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Give Yourself the Gift of a $0 Credit Card Balance

Dec. 7, 2018
Credit Card Basics, Credit Cards
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As Eddie Sheridan prepares to return to school to get a degree in nursing, he’s doing more than just taking the prerequisite classes: The 31-year-old resident of Gainesville, Florida, is also working to pay off his credit card debt.

“I’m trying to get everything in order now, to pay off as much debt as possible,” he says, before he takes on new student loans.

With interest rates rising, credit card debt is getting more expensive, making now a good time to pay it off even if you don’t have student loans on the horizon.

That’s not an easy feat in the middle of the holiday spending season, but it is possible. Here are tips from debt experts on just how to do it.

First, set your budget

Marcus Garrett, co-host of the “Paychecks and Balances” podcast, says he built up credit card debt in college and finally made a budget at age 27. That spending plan allowed him to get serious about paying it off.

“I just needed to be more responsible,” says Garrett, who is now 36 and lives in Austin, Texas.

Eric Tyson, author of “Personal Finance for Dummies,” recommends starting by looking closely at monthly spending. “A lot of people don’t have a good handle on that,” he says. Once you see how much money is going toward expenses like dining out or buying clothes, it can be easier to trim, he says.

Then, negotiate your way to lower payments

One way to lower your monthly credit card payments, Sheridan says, is to try to negotiate with your card issuer to lower the interest rate on your card. He says that move has been successful for him.

“You just have to be assertive and polite,” he says. If he doesn’t get the answer he wants from his card issuer, then he doesn’t hesitate to take his business elsewhere.

“Customers do have power; the banking industry is very competitive,” he adds.

If that doesn’t work, shop for a new credit card

Sheridan also uses balance transfer cards to pay off his debt. He moves his existing balances to cards with an introductory 0% APR period, which typically lasts 12 to 18 months, and then tries to pay off the balance before that rate expires.

These types of offers typically require good to excellent credit.

Check the long-term interest rate

Kristin Wong, author of “Get Money: Live the Life You Want, Not Just the Life You Can Afford,” says that while balance transfer cards can work out well as long as you pay off the balance before the introductory offer expires and make every minimum payment each month, it can create even more debt if you still have a balance after that period.

“If you don’t pay off the balance within a certain time frame, you can be hit with a crazy high interest rate, which will defeat the purpose of the transfer or even end up costing you more,” she warns.

Look out for fees

Now, when Garrett considers balance transfer cards to help him pay off chunks of credit card debt, he looks carefully for a balance transfer fee, which is typically 3% to 5% of the transfer balance.

“You’re usually just paying off that fee in the first few months,” he notes. He looks for cards that don’t have a balance transfer fee.

Consider personal loans, too

In addition to balance transfer cards, consolidating credit card debt into a personal loan with monthly installment payments over time, typically two to five years, can also be a good option for people who need a longer runway to pay off debt.

Limit gift-giving to minimize debt

If you’re paying off credit card debt, Wong suggests being extra frugal in your gift-giving this year. Decide how much you can afford to spend, and stick to it with cost-cutting measures like suggesting a Secret Snowman exchange among friends and family instead of gifts for everyone. Wong says you might find that others are also just as happy to trim back.

One year, when Wong was in the midst of paying off student loan debt, she baked her friends holiday cookies instead of buying them presents. “It was cheap and tasty, and helped me get in the holiday spirit,” she says.

And, she suggests, if you’re comfortable doing so, you can ask your family to donate to your debt payoff goal in lieu of giving you a gift.

“It’s not super exciting, but there are few better feelings than paying off your last bit of debt,” she says.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by Forbes.

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