10 Tips Millennials Can Use to Lower Credit Card Debt
Having credit card debt at any stage in life can be a scary situation, but it’s especially unsettling for young people and Millennials. No one wants to start their adult life in a deep financial hole.
Credit card debt can sneak up on people of all ages, including Millennials, for a variety of reasons. The key is developing a plan to work your way out of the debt problem in the smartest way possible.
We’ve polled several financial experts, collecting the 10 best ways Millennials can reduce credit card debt.
Create a budget immediately
You need to figure out why you’re accumulating credit card debt, so you don’t continue to add to the amount you owe. J.R. Duren, personal finance analyst at HighYa, says you need to set a budget to accomplish this task.
Stacey Black, Financial Educator at BECU, says using online tools or apps to track your spending habits can be especially effective for Millennials. Because your smartphone is always at hand, you can easily enter information about your purchases immediately and have an accurate reflection of your spending.
Once you’ve tracked your spending for a few months, Duren says you should then figure out areas where you can cut back a bit. This will help you avoid spending more money than you’re making, and it will give you some extra money to apply toward paying down credit card debt.
“You need to come up with a plan to move from spending what you are spending to spending what you should be spending,” Duren says.
Harrine Freeman, a financial expert and author with H.E. Freeman Enterprises, says Millennials can be especially susceptible to accumulating credit card debt for a few reasons. Many times, though, the problems can be traced to a lack of education about how finances work.
So Freeman says Millennials need to take the time to obtain more information about finances and about how decisions in the moment regarding spending can have ramifications down the road.
“Attend a money management course or webinars or read self-help finance books,” Freeman says.
Rethink How You Pay for Items
If you are just too tempted to purchase something because it’s so easy to swipe a credit card, Freeman says you need to rethink how you pay for things.
Millennials have grown up in a time where using cash to pay for items is rare. But Freeman says some Millennials need to go old school and only pay cash for discretionary items. Put the credit cards in a safe location in your home or apartment, saving them only for true emergencies.
Using cash to pay for items will make the person think twice about whether he or she really needs to make the purchase. It just feels different to part with cash for an item versus the simple process of swiping a credit card.
“Many Millennials are used to being in debt from their college loans, so they have a mindset where it is OK to spend money they don't currently have, since they can pay it back later,” says Stacy Caprio of Deals Scoop. “This is a dangerous mindset.”
The Small Wins Will Add Up
If you have multiple credit card accounts out there, BECU’s Black says figure out which one has the lowest balance. Then set a goal of paying it down fully.
Certainly, continue to meet your monthly minimum obligations on the other accounts. But focus all your extra income on the account with the lowest balance until you have it paid off. For many Millennials, seeing success in completely paying off an account will make them feel they’ve accomplished a goal, encouraging them to stick with the plan.
“Not only will those small successes continue adding up, but you’ll feel energized and confident by the momentum, too,” Black says.
Read Through Your Credit Card Statement
One of the smartest things Millennials can do to understand why they have credit card debt is to closely read through their credit card statements, according to Marshall Armond, CEO of CreditRevo.
This information can help you gain a handle on why you’re struggling to reduce your credit card balances. Armond says to pay particular attention to those $5, $10, and $20 transactions on the statement. They seem miniscule, but if you have several of them, they quickly add up and cause problems.
If you realize these small transactions are problematic for you, you then can stop yourself the next time before you mindlessly charge a $5 cup of coffee.
Or you may find you have the opposite problem, where you’re primarily using credit cards for larger ticket items. Perhaps you can then tell yourself that you need to only use cash for these items, forcing you to save up for them before you buy.
“See if there is a pattern, and if there is, try eliminating it,” Armond says.
Eliminate Unnecessary Subscriptions
One of the most common credit card expenses Millennials have involves monthly recurring expenses for various subscriptions. It’s easy to use a credit card sign up for things like Amazon Prime or Hulu or Spotify or magazines that only cost several dollars every month.
“[But] those $5 or $10 transactions will add up, especially if you’re not paying off the balance at the end of the month,” CreditRevo’s Armond says.
Read through your credit card statement carefully and cancel any subscriptions that you truly don’t use or need. This can be a little tricky, as many companies have odd names listed on the statement that have nothing to do with the subscription, making it confusing for you to figure out what it is.
But each transaction should have a phone number listed with it. Call that number to figure out what you’re paying for and how to cancel. And if you are getting nowhere with that phone number, call the credit card company to have them cancel the transaction for you.
Consider a Balance Transfer or a Personal Loan
Shop around, and you may find that you qualify for a lower interest rate with another credit card company. If so, you can transfer some of your higher interest rate balances to this lower rate card, saving you money over the long run.
“Consolidate your credit card debt with either a balance transfer or a personal loan,” Milad Hassini, credit expert at CrediReady, says. “Many balance transfer cards have offers for 0% APR for the first year. This can save you a boatload of interest expense.”
Cut Down on Major Recurring Expenses
Brent C. Dunn, partner at Wholesome Financial, says Millennials with high credit card balances need to take a hard look at basic monthly living expenses.
If you have a lot of debt, move to a smaller apartment or drive an inexpensive car. Stop eating at restaurants, cooking food at home instead. Then apply the savings to paying down your balances. Reducing these large recurring expense items can make a big impact quickly on your financial situation.
“The best thing is to limit their housing, transportation, and food costs,” Dunn says. “Those are three of the biggest categories when it comes to spending.”
Create a Savings Account
One way to reduce dependency on credit cards is to create and contribute regularly to a savings account.
BECU’s Black says having an emergency fund on hand can give you an advantage versus using credit cards for emergencies. For example, if you’re in the process of paying down your credit card balances, but you then have an emergency that drives the balance back upward, it can feel like you’re spinning your wheels in terms of paying off debt.
With an emergency fund in a savings account, you can use this money when the car breaks down, staying on pace to reduce your debt.
“What’s most important is to save something and simply get into the habit of saving,” Black says.
If you don’t like the idea of using a traditional bank for a savings account, Freeman says services like Qapital are good options.
Keep Your Credit Score as High as Possible
If you have multiple credit card accounts, HighYa’s Duren says your credit score can suffer if they all have high balances. When trying to purchase a first house or a newer vehicle for that first job, having a poor credit score can really put Millennials behind the 8-ball.
As you’re making a plan to pay down credit card balances, Duren says you can take a key step to keep your credit score stronger.
“Pay all your credit cards down to below 30% of their credit limit, then tackle your smallest balances,” Duren says. “Doing so ensures that your credit scores go up as you're paying off your debt.”