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What are My Options for Navigating How to Pay Down Credit Card Debt?


Dear Aelyn,

I have a little over $10,000 in credit card debt and I feel like I’ll never dig myself out of this hole. I stopped using my three credit cards so I’m not adding to their balances in any way, but the interest charges are difficult for me to keep up with. I’m really not sure how to pay down credit card debt when the interest keeps mounting. What can I do to get out from under all this debt?


First, we want to say that we’re sorry you’re going through this. Having debt of any kind can add a major financial burden to your plate, but credit card debt is particularly tricky because of the way interest adds to your balance (which in turn makes you earn more interest). 

Other forms of debt, like auto loans, can be easier to manage. When you have an auto loan, you agree to a set monthly payment over a specific period of time. You know exactly how much you need to pay each month and your interest charges are included in that amount. When you have a form of revolving credit like a credit card, the interest charges add to your balance and expand it every month if you don’t pay off the balance in full. Even if you’re making your minimum monthly required payments, there’s no clear path to how much you need to pay each month for a set amount of months in order to pay off your debt. 

We don’t say that to scare you, but we do want you to know exactly what you’re up against if you’re struggling to pay off credit card debt and want you to know that you have a lot of financial motivation to pay off your debt. The longer your credit card debt sticks around, the more you’ll pay.

Now let’s break down what your options are for paying off your credit card debt faster. 

Option 1. Consolidate Your Debt and Transfer to a 0% APR Credit Card

This next step can help you pay down your debt a lot faster, but it requires you to be fairly aggressive with your debt repayment. It’s time to look into a balance transfer card. If you have multiple sources of credit card debt, you can apply for a balance transfer card that allows you to consolidate multiple forms of credit card debt into one. This can make it a lot easier to logistically manage your debt. The key to really making this move to help you pay off your debt faster is to choose a balance transfer card with a 0% APR introductory period. 

When you open a new credit card, some cards come with a 0% APR introductory offer that lasts six to 21 months. What this means is that during that 0% APR period, you won’t pay any interest even if you’re carrying a balance. Not having to make interest payments can make it easier to pay off your debt faster since you’ll be spending a lot less. Even if you don’t have multiple sources of credit card debt, you can transfer your debt to a credit card with a 0% APR introductory offer. 

You have to be careful here though—once the introductory APR period comes to an end, the new interest rate will kick in. This means if you haven’t paid off your entire balance yet, you will have to start making interest payments. Because of this, you’ll want to try to find a credit card that will offer you a lower APR than you’re currently paying.

Option 2. Choose a Debt Repayment Strategy

If you have multiple sources of credit card debt and choose not to consolidate it via a balance transfer card with a 0% APR welcome offer, you can come up with a plan that makes managing multiple sources of credit card debt easier. While you can create your own repayment strategy that works for you, two tried and true strategies are the debt snowball method and the debt avalanche method. 

  • Debt avalanche method. If you want to pay off your debt as quickly as possible while saving as much money as possible, then the debt avalanche method is for you. With the debt avalanche method, you will make minimum payments on all sources of debt while then putting any extra money you can afford towards paying off the debt with the highest interest rate. Once you pay off the debt with the highest interest rate in full, you can then allocate the money you were spending on that monthly payment and any extra funds you have available towards paying off the next highest interest rate source of debt. 
  • Debt snowball method. This strategy won’t save you the most money, but some people find it to be much more motivating and they feel more encouraged to aggressively pay down their debt when they see how much progress they’re making. With the debt snowball method you also make minimum payments on all sources of debt, but this time you focus any extra debt payments on the smallest source of debt (aka the easiest one to pay off). 

Option 3. Reset Your Budget

No matter how much debt you have or how many sources you have, if you want to make more than just the minimum payments due each month, you need to make room for those goals in your budget. Take a good cold hard look at your current budget and see where you can cut back (hint: consider those underutilized subscription services first). 

Then, add your goal debt payments each month into your budget as a fixed expense like rent or healthcare. If you struggle to stick to a budget, you can set up automatic monthly payments to go towards your credit card debt. No matter how you choose to make the payment, making paying down your debt quickly a priority means that your debt needs a spot in your budget. 

If you did decide to transfer your credit card debt to a balance transfer card to take advantage of the 0% introductory APR offer, then that is the perfect time to reset your budget. You can divide your total debt by the amount of months you have until that offer runs up so you know exactly how much you need to budget for each month to pay it off in time.

Option 4. Ask for Help

Debt can feel very isolating, but you can ask for help, which can make you feel like you aren’t doing this alone. You can work with a credit counselor to get help on creating a budget, managing your money, and paying off your debt. Just make sure you’re working with someone who is certified and trained in consumer credit. You can usually find reputable credit counselors through non-profits, universities, credit unions, housing authorities, military bases, and branches of the U.S. Cooperative Extension Service. Beware of anyone charging high fees and do your research to make sure they’re reputable. 

Option 5. Learn More About How Money Works

Financial stress is not a good feeling and prioritizing your financial health is a major wellness tool. This is where our course Finance 101: Mastering Your Finances comes in. The purpose of this course is to show you how to properly manage your money and how to make it work for you. One way to do that is to pay down your debt, so we dive deep into how you can pay off your debt and start making your money work for you. 

Financial education is important and the more you learn about how money works, the easier it will be to tackle major financial moves like paying off credit card debt. 

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