How To Get Out of Credit Card Debt
Credit card debt relief options can be a confusing subject, especially when you’re heavily into it, which most Americans are.
One of the few bright sides of the U.S. economy during the COVID-19 pandemic was that total consumer credit – debt incurred for purchasing goods or services – slowed some. It didn’t stop … it slowed.
Consumer credit peaked at $4.2 trillion in February 2020, then dipped $100 billion or so for the next three months, before climbing back to $4.2 trillion by November.
Nearly $800 billion of that debt is on credit cards where 40% of America’s 129 million households carry a balance month-over-month.
When that balance becomes overwhelming, credit card consolidation companies offer ways to reduce and eventually eliminate that debt, but you should be educated on your options before choosing one.
The four best solutions for credit card debt include:
- Debt management programs
- Debt consolidation loans
- Debt settlement programs
- And bankruptcy, if things have gone totally out of control
So, which cure is best? We’ll get to that, though the truth might hurt.
In the meantime, there are a variety of treatments out there for just bringing your finances, including credit card debt, under control. All it takes to find them is a little research, though that can be a headache so we’ve done it for you.
Here are the major ways to pay off debt. We’ll take them from the easiest to handle to the most drastic.
You track your expenses, set financial goals and tailor your lifestyle to meet them. Use a credit card payoff calculator to figure out how quickly you can pay off your debt.
- It’s free. There’s no need to hire a third party to set up a budget or negotiate with credit card companies for better terms.
- You are the master of your own financial destiny.
- It can be time consuming.
- Failure to make on-time payments opens the door for you to be sued by your credit card companies.
- Your creditors could garnish your wages.
- You might make budgeting mistakes or need the services of professional counselors and negotiators.
Time to repay: That’s up to you.
You move your debt to a new credit card offering a lower interest rate, sometimes as low as 0% for up to 18 months.
- No interest means every payment reduces the balance owed
- You can consolidate all your credit cards into one payment.
- If you are aggressive with this option, you could eliminate credit card debt quickly.
- You need a good credit score – preferably above 680 – to qualify.
- When the introductory period ends (usually 12-18 months), you will pay standard interest rates on the remaining balance, possibly higher interest rate than you had with the card you abandoned.
Time to repay: It depends on your terms. Say you have $5,000 of debt and make monthly $400 payments. With a 20% APR it would take 15 months and you’d pay a total of $6,000. A 15% APR would take 14 months and you’d pay a total of $5,600. A zero-percent interest means 13 months, or a month longer than most 0% balance transfer cards allow.
Credit card debt consolidation companies can help you by paying off all of your credit card debt and leaving you with a single loan to pay off. The key is getting beneficial credit consolidation loan terms (i.e. low-interest rate) that save you money.
- Instead of dealing with bills from each credit card, you have one monthly payment.
- Your financial burden is eased because of lower interest rates.
- Your monthly payment should be lower, giving you the chance to pay off the debt quicker.
- If you use your house or other assets to secure the loan, you could lose them if you default on payments.
- If the interest rate isn’t low enough and/or the pay-off time is excessive, you might end up with more debt than when you started.
Time to repay: It varies, but most debt-consolidation loans are for 36-to-60 months.
It’s essentially a second mortgage. You use your house as collateral to get a loan that is paid over a fixed term. With a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC), a lender opens an account you can draw from as the needs arise.
- Interest rates are generally far lower than those offered by credit cards.
- You can consolidate all your debts and have one monthly payment.
- A HELOC offers the flexibility of borrowing smaller amounts depending on your circumstances.
- Your house is used to secure the debt, so it could be foreclosed if you fail to make payments.
- Closing costs, such as attorney fees, appraisal fees, title search and points add to your debt total.
- If you get an adjustable interest rate and the market doesn’t cooperate, you could end up with a credit-card type interest rate.
- You’ll need a favorable debt-to-income ratio to qualify.
Time to repay: HELOC draw periods are usually 5-10 years and repayment periods are 10-20 years. Home equity loans can be taken out for up to 30 years.
You hire a nonprofit credit counseling agency to get better terms from credit card agencies. A certified credit counselor reviews your financial situation and helps you create an affordable monthly budget. You make one monthly payment to the company, which distributes those funds to the creditors.
- Lower interest rates and simplified financial obligations.
- Programs are designed to eliminate credit card debt in 3-5 years.
- You get a clear picture of those obligations, and counseling typically includes a course on budgeting that could enlighten you.
- If you miss a payment, creditors will lose concessions made on the interest rate and creditors could restore previous terms.
- You must agree to stop using credit cards until your balance is paid off.
Time to repay: Most DMPs are for 36-to-60 months.
This is a radical remedy, recommended only if your credit card headache is migraine caliber and all but incurable.
You stop paying your credit card bills while a company tries to negotiate a reduced settlement with creditors on your behalf. You pay the company the negotiated amount, either in a lump sum or monthly payments that build up to a lump-sum payment. It distributes that money to your creditors.
- Your debt can be drastically reduced, sometimes as much as 50%.
- You make one payment a month instead of many.
- It destroys your credit score when you stop paying your bills.
- Accounts usually need to be three to four months delinquent before creditors will negotiate a reduced payment.
- Late fees and credit score damage piles up while you work on a lump-sum payment.
- Debt settlement stays on your credit score for seven years.
- There is no guarantee creditors will agree to a reduced payment. If they refuse, you will be in worse financial shape than you started.
- You must pay taxes on the debt that is forgiven.
- The industry has a shady reputation since companies make money through fees that take a hefty percentage of the debt that’s negotiated.
- Most people don’t understand that debt settlement will not help you pay off your debt faster. It’s a long, costly process.
Time to repay: Typically, two to four years.
This is the often the easiest and most effective treatment. A certified professional studies your financial situation and advises you how to escape credit card debt.
- They do the work for you.
- There is usually no fee to discuss your situation with a counselor.
- They help you create an affordable budget that includes a line item dedicated to paying off debt.
- None, as long as you use a reputable credit counseling agency. Check out the National Foundation for Credit Counseling for recommendation at https://www.nfcc.org/about-us/.
Time to repay: It depends on which program you choose, and what program the counselor advises, but 3-5 years is a safe bet.
All these programs are really just ways to deal with symptoms. Because the true cause of credit card headaches isn’t credit cards. It’s the person using them. In fact, average credit card debt varies by state, level of education and income, among other factors.
If you take one of the aspirins we’ve discussed, your condition will return if you keep spending beyond your means. So, pick a treatment that best suits you.
Just remember, only you can cure yourself from credit card pain. If you do, imagine how much easier it will be to deal with life’s other headaches.
Financial Help for Widows
If you have recently lost a spouse and their income, you may be in need of fast financial relief. Financial help for widows comes in many forms including, including hardship programs that may be available from your creditors and mortgage company. Additionally, you can find out if you qualify for social security benefits from your deceased spouse. If you’re having trouble keeping up, check out our article on what to do when you can’t pay your bills.
Financial Help for Senior Citizens
Nearly a quarter of America’s senior citizens don’t have retirement or personal savings. At the same time, they are suffering from record debt levels including credit card debt, student loan debt and housing debt. The good news is that there are numerous resources that offer financial help for senior citizens, especially related to credit card debt, finding employment, food assistance, legal and housing help. Learn more about financial help for senior citizens.
Get Food Budget Relief with SNAP (Food Stamps)
Depending on your income and assets, you may qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or Food Stamps. Reducing your monthly food expenditures can help you cut your overall budget and free up money for other necessities. If you qualify, benefits are based on household size and range from $100-$900 per month. Find out more about SNAP eligibility requirements and benefits.
How Much Debt Does the Average Person Have?
Nobody wants to be known as below average, right? But in the case of debt, that would be just fine.
The average U.S. household with debt in January of 2017 owes $134,643, according to Nerd Wallet. That includes credit cards, mortgages auto loans, student loans and other forms of debt. That debt burden costs the average household more than $6,600 in interest per year (about 9% of the average income).
If you average in the households that live debt free, the average American household debt drops to just over $90,000.
Here’s the breakdown of American household debt in 2021:
$7,519 is the average owed for households with credit card debt in 2021. The total U.S. credit card debt is $770 billion on 505.6 million credit card accounts. The average balance on credit cards at the end of 2020 was $5,315.
$208,185 is the average balance for the 80.6 million households with mortgage debt. The total U.S. mortgage debt is $10.2 trillion.
The total U.S. auto loan debt is $1.38 trillion among 114.1 million people who took out loans to buy a car. The average auto loan for a new car is $34,635; loans for used cars average $21,438. The average amount owed is $19,703.
$32,731 is the average student loan debt in 2021. The total U.S. student loan debt is $1.58 trillion.
All Debt Combined
The average U.S. household has $92,727 of debt over all sources. That surpasses the previous high of $92,602 set in 2010 when the U.S. economy started its climb out of the Great Recession of 2008.
Don’t be scared by all the debt.
Mortgage debt is considered “good debt,’’ as long as it’s a reasonable amount, particularly when interest rates are low. Many people can earn more money by investing instead of paying off their home in cash. Mortgage debt is backed by an asset that should gain value over time.
A mix of debts can help build your credit score. Ten percent of the FICO-scoring formula is based on your mix of credit accounts. If you are responsible with several kinds of credit accounts — not just one — that reflects well with lenders.
Credit card debt and other high interest debt is considered “bad debt’’ because the interest you’ll pay generally outweighs any benefits you receive, such as helping your credit score.
More Debt Relief Statistics
Stolba, S. (2021, January 4) Experian 2020 Consumer Credit Review. Retrieved from https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/consumer-credit-review/
Comoreanu, A. (2021, June 8) Credit Card Debt Study. Retrieved from https://wallethub.com/edu/cc/credit-card-debt-study/24400
N.A. (2021, April) Total Consumer Credit Owned and Securitized, Outstanding. Retrieved from https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/TOTALSL
N.A. (ND) Number of US Households in 2021/2022: Demographics, Statistics, & Trends. Retrieved from https://financesonline.com/number-of-us-households/
Resendiz, J. (2021, March 22) Average Credit Card Debt in America: 2021. Retrieved from https://www.valuepenguin.com/average-credit-card-debt