Repaying Multiple Credit Cards? Which Ones Should You Focus on First?

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  • If you have multiple credit card debts, it can be hard to figure out which one to pay off first.
  • Depending on your needs, you could pay down the card with the biggest debt or the highest rate first.
  • Debt consolidation is another option, and it might lower your interest rate.

There's more than one debt payoff method, and the right one is the one that works for you.

If you want to pay back credit card debt quickly, you'll have to make extra payments to get your balance reduced ASAP. You'll need to pay the minimum on all your cards to avoid penalties, late fees, and damaged credit. But after making those minimum payments, you'll have to decide which specific card to make extra payments to first.

How can you make this choice? There are multiple strategies to consider, including the following options for which cards to prioritize.

You could pay off card with lowest balance first

One option recommended by some financial experts -- including Dave Ramsey -- involves focusing on paying off debt with the lowest balance first. Say you have two credit cards, and one has a $500 balance and the other has a $5,000 balance. In that case, you'd try to pay off the card you owed $500 on first.

The benefit to this approach is that you'll pay off each of your cards as quickly as possible. After all, it would take you a lot less time to pay off $500 by making extra monthly payments toward that card than it would to pay off $5,000. The idea is that once you've paid off one debt in full, you'll be excited about your progress and be motivated to keep going.

The problem is, the card with the lowest balance may not necessarily be the one with the highest interest rate. And if you keep high-interest debt for longer than necessary because you're paying off other cards first, this will cost you money in the end.

Still, this approach can work well if you're worried that you may not stick to your payoff plan.

You could prioritize cards with high interest rates

Another approach involves paying the cards off in order of interest rate. If you choose this option, you'd devote every extra dollar you can to the card with the highest financing charges.

This will save you much more money over time than focusing on repaying small balances first, especially if there's a lot of variability in the interest rates on your credit cards. The downside, however, is that it could take you a long time to get each debt cleared -- especially if you have a high balance on a card with a very high rate.

If your top priority is to pay as little interest as possible over time, this approach is the right one for you. Just be sure you're confident in your motivations and are committed to sticking to your debt payoff plan even if you don't see immediate victories.

Debt consolidation is also an option

Finally, you have the option of consolidating your credit card debt so you don't have to pick a payoff method. And this might be the best approach of all.

If you can pay off most or all of your credit card debt with a personal loan at a lower interest rate than you're currently paying, you won't have to choose which debts to focus on. You can just work on paying down your loan, which should have fixed monthly payments, a set payoff time, and lower financing charges.

Consider each of these options to decide which is the best one for you, given whether you can qualify for a personal loan and how motivated you are to pay off your debt. You can't go wrong with any option as long as the one you pick works for you to help you become free of your credit card debt for good.

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