Do you keep up with all your debt payments but feel you can never get ahead or completely erase any of those outstanding balances? Here are five smart steps that can help you gain greater control of your debt situation.
1. Make More than the Minimum Payment
For every outstanding balance, you must typically make a minimum payment of 2% to 3% of your total. While it’s tempting to pay the least you can, there are two great reasons to pay more than the minimum each month.
- You will pay off the debt more quickly.
- You will pay significantly less in total interest. You owe interest for as long as you have an outstanding balance, so the sooner that balance is gone, the less interest you’ll have to pay. What’s worse, since a minimum payment may not cover the interest you owe each month, that unpaid interest will be added to your outstanding balance—and you will end up paying interest on your interest! That possibility should be a strong incentive to pay as much as you can each month.
To find the money you need to boost your payments, look for daily spending that’s not truly necessary, like your morning latte, takeout, Friday happy hour or other indulgences. You can treat yourself, within reason, once you’ve reduced your debts.
2. Tackle High-Rate Accounts First
When you budget extra money each month to make higher payments, dedicate most of it to the outstanding balance with the highest interest rate, since it’s the one that’s costing you the most. It may also be satisfying to pay off an account with a small balance even if it has a relatively low interest rate, as long as you can still cover payments on your other accounts. You’ll feel good knowing you’ll be receiving one less bill each month.
3. Shop for Better Rates
A quick online search may help you find credit cards with lower interest rates. Once you find a good deal, a new lower-rate card could provide significant savings each year, money you can use to pump up your monthly payments and get rid of debt sooner.
4. Read the Fine Print on a Balance Transfer Card
When you move debts from one card or account to another, it’s called a balance transfer. In reviewing balance transfer options, keep these issues in mind:
- There may be fees associated with the transfer. Find out what they are and if the transfer is still worthwhile once you pay them.
- The initial interest rates may change. If a great rate will rise too much in a few months or a year, the transfer may not be a good deal.
Rather than avoiding creditors, contact them if you are having trouble making payments. Many may be willing to negotiate your interest rate or your repayment schedule. With more manageable payments, you’ll have more money or more time to pay off those balances.