The holidays are in the rear-view mirror, but the credit card bills are front and center! All the fun and festivities can really add up – many households will be paying off their debt through the entire winter and even into spring.
We need to watch how much we are putting on our credit cards during the holiday season because holiday debt adds to a bigger problem of growing credit card debt. Nearly two-thirds of households pay for at least some of the holidays by using credit. It can even be a problem for your family: one in five Americans believes they won’t be able to pay off their debt before they die.
Credit card debt can drag you down and prevent you from reaching your financial goals, like saving for a child’s education or for your own retirement. If you find yourself facing the challenge of paying off credit card bills, make a plan to wipe them out – the sooner the better!
Your credit card debt may seem daunting or overwhelming. That’s why I recommend starting with something simple- getting organized. Start by gathering all of your statements and writing down the balance and interest rate on each credit card. Don’t forget to keep track of the payment date for each card as well. You don’t want to tack on the expense of getting hit with late fees.
If you’re like many people, you splurged over the holidays – maybe on food and finances. Go lean in January and February. Try cutting back or cutting out coffee runs and limiting yourself to one meal out a week. Maybe you got gift cards over the holidays to help you cut down on spending. If you got some new movies, watch them at home instead of going to the theater. There are ways to cut back without cutting out all the fun.
Start with the credit card with the lowest balance and devote as much of your income as you can afford to paying off that one card. (Make sure you are paying the minimum balance on every card to avoid fees and penalties.) Once you pay off the balance on the smallest card, move to the next smallest balance. That rush you get from paying off each card will help build momentum and keep you motivated.
Get a Lower Rate
Credit card companies want their money back, so they’re often willing to work with customers to pay down debt. Ask if you can get a lower interest rate. If they aren’t willing to do so, shop around for a lower rate and transfer your balance. But make sure you know what you’re signing up for. Credit card companies often offer a low introductory rate and raise it after a few months or a year. You should also pay attention to balance transfer fees.
Look to the Future
You don’t want to do all this work to pay off your holiday debt only to find yourself in the same situation next year. Once you have paid off your cards, take the money you were dedicating to that goal and start a 2016 holiday fund. Take the total amount you spent on the holidays this year and divide that number by ten. Now, commit to saving that amount each month from January through October.
Debt is more than a holiday problem; it is a year-round issue for millions of Americans. It can prevent you from reaching your financial goals, like paying for a child’s education or saving for retirement. I recommend paying off all debt before you retire. If that is not possible, have a plan to pay it off – set a date that you will be debt-free, and utilize these steps to reach that goal. If you need help, talk with a trusted financial professional to set up a plan.