So you have some credit card debt?
If not, please congratulate yourself, and also tell me how you got debt-free. If you have debt, hey. Same. Do you want your balances to stop accruing interest? Hey. Same. Do you want to be debt-free? Saaaame. We’re best friends. And if you don’t have a credit card yet, maybe get one so that you can build credit, but please read up on how to use your credit card responsibly. Okay.
So we’re all on the same page: we want to be debt-free. And no matter what your credit situation is, you’re here to read about how I’m remedying mine. I have written and will write more about how I got here, but for now, please allow me to describe the ways in which I scrambled to help myself begin my journey to being debt-free. It has not been easy or without compromise. Buuuuuut, I’m doing everything I can to pay less interest, pay my bills on time, and get out of debt as fast as possible. Here are the first few things I did to start paying down my credit card balances. They’re by no means expert tips, but they helped me.
1. Transferred my balances to 0% APR cards
This is huge. Here’s the skinny: if you have a credit card with a balance that has an interest rate, the credit card balance will go up every month. There are contractual details as to how it will do this, but best believe that it will get bigger if it goes unpaid. While it isn’t good to open a new credit card to spend more money that you do not have, it can be good to transfer a large balance from one card to a new one, or to another card that you already have that has a lower (ideally 0% APR) interest rate. I transferred my high-interest balances from other cards to two 0% APR balance cards, and only one of those cards was new. I negotiated with a bank that I already had an account with for the other. It’s complicated, but it’s worth researching, asking around about, and doing, if you can swing it. It’s the only reason that my balances are not getting bigger right now, and it helped me a lot, so I can say that it was very worthwhile.
2. Called my credit card companies and made my case to catch a break
In addition to the balance transfer thing, credit card companies do, for their own selfish reasons, want to help you. This is to say that they want to keep you as a customer, so you should call your card company and threaten to leave, in a soft, “Hey, can you offer me any sort of breaks to make me stay?” way. If they can’t, then you’re in the same spot you were in and you’ve lost like, maybe 20 minutes of your time on the phone. Maximum. If they can help you, which surprisingly, they will often offer to do, then it’s great. Be savvy and make sure you aren’t signing up for some “sign here and we have your ass for life” type shit, but also, be grateful for the fact that even predatory credit card companies can be helpful. I did this, and it worked out, and I got some debt knocked out.
3. Used rewards points to lower my balance, even slightly
If you have rewards points, redeem them! Plain and simple, as long as you can. Yeah, they can be paltry and lower your balance like, $25 on some dumb travel credit when you spent $2500 to earn that credit, but so be it. Use the rewards you’ve accrued before they expire, or are worthless because you have to transfer your balance, etc. Treat yourself (with the express interest of saving yourself money).
4. Used a spending-tracking service (Mint.com), to give me a reality check and helpful lifesavers
I found my balance transfer offers on Mint, and that helped me a ton. I also found out that my credit score was worse than last year by a long shot, and that my spending was out of control, and that, in general, I was not in a good place financially. I knew this, but seeing it and getting email updates about it was sobering. Learn to budget yourself, or enlist an app that does the heavy lifting for you. Mint is free, and it shows me every single facet of my financial life, minus the cash that I’ve from various side hustles that I’ve used to line my wallet sometimes.
5. Stopped using my credit cards for purchases in real life
Yeah. I know. Duh and also, “shut up bitch, I knew that.” But if you know to stop spending on credit cards, then riddle me this: have you stopped? I always trip up and say “I’ll use it once on this one thing to earn rewards” or “I can’t find my debit card, it’s fine.” It isn’t fine. Put them in a drawer. Cut them up. Whatever. Just keep the accounts open, pay them down, and don’t ever use them in real life.
My one potentially-problematic piece of advice is this, if you have a sitting duck card with no balance on it because you’ve transferred it away to another: maaaaaybe use your credit card online, once. Just one time, if you want to have a healthy usage situation. But don’t do it if you can’t handle it. In general, credit cards are addictive to a certain kind of person, and you have to be honest with yourself (like I was) if you are the type who can’t be trusted with that card in hand, at least for a while. I had to admit I had a problem and stop using them. That’s all the advice I can give.
Oh! And never go on Amazon while tipsy with a credit card number nearby. Trust.
Crissy Milazzo is a writer living in Los Angeles. She’s @crissymilazzo all over the place. She really needs a savings account. You should tell her that.
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