In most cases, people need credit cards to improve/build credit. We use them to get a good deal – 0% interest for 12 months to get that new couch. Why not? We use credit cards for emergencies. Maybe you had to bring your dog to the emergency vet and you didn’t happen to have $1500 lying around or maybe your car broke down and you couldn’t afford a new transmission. Sometimes you may even use cards for daily living expenses to get points that you can redeem for free stuff. Whatever your usage may be, credit cards have become a way of life.
If you are like many Americans, you’re not paying off your credit card balance in full each month and you may be wondering:
Why am I getting nowhere paying off this balance?
Well take a look below…here are a few reasons this may be happening to you and ways to break this vicious cycle.
INTEREST AND MINIMUM PAYMENTS
Because you’re not paying off your balance in full each month, interest continues to accrue – adding on to your credit card balance each month. Depending on your balance, interest rate, and payment, you might be bringing down your balance by just a few dollars each month. So interest is accruing and you’re making only the minimum payments to make your creditors leave you alone. That means you’re good, right? Not necessarily. Just making the minimum payments on your cards will make it impossible to pay off the cards quickly.
YOU’RE STILL USING THE CARDS
This one is pretty obvious, but sometimes you get caught in a habit or it’s convenient to use your card because you’re short on cash one month. Or maybe you just really need or want to buy something. Unless you’re lucky enough get a large lump sum of money at some point, your credit card balances will be there perpetually until you STOP USING THEM. Cut them up. If you need to keep one just in case of an emergency – temporarily until you build up emergency savings – that’s fine. But get rid of the rest of them.
DEBT MANAGEMENT PROGRAM (DMP)
This method is an excellent means to conquer your debt in a timely manner. Check out your credit card statement for how long it will take to pay off making only the minimum payment – compared to a little bit higher payment. Depending on your balance, it could take you 5, 10, 15 or more years to pay off making the minimum payment. On a Debt Management Program, oftentimes interest rates are reduced (saving you money now and usually thousands in the long run) and payments may even be reduced.
PAY MORE THAN THE MINIMUM PAYMENT
You can also choose to just pay extra on your card each month. If you have multiple cards you can use the power payment method, meaning you start with the card that has the lowest balance and pay extra toward that card – while making the minimum payments on the other cards – until that lowest balance card is paid in full. Then move on to the next card and follow the same process until all cards are paid off.
BUDGET AND EMERGENCY SAVINGS ARE KEY
Create a realistic budget right away so you can determine how much you can afford to pay toward your debt. Be sure to include an amount for emergency savings. This is critical because your savings will be your safety net in case of an emergency INSTEAD OF credit cards. This is the best way to break the cycle of needing to use credit cards.
ONCE YOU’RE DONE, BE SMART
When you’ve paid off all your cards, use your credit cards to maintain your credit rating. Only use them when you can pay off the balance in full each month. Then, figure out the best way to use the money you no longer need to pay toward credit cards. You’ll want to make sure you have at least 3-6 months’ worth of expenses in savings in case of income loss, but then what? Do you need to plan for retirement or a new roof or do you have kids that will be going to college? Be sure to reward yourself for paying off your debt, but keep your other financial goals in mind.
It may not be an easy task to pay off all of your debt, but it will feel so good when you’re done. You will gain peace of mind with financial stability. So don’t wait to take control of your finances…take action today.
Financial Counselors at LSS are available to help you create a budget and plan of action to conquer your debt. Just like visiting the doctor to maintain your health, we all need a financial check-up at some point. So call us today at 888.577.2227 to schedule yours.
Author Elaina Johannessen is a Financial Counseling Supervisor with LSS Financial Counseling.