Plastic is too easy. You swipe the credit card. Sign on the line and figure you’ll do the math later. But later gets later and later and before you know it, you’re drowning in credit card debt. You can get yourself out of the hole, but not quite as easily as you got yourself into it. Erasing credit card debt takes time and discipline, but it can be accomplished.
The First Three Steps
First, figure out exactly where you stand. Write it all down:
• Current balances
• Interest rates
• Minimum payments
When you realize exactly how much owe, you’re going to be devastated, but unless you know the truth of your situation, you’re not going to be able to do anything about it. The truth really will set you free, even if it hurts in the process.
Second, don’t use your cards. Regardless of what you have to do, whether that’s lock them up in the safety deposit box or bury them at the bottom of a flower pot, do not use those cards. If you continue to add to the balance you’re trying to resolve it’s like digging a hole while someone else shovels dirt back into it. You never get anywhere.
Finally, get on the phone and start negotiating with the credit card company. You’re after a lower interest rate. Don’t settle for “no.” Keep moving up the food chain, asking for the supervisor and then the supervisor’s supervisor. If you really can’t get the company to work with you, begin researching transferring your balance to a card with a lower rate. You don’t want to do this repeatedly, as it can effect the scores on your credit reports but a single transfer could well be worth it in interest money saved.
Knock Off the Smallest Debt First
Once you’ve accomplished the first three steps, decide which card you plan to tackle first. Philosophies vary on where to start. Some say:
• Work on the biggest debt first so the interest won’t pile up.
• Work on the card with the highest interest rate since it costs you the most in the long run.
• Pay off the card with the lowest balance first so you’ll feel like you’re getting somewhere.
The greatest chance for success lies in resolving the smallest debt first because erasing even some of the overall total gives you a sense of accomplishment and increases your discipline to keep working. Debt reduction is tough and you will need encouragement along the way. Always pay more than the minimum on all your cards, but applying the most toward the smallest debt will show the quickest results.
Don’t Get in This Mess Again
The most important aspect of debt resolution is to learn from your mistakes. When the debt has been resolved you will find yourself feeling free and light. At that moment, the temptation to start spending again will be surprisingly strong. Don’t do it.
• Put yourself on a cash basis.
• Get rid of all your cards except one for emergencies.
• Spend no more on your card in any one month than you can pay completely.
Never let a balance carry over on your card. Little numbers add up fast. You’ll never regret the hard work you put into erasing your credit card debt, but you will bitterly regret getting yourself right back in the same mess again.
The consolation is that you’re not alone. Millions of Americans are struggling under the burden of credit card debt. That’s not, however, an excuse to run with the pack. Start today getting yourself out of the credit card hole, improving the scores on your credit reports, and taking back a sense of control in your life.