If you're feeling crushed by credit card debt, it may seem as if you're alone in your struggle and it will be nearly impossible to get on solid ground again. If so, you're wrong on both counts. You're far from alone, and you can get credit card debt relief relatively quickly.
When it comes to how much debt the average American carries, estimates vary widely. But they don't vary in showing that many people are in debt to the tune of many thousands of dollars. According to one study, the average American household with credit card debt owes more than $7,000, while many households are burdened with tens of thousands of dollars of debt. The good news, though, is that credit card debt relief is within your reach. Many folks have successfully paid off a lot of debt -- sometimes more than $100,000 of it!
Paths to credit card debt relief
There is a range of strategies for eliminating credit card debt. For starters, you'll need money with which to pay off your debt. There are many ways to accumulate what you need. Ceasing to use your credit cards is a fine first step. Perhaps stash your cards somewhere so that you're not tempted to use them but can access them in emergencies. Studies have shown that people paying with cash tend to spend less than those paying with plastic. Another tip: Remove your stored login and credit card information from online retailers' websites to reduce the convenience of spending money on them.
Next, draft a detailed budget. List your expected income during the coming months or year, as well as all your expected expenses. Allocate as much money as possible to reducing your debt and make those payments pronto. See where you can cut back in your spending in order to funnel more money to credit card debt relief. The examples of cutting out daily coffees or packs of cigarettes are trotted out frequently, but only because they're so powerful. Eliminating a $5 expense each day will net you close to $2,000 per year!
There are other ways to save that you might not have thought of. For example, you can switch from cable TV service to a cheap streaming service. You can also find plenty of free music and movies at a public library. Cancel the delivery of catalogs to your home to avoid temptation and help prevent impulse-buying.
If necessary, think of ways to bring in extra money, such as working a second job, taking in a boarder for a while or selling a newer car for a more affordable one.Your tax refund, as well as any bonus you get at work, should go toward debt repayment if at all possible.
Another good strategy for those targeting credit card debt relief is transferring your balance(s) from high-interest-rate cards to a card with a low balance. Don't just rely on that, though. Follow through with aggressive payments. Note, too, that opening a new credit account can cause your credit score to take a hit for a while, so it could hurt you if you're planning to borrow money in the near future.
Of course, when it comes to achieving credit card debt relief, the bottom line is that you'll simply have to mail in checks over time to pay off your debt. But if you have a lot of debt on lots of cards, you might not know where to start. There are several schools of thought on this. Some recommend paying off your smallest-balance debts first in order to reduce your number of accounts in the red. This makes sense, as you'll soon end up focused on your biggest debts. The most cost-efficient approach, though, is paying off your highest-interest-rate debts first to minimize your overall interest payments.
Credit card debt relief via credit counseling
Another strategy to consider is credit counseling, which can lead to signing up for a debt-management program that collects a single monthly payment from you and puts it toward all your debt. It can be best to try tackling your debt on your own first, though, because if you enroll in a debt-management program, that can appear on your credit report as a red flag suggesting that you had trouble managing your credit. It also doesn't seem to work for roughly half of those who try it, per a Bankrate.com article. On the other hand, it does work for many people and often includes lower negotiated interest rates and payments. If you take this route to credit card debt relief, shop around for a nonprofit credit counseling firm and compare various firms' fees and offerings.
Whatever you do, be aggressive in your efforts to pay down debt. The sooner you get out of debt, the sooner you can put your improved money management skills to work saving and investing for retirement and a less stressful life.
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Longtime Fool specialist Selena Maranjian, whom you can follow on Twitter, has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.