overwhelmed by medical expenses,” she said. “For medical expenses, one might be able to negotiate with the provider,” she explained.

The second part of the solution is to find a free service that will assess any financial situation, create a budget, create a debt management plan, and negotiate with creditors on the client’s behalf.

Ruescher explained her experience with a counseling service.

“Clients make one payment to Consumer Credit Counseling and the agency distributes the payments to creditors.” She added that “a nice benefit is that [clients] no longer receive dunning calls.”

Bottom Line

If you find yourself in a never-ending cycle of credit card debt, don’t get overwhelmed. Fill out our worksheet to take stock of the situation and know your current balances. Consider consolidating or transferring the balance of your credit cards to get the best interest rate possible. Choose a repayment method. Free up extra money to put towards a repayment plan. Start repaying your credit card debt on a monthly basis, while no longer racking up more debt. Tap in to free counseling resources to stay on track.

You’ll achieve financial freedom in no time!

Contributors

Uri Abramson

Uri Abramson is a co-founder of the personal finance blog OverdraftApps.com, with a long history of working in the banking and fintech industry. He owns several successful online products including an innovative banking app due out in 2019. He also held key technical and management roles in international fintech startup companies. As one of the first software engineers of Payoneer (today a 2B dollar company), he was lucky enough to learn the ins and outs of the payments industry, from the inner workings of payment processors and gateways to the consumer level of financial services (banking, credit cards, etc.).

Riley AdamsRiley Adams is a licensed CPA in the state of Louisiana working as a senior financial analyst for a Fortune 500 company in New Orleans. He has a personal finance blog dedicated to helping young professionals find financial independence at YoungAndTheInvested.com.

Todd Christensen, MIM, MA, author and accredited financial counselor, is education manager at Money Fit by DRS, Inc, a nationwide nonprofit financial wellness and credit counseling agency. Todd develops educational programs and produces materials that teach personal financial skills and responsibilities to all ages. Having facilitated nearly two thousand workshops since 2004 on the fundamentals of effective money management, he based his first book, “Everyday Money for Everyday People” (2014), on the discussions, tips, stories and ideas shared by the tens of thousands of individuals and couples in attendance.

Justin EhrhardtJustin Ehrhardt, aka The Bearded Financial ProTM, has been an entrepreneur in the financial services industry as well as an Air Force Veteran and previous firefighter. He was originally recruited into the financial industry by an expansion director in the state of Georgia. Ehrhardt started his financial practice in Duluth, GA after becoming inspired by his own personal experience as a client. His passion for education and empowerment of families who had been neglected, overlooked or misrepresented by the financial industry fueled his passion. Ehrhardt’s strength is to teach families and business owners how money works and how to better manage their money in simple, common terms. You can find him on Facebook at @JustinEhrhardtBFP.
Karen FordKaren Ford is a master financial coach, public speaker, entrepreneur, and author at KarenFord.org who has coached people with a variety of money issues; from just $500 in debt to $800,000 in debt. She has coached folks with up to 86 credit cards and taught them how to pay down and pay off those credit cards in record time.
Lisa HebertLisa Hebert founded MoneyMindedMom.com, a personal finance blog where she shares tips on getting out of debt, saving and budgeting money. Her mission is to help others manage their finances better so they can pursue a better life without financial stress.
Linda RuescherLinda Ruescher is an author and speaker whose work focuses on helping people live successfully with chronic illnesses at CopingWithChronicIllness.com.
Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com which provides online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, startup bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent services, DBAs, and trademark and copyright filing services.

How much credit card debt do you have? Let’s break the stigma and start a conversation on Twitter at @OppUniversity.