Credit Card Expert Roundup #31 - What are the best strategies for paying off debt from the holidays?

Jason Steele
March 5, 2019
Jason Steele CardCon

The holiday season, while quite enjoyable, is also quite costly for many. People tend to spend more and be slightly less tight with their money from mid-November through early January. Taking on debt without a repayment plan can be problematic so Jason Steele speaks with credit card experts for Issue #31 of the Credit Card Reviews Roundup with this question:

"What are the best strategies for paying off debt from the holidays?"

Eric Rosenberg - Freelance journalist and founder of Personal Profitability

If you ended up with a pile of debt from your holiday shopping, you are not alone! The best strategy to get out of debt in any situation is the Debt Avalanche. This is a twist on the Debt Snowball payoff strategy popularized by money guru Dave Ramsey. It is mathematically the fastest and most efficient strategy to pay off your holiday debt.

To implement the Debt Avalanche, make a list of all of your debt including the current balance, minimum payment, and interest rate for each card. Sort your list in order by interest rate from the highest to the lowest. This is the payoff order for your debt. Paying in order of interest rate will save you the most money in the long-run as you pay down your purchases.

Focus on your budget and make the minimum payment on each credit card on the list except for the one with the highest interest rate. Squeeze every dollar possible out of your spending to pay off that most expensive debt with the biggest possible monthly payment. Once it is paid off, continue with a larger payment to the next debt and the next until you are all paid off. Next year, save ahead of time so you don't have to worry about debt again!

Bill Hardekopf - CEO of LowCards.com

There are a number of ways to attack your holiday credit card debt. The most obvious one is to stop making any new transactions on your card; there is no reason to accumulate more debt while you are trying to dig out of your financial hole. Pay cash for all purchases until your debt is paid.

Secondly, choose a debt payment method that works for you. The snowball method pays off the smallest debt first; in this way, you gather some momentum and gain confidence that you can pay off your debt. Another is to first pay off the card with the highest interest rate since that is your most costly debt.

Third, you could transfer your existing balance to a card that has a 0% introductory rate on balance transfers for an extended period; then you would not be incurring interest charges as you pay off the debt. However, be aware most cards come with a balance transfer fee of 3% to 5% and that fee is charged as soon as the transfer is made.

Finally, you can make micropayments. Many people think you can only make one payment on your credit card balance each month. But you can make multiple payments throughout the month. So instead of going out to dinner and spending $50, eat at home and go online to pay that $50 toward your credit card debt. Since many cards calculate your interest charges based on the average daily balance during the month, every dollar will help pay off the debt and also reduce your interest costs.

Michelle Black - 16 year credit card journalist and founder of Her Credit Matters

One of my favorite credit card debt elimination strategies is often referred to as the snowball method. With the snowball method you start by listing your outstanding credit card balances, from the lowest balance up to the highest.

Next, make the minimum payment on every credit card, except for the account with the lowest balance. On the card with the lowest balance, you sink every available dollar you have into paying off the balance. Once the credit card with the smallest balance has been paid off, you rinse and repeat with the next lowest balance on your list.

Paying off your lowest balances first can accomplish a couple of things. First, each time you pay down a credit card you will be lowering the revolving utilization ratio on that specific account (eventually all the way to 0% utilization once the balance has been paid in full). By lowering the revolving utilization ratios on individual cards, there’s a chance you might boost your credit scores.

Second, paying off your credit card debt this way can be motivating. When you see a low-balance card on your list finally reach $0, the sense of accomplishment can keep you motivated to continue your debt elimination journey.

If you couple the snowball method with some smart spending cuts in other areas, you may be able to pay off your credit card debts even sooner. Additionally, a properly managed, 0% balance transfer offer can be another way to save money on interest fees to speed up the process as well.

Greg Johnson - Founder of Club Thrifty

If your goal is paying down holiday debt, you first need to know how much debt you have. Take some time to add up all your credit card bills and holiday debts to figure out exactly how much you owe.

Once you know how much debt you have, you can create a plan to pay it off. Many people use the debt snowball method to pay down debts. This method requires you to pay as much as you can toward your smallest debt first while making minimum payments on the rest. Over time, you pay down your smallest debts completely and continue snowballing larger and larger payments toward your remaining debts. Another strategy to consider is signing up for a balance transfer card. Balance transfer cards, also known as 0% APR credit cards, offer zero interest for up to 21 months. If you can transfer all your balances over, you could pay down debt faster and save money on interest during your card’s introductory 0% APR offer.

Keep in mind, however, that some balance transfer cards charge a balance transfer fee of 3% or 5% of your balance. Paying this fee may be well worth it if you need a lot of time to pay down your debt because the interest savings will add up to more than the balance transfer fee. Also note that some balance transfer cards like the Chase Slate don’t charge a balance transfer fee at all, provided you transfer your balance within the first 60 days of opening your account.

Jason Steele - Founder of the credit card media conference CardCon as well as a credit card/travel expert.

Holiday debt is a very big problem, but fortunately, there are some solutions. You can start by applying for a card with a 0% APR offer on balance transfers. Right now, one of the best ones is the Chase Slate, which offers 15 months of 0% APR financing on balance transfers, with no fee for transfers completed within 60 days of account opening.

Another strategy is to go on a “spending diet,” where you simply avoid all unnecessary expenditures until your debt is paid off. This can involve forgoing or postponing nearly all discretionary spending. Finally, you can minimize your interest charges by making payments as early and as often as possible. Credit card interest is based on your average daily balance, and there’s no reason you can’t make payments as soon as you have money available, and even multiple times each month.

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