Finding Your Way to Freedom from Credit Card Debt
When considering your financial situation, it's important to look at more than the balances in your checking and savings accounts. You also need to include your debt. Debt—most importantly, credit card debt—is a major factor in your financial health. Reducing debt improves your credit score, which can help you rent an apartment or buy a car at a better price. It also boosts your mental wellbeing—debt is stressful! Break the cycle by making a change to your spending habits and by being mindful of how you're paying for your lifestyle.
Understanding Your Credit Card Usage
When you buy something with a credit card, no cash is taken from your bank account at that moment. It may seem like you didn't spend any money, and it feels good to get things you want right now. Using a credit card isn't always bad: you can earn travel reward points, cash back, or store perks. And if you pay off the balance in full each month, you're keeping yourself out of debt. But if you don't have the cash on hand to cover a credit card purchase when you make it, you've spent beyond your means and created debt, which usually comes at a steep price with a high interest rate.
Getting Yourself on Track
To begin addressing your debt, look at your credit card statements. If you're paying the minimum payment on your balance each month, you're staying in good standing with the bank—that's great! Banks charge high fees for not meeting the minimum payment. However, you're being charged interest on the balance you carry over to the next period, and it's usually at a rate above 10 percent. Set a goal that you won't use the card until you've paid it off, and make a plan to get there. If you can't pay off the entire credit card balance in one or two payments (without taking on more debt), start by doubling or tripling the minimum payment amount each month. As you pay down the principal, or the amount on which you're being charged interest, you'll climb your way toward debt freedom and pay less interest over time.
Once your balance is clear, you can use the card again, but only if you have the cash to cover the purchase. To keep up with that rule, make weekly payments of the full card balance so you're never carrying debt. But, emergencies happen. You may need to pay more on credit than you have in cash—it's okay! You know how to fix it! Pay more than the minimum payment, as much as you can, until you're back to zero.
It's important to make debt reduction a priority, even though you might not see the benefit immediately. But when you reach financial stability, you'll be free to make smart spending decisions with the knowledge that you can afford what you're buying. And you'll feel less stressed and lighter without the debt weighing you down!