Get Control of Credit Card Debt in 2024: Tips and Strategies
In this article: A collection of tips and strategies from Dollar Stretcher readers who are successfully working their way out of credit card debt.
by Andrea Norris-McKnight
Are you trying to tackle a hefty debt balance this year? You certainly aren’t alone. According to Lending Tree, as of quarter three of 2023, U.S. credit card debt was at its highest since the Fed began tracking it in 1999, with many of us carrying an average balance of $6,993.
With the rise in interest rates last year, many of us saw our credit card interest rates jump. Maybe paying off or reducing credit card debt is a resolution for you for 2024. It certainly can help give a bit (or a lot) of breathing room to an overly tight budget.
The following is a collection of some of the get-out-of-credit-card-debt our readers have contributed over the years based on their experiences. Perhaps some of their advice can help you succeed in your pay-off efforts.
As you consider whether some of these strategies are right for your financial situation, remember that none will work if you continue to add to your credit card balances and fail to pay them off in full each month. Debt consolidation can save you a lot of money — or push you deeper into debt if you can’t control your credit card use, leaving you with a worse debt problem than you have now.
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Tips and Strategies To Get Control of Credit Card Debt
Not every debt payoff strategy or tip will be suitable for your situation and some may be unavailable to you. However, everyone is sure to find a few of the following tips helpful in reducing credit card debt.
Track Every Single Dollar
This tactic may seem silly to some, but it helped my wife and me reduce our expenditures so we could focus more of our resources on debt repayment.
After destroying our credit cards, we accounted for every penny we spent by writing down all purchases and/or payments we made. (If we put a dollar in a vending machine, we wrote it down, along with the date of the transaction.) This exercise was so irksome that it deterred us from buying anything beyond essential living expenses, as we didn’t want to be bothered with recording a lot of unnecessary spending.
As our spending decreased, we were able to concentrate on eliminating targeted bills within a specified time frame.
Reward Small Pay-Off Successes
My husband and I had been trying to pay off a large debt (approx. $15,000) for over a year and had made little progress. Then, I found a great way to motivate us (my husband in particular).
I bought a small erasable whiteboard with a pen included at the dollar store. It is magnetic, and I’ve put it on the side of our fridge. On it, I wrote the total we owed and drew a “thermometer” to track how much we paid off. After we reach certain pay-off milestones, we reward ourselves with something special. We wrote our rewards beside the applicable points on the thermometer.
We celebrated our first milestone, the $3,000 mark, with a special dinner out. My husband commented that he couldn’t believe we’d paid off that much so quickly, making him want to pay off even more.
Having a visible monitor of our progress in front of us every day really helped motivate us to set money aside when we could rather than spend it frivolously. Once we paid off our debt, we kept the system for a savings program.
Determine the Real Cost of Your Debt
Have you ever totaled all the interest you pay on your monthly debt?
I was shocked! There were finance charges on my car loan, credit card, student loan. When I added them up, I figured I was working more than half a day a week just to pay interest! So, now I work much harder to pay them down.
Related: What Does My Debt Cost Me?
Make Getting Control of Debt a Daily Habit
I have a friend on a debt-free journey. She found the only way she could save any money for her debt was to do it by day, not week. So, every day, she makes it a must-do. While drinking her morning coffee, she transfers a set amount into her savings and at the end of the month, she puts all that money she saved for that month on her largest-balance credit card.
She has been able to put as much as $500 a month extra toward her debt! Then, she repeats the process each month. Her debt is dwindling away!
She says after she pays off her debt, she will continue to do the same for her savings!
Consider Credit Counseling
I got tired of paying on my credit cards each month. The balance never seemed to go down. So I decided to do something about it. I contacted one of those credit counseling agencies. They worked it out so that more of my money goes toward reducing my monthly debt balance. I wish I had done this a year ago!
Get a Balance Transfer Card
This year, I want to pay off my credit cards as soon as possible. I can’t spend money on my vacation next summer if I’m still paying for Christmas! So, I looked for a balance transfer card. I get 0% interest for a year. That should be enough time to bring the balance to $0.
Stay Focused on Becoming Debt Free
Just wanted anyone who has a debt problem to know you can do it! I did. The problem wasn’t fixed in a few days or a few weeks. It took me two years, and yes, I gave up a few things I liked to do, but it was worth it! Mine was credit card debt, and now I have one card that I use for emergencies only, and I pay it off before it’s due.
What worked for me was listing my credit cards by due dates and interest rates. I took the card with the most interest, and every spare dollar I had available after paying all my other bills went on that card, and boy, did it feel good to see that card go down! Once I paid off that first card, I started on the next and was surprised that I had set a three-year goal to be debt-free, but by staying committed, I paid everything off in two. Now, I’m working on adding to my emergency fund. The key for me was staying focused on becoming debt-free!
See if a Personal Loan Makes Sense for Debt Consolidation
We chose to consolidate our credit card debt with a personal loan designed specifically for credit card debt — a Payoff Loan by Happy Money. Our interest rate was half of that of any of our credit cards. There was a one-time loan fee, but we’re still saving money.
If you decide a personal loan is your best consolidation method, shop around carefully for a lender. We found some that had very high rates or origination fees, so do the math to ensure a loan will save you money.
Compare Consolidation Options Carefully
We were going to get a personal loan to consolidate our credit card debt (on four different cards). We’ve kept up with the payments on our cards, so our credit score is pretty good. But after comparing, we found that a balance transfer card worked best for us. We get 0% on the transfer for 14 months. Now, more of each monthly payment is reducing the balance. We probably won’t have it all paid off by the time the 0% interest is over, but it’ll be much lower than now.
Send That Monthly Payment Right Away
When we were trying to get out of debt, I started paying close attention to our credit card statements. I noticed that the interest we accrued on our monthly credit balance was calculated on an “average daily balance.”
Typically, we would make our monthly payment right before it was due. I tried sending our payments as soon as we received the statements and compared the new interest charges to the month before. It was noticeably less! By sending my payments sooner rather than later, our growing interest charges slowed by $25 to $50 each month, which meant $25 to $50 of my monthly payment went toward principal rather than interest. This began to take a nice chunk out of the debt every month.
Perhaps not all credit cards accrue interest this way, but if you are paying down debt, you might consider making payments as soon as your statements drop rather than when they are due.
Which Debt Repayment Strategy?
Some people say you should repay the smallest debt first. Others tell you to start with the highest interest rate. I have combined these two strategies into one.
To begin my repayment “ladder,” I first paid off a small balance card, then applied that monthly payment, plus the extra I squeezed out of my budget, to pay towards the highest interest rate card. I have two more payments on my card with the highest interest rate. Then, I will take the extra money plus the monthly payment that was going to the paid-off card and apply that toward the card that now has the lowest balance.
I decided to do this to combine the benefits of both options. Why pick just one?
Consolidate Using a HELOC
Thanks to a depleted emergency fund, we had to use our credit cards to cover a few substantial home and auto repairs and the interest was killing our budget. We have good credit and are homeowners, so we applied for a HELOC to consolidate our debts. Our lender sent the payoff amounts directly to our credit card companies, so there was no temptation to use the HELOC proceeds for anything else.
We committed to doing three things while paying down this debt:
- Paying off any new credit card purchases in full every month
- Paying at least $100 more than the minimum on the HELOC every month
- Rebuilding our emergency fund to avoid getting into debt again
So far, we have been successful on all three.
Don’t Wait for a Statement To Pay for Credit Card Purchases
We recently got out from under our credit card debt. Yes! We switched to a card with a very low rate and rewards. I vowed only to use the card if I could cover the cost. Every time I make a purchase, I go online and schedule the payment that very day. Why wait for the statement and risk spending the money on something else?
Since starting this, I have not once paid my balance in full. It works like a charm!
What Steps Will You Take To Get Control of Credit Card Debt This Year?
Getting in control of credit card debt and paying it off is no easy task and there is no quick fix to the problem. But if you’re diligent about using your budget to prioritize debt repayment, you can do it.
Another benefit to paying off debt is you can use some of the same tools to build your savings once you’re gotten control of your credit card debt.
Reviewed December 2023
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