If you are wondering how to get out of credit card debt—or how to consolidate credit card debt—you’re not alone. The average credit card user currently carries $6,218 in debt, according to credit bureau TransUnion, as Americans struggle to pay their bills following years of steep inflation. Credit card interest rates have surged as well and now average nearly 25%, making that debt especially expensive. Example: Someone who owes $6,218 on a card charging today’s average interest rate and who makes only the minimum payments will end up paying around $9,300 in interest on top of the amount they originally spent…and it would take them 18 years to pay off this bill.

Here are eight smart strategies to get out of debt fast without paying huge interest charges…


Strategy #1: Transfer your balance to a card with a 0% interest rate.

Some credit cards offer special 0% introductory interest rates on balances transferred from other cards. In a few cases, those introductory rates last for an impressive 21 months—that’s nearly two years without interest charges relentlessly pulling your balance upward. The key with these cards is to use the 0% introductory rate period to pay off your debt, not as an excuse to make additional purchases. How to do it: Divide the amount you transfer to the card by the number of 0% months it offers, then pay that amount each month so your debt is completely paid by the time the 0% period ends. These cards typically charge a balance-transfer fee of 3% to 5%, but that one-time fee is well worth paying.

Best balance-transfer cards now: Cards offering 21-month 0% introductory rates on balance transfers include Wells Fargo Reflect (5% balance-transfer fee)…Citi Simplicity (3% balance-transfer fee)… and US Bank Visa Platinum (5% balance-transfer fee).*


Strategy #2: Establish a debt-management plan through a nonprofit credit-counseling agency.

These nonprofits don’t just offer debt counseling, they can also negotiate with lenders on their clients’ behalf. Card issuers often dramatically slash interest rates for cardholders who enter debt-management plans—many end up paying interest rates of around 7%, far less than typical credit card rates—with a four-to-five-year payment schedule. That’s not as attractive as the 0% balance-transfer cards mentioned above, but this often is the best option for people who can’t obtain those balance-transfer cards, perhaps because their credit scores are below the 670 or so typically required…or who cannot obtain a balance-transfer card credit limit sufficient to shift all of their debt. Note: Credit card issuers typically close the accounts of customers who sign up for debt-management plans.

Best nonprofit credit-counseling agencies: Money Management International…and GreenPath Financial Wellness.


Strategy #3: Prioritize debt payment ahead of savings and investment—with certain exceptions.

If you’re paying interest rates of 20% to 30% on credit card debt, then paying off that debt is the equivalent of earning a guaranteed tax-free return equal to the amount you are paying in interest. No low-risk investment offers returns anywhere close to that, so if you must choose between investing or paying down high-rate credit card debt, paying down the debt is the clear choice. For similar reasons, it’s usually worth tapping existing investment accounts to pay down credit card debt, too. Potential exceptions

  • If you’re deciding between paying down credit card debt and making a retirement plan contribution that will be matched by your employer—make the contribution. That matching is essentially free money, and that’s too good an opportunity to miss.
  • If the only investment accounts you can tap to pay off credit card debt are tax-advantaged retirement plan accounts and you’re still a long way from retirement age—it’s usually best not to tap the account. Not only would doing so likely incur an early withdrawal penalty, it could cost you decades of future tax-advantaged investment growth.
  • Maintain an emergency fund of modest size—perhaps $1,000—even if that means not paying down debt quite as fast. It can be tempting to use every available dollar to pay off credit cards, but not having any financial cushion is an even more precarious financial position than having debt.


Strategy #4: Stop chasing credit card rewards.

Credit cards that offer cash back, rewards points or airline miles can be great options for consumers who pay off their credit card bills each month…but those perks should not be your priority if you carry a balance. Instead, seek out cards that charge the lowest possible interest rates—ideally a 0% introductory interest rate as described above—even if these cards don’t have any rewards program. The money you save in reduced interest payments will almost certainly substantially exceed the amount you lose in rewards. Unfortunately, two-thirds of people who carry credit card debt continue to chase rewards, according to Bankrate.com research.


Strategy #5: Pay off your smallest balances first.

Mathematically, the smart move is to pay off your highest-interest-rate credit card debt first, while making more modest payments on your lower-rate debt…or to transfer all of your credit card debt to a card that offers a 0% introductory interest rate. But psychologically, paying off the card or two with the lowest balances first—even if these cards don’t have the highest interest rates—is an effective strategy for certain cardholders. Quickly crossing a few cards off the list of monthly payments can provide a sense of progress.


Strategy #6: Make multiple payments each month on credit cards that have high balances.

Credit card statements are issued monthly, but if you carry a balance, your debt actually accrues interest daily. So if you make payments every few weeks rather than once a month, you’ll owe slightly less interest—even if you don’t pay any more in total. This multiple-payment strategy also gets money out of your bank account sooner, which can be helpful if you tend to spend money whenever it’s available. Bonus: Making multiple payments each month can increase your credit score—even if you have always paid off your balance in full every month. A key component of credit scores is your credit utilization ratio, the percentage of your available credit that you’re using at a given moment. If you make two payments per month to the cards you use most frequently, your credit utilization ratio will be lower on average, and your credit score higher.


Strategy #7: Leave your credit cards home, and spend only cash.

If impulse spending contributes to your credit card debt, carrying cash rather than cards may help. Keep only enough cash in your wallet for the purchases you intend to make that day or week. One strategy is to create a monthly budget for various categories of discretionary spending, then put that amount of cash in envelopes at the start of each month—when an envelope runs dry, your spending in that category is cut off until the following month. Making purchases in cash means you’ll miss out on the useful consumer protections offered by credit cards, but that might be a price worth paying if your priority is getting out of credit card debt.


Strategy #8: Delete your credit card info from retailer websites and apps.

If online impulse spending contributes to your credit card debt, removing your credit card information from your favorite shopping sites might help. Once you do this, you’ll have to re-enter your info each time you want to buy something, rather than simply clicking “Buy Now.” If that sounds inconvenient, that’s the point—people tend to make fewer purchases when the purchase process is annoying.

*Credit card terms can change with little notice. Visit the card issuer’s website to confirm that its balance transfer offer remains attractive before applying.

Three Credit Card Debt Payment Strategies that Don’t Measure Up

When searching for ways to pay down credit card debt, you might come across the following options—but you can do better…

A home equity loan or line of credit can be used to consolidate credit card debt—but doing this puts your home at risk if you miss loan payments…and rates on these loans have climbed to nearly 10%, on average.

An unsecured personal loan also could be used to consolidate credit card debt, but these currently have average interest rates above 12%. A 0% balance-transfer offer is far superior.

Debt-settlement companies advertise that they can reduce debts—but they typically do this by advising clients not to make debt payments. The companies try to use this nonpayment as leverage to negotiate with lenders, but it ruins clients’ credit ratings…and card issuers sometimes refuse to negotiate. Nonprofit credit-counseling agencies are a better choice.

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