This article was updated on June 23, 2018.
Americans certainly aren't afraid of taking on debt. Mortgage debt, student loan debt, you name it -- if it's offered up, we'll sign on the dotted line. But there's a difference between good debt, such as the aforementioned varieties, and credit card debt. And when it comes to the latter, Americans are drowning in it.
The average American household has $16,748 of credit card debt. Yes, you read that correctly. Worse yet, that debt costs the typical beholden household roughly $1,300 per year in interest charges. If you're struggling with credit card debt, here are three tips that can help you break that vicious cycle.
1. It pays to tackle your costliest debts first
The reason credit card debt tends to snowball has to do with compounding, which basically means charging interest on top of interest. Here's how it works: You run up a balance but can't pay it off. Your credit card charges you interest that gets added to your principal, and the longer you carry that balance, the more interest you accrue.
What many people don't realize, however, is that credit card interest often compounds daily. This means that for every 24-hour period you go without paying off your balance, you accrue interest that then gets added to your existing principal and interest, thus perpetuating a seemingly endless cycle. The best way to cut it off, therefore, is to eliminate your greatest individual source of interest by identifying the card that charges the most and paying off its balance first. Once that's done, move on to the next one, and then the next. Most people can't magically pay off all of their debts at the same time, or even in quick succession, but it's better to first tackle a card charging 20% interest and then move to one charging only 16%.
2. Transferring your debts can pay off
If you can't manage to pay off your credit cards with the highest interest rates, your next best bet is to see whether you can transfer those debts to a card with a more favorable rate. This will allow you to save money on interest charges as you chip away at your total balance.
3. Asking for a lower interest rate is more effective than you'd think
That old saying "you don't ask, you don't get" holds true when it comes to credit cards. According to a recent study by CreditCards.com, over 80% of Americans managed to improve their credit card terms simply by reaching out and asking. In fact, 69% wound up snagging a lower interest rate just by being proactive. If you're a long-standing customer with a solid history of making your minimum payments, and you're staring down a mountain of debt, it pays to contact your credit card company and see if it's willing to lower its interest rate.
Why might your lender agree to such a request? It's simple. Credit card companies make money by charging interest. If you're carrying a balance and opt to transfer it over to another card, your original lender won't make more money off of you. On the other hand, if it drops its rate just enough to keep you on board, it'll get to keep collecting those payments.
Lowering your interest rate by even a point or two could make a big difference over time. Imagine you're looking at a $16,000 balance, and your card charges 18% interest. If it takes three years to pay it off, you'll lose $4,824 in total interest charges, but if you manage to knock your rate down to 16%, you'll spend $4,250 on interest over that same repayment period -- not ideal, but better than spending almost $600 more for no good reason.
While breaking free from the cycle of credit card debt may seem next to impossible, if you employ the right strategies, you might pay off that balance more quickly than expected. And the sooner you do, the sooner you can move forward with a much cleaner financial slate.
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