Closing your laptop on the last day after quitting a job. Changing into your robe after a long day. Getting out of credit card debt. These all feel like freedom, right? I know what it’s like to carry multiple credit card balances in amounts that make you want to throw up your hands and say “What difference does it make? Let’s go shopping.” For me, this took the form of a spending spree at a clothing market in LA that tacked on $1,500 more to my already $10,000+ debt. I count it as a Top 5 Life Regret. But eventually I had to dig in and pay it off.
10 Steps To Get Out Of Credit Card Debt
Here’s how I dug myself out of $12,000 worth of credit card debt in my 30’s:
1. I listed all of my accounts in order of interest rates, starting with the highest. So this might look like:
2. I started paying the minimum on all cards except for the one with the highest rate. I paid as much as I could afford on that account, initially starting out with a fixed $200 per month payment.
3. When I received an offer to open a new card with a 0% promotional interest rate on balance transfers, I applied and received a card with a $2,000 credit limit.
4. I transferred $2,000 from the highest rate card to the new, 0% card. I still kept paying the highest amount on the original card. Here’s how to transfer your balance.
5. Once that card was paid off, I added $200 to the amount I was paying on the card with the next highest interest rate.
6. I marked my calendar for when the 0% promo rate was to expire and a month before, I opened a new 0% card and transferred the balance over. Here’s a great round up of 0% credit cards.
7. I continued to pay down my other cards that charged interest with gusto.
8. Anytime I came across extra money such as a tax refund or a signing bonus for a new job, I sent the money straight toward my highest interest rate credit card. (This was tough, TBR)
9. Eventually, I was just left with the balance on the 0% card. I continued to pay it down aggressively, and when the promo rate expired, I continued to open new accounts at promo rates to transfer the balance.
10. Within about five years, I was debt free.
3 more things to consider while you’re paying off credit card debt
1. Your credit score can be affected by opening new credit cards to transfer your balance
Every time I applied for and opened a new account, my credit score took a hit. This only worked for me because I had excellent credit, which I maintained through on-time payments for all my debt, including my student loans, car payment, and even utilities.
The hit to your score is not a reason NOT to do this, but it will be impacted.
2. Consider balance transfer fees
Each balance transfer incurred a fee that was typically a percentage of the amount I was transferring. So if the balance transfer fee was 3%, and I was transferring a balance of $2,000, it cost me $60, which was added to the balance. So I had to make sure the interest I was saving by transferring the balance was more than I paid in a balance transfer fee. In the above example, as long as I was transferring from an account that charged higher than 3%, I was good unless I was close to paying the whole thing off anyway.
3. You’ll need to stop using credit for awhile
This is the toughest part for most clients I work with to do. In order for this to work, I had to actually stop using credit cards, even for things like online ordering and regular bills. Once I was out of the debt, I did go back to using credit cards, but I kept a close eye on the balance so that I was able to pay it off each month.
If you’re still going through whatever it is that has you growing your balance, you need to figure that out first, otherwise performing balance transfers will just get you deeper into debt.
How to pay off credit card debt if you don’t qualify for 0% credit cards
If your credit isn’t great, you may not qualify for low promotional rate cards. If that’s the case, then consider calling up your credit card companies and request that they lower your rate. You may even suggest that if they lower your rate, you’ll transfer other balances onto that card.
Remind them of your on-time payment history and threaten to transfer your balance away if they don’t work with you. This sometimes works, but to be totally honest, a lot of my clients find it doesn’t, so don’t be discouraged if you get a no.
If they can’t lower the rate, ask if they have another card to offer you that does have a lower rate. That’s often the solution, as long as they are willing to change the card without charging an additional fee or marking it as new credit on your file.
I was able to do this with my Citi American Airlines card - the representative helped me find a different Citi card that had a lower rate, then worked with me to simply convert the type of card I had rather than doing a balance transfer.
No matter what you do with balance transfers, the key to success here is never wavering on that large payment amount. Being strategic about how you pay off your cards can also trim months or even years off your debt. Use this calculator to calculate the difference it will make. Want help creating a strategic planning for paying off debt or saving for the future? That’s exactly what I do with my 1:1 coaching clients!