Picture this: You’re in a restaurant and your date asks you an embarrassing question. Would your cheeks turn more rosy if your date asked about your age or your bank balance? How about your credit card debt versus your weight? According to a recent poll by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, more Americans are embarrassed to admit their large credit card debt than anything else.
Considering the average U.S. household with a credit card carries more than $15,000 in credit card debt, it’s easy to see why Americans might be embarrassed. In all, U.S. consumer debt totals more than $11 trillion, including mortgages, auto loans, credit cards, and student debt. While buying a house, car, or one’s education might seem like reasonable reasons to get into debt, it’s different with credit cards. Admit it: you’ve been swiping your plastic to pay for expensive meals, clothes, or other futile purchases.
“It is obvious that [consumers] are not comfortable with how they are currently managing their money,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC. “The good news is that there are solutions available for those who want to take charge of their financial future.”
If you’re embarrassed by your credit card debt, you must take action. Nothing is going to help relieve you of your embarrassment other than driving your credit card debt down. Here are four foolproof strategies to help you reduce your credit card debt.
1. Pay off the highest interest
If you are focused and motivated to get rid of your debt, then tackle the card that’s hurting you the most. That card is likely the one with the highest interest rate. You don’t want to get stuck paying off only the interest each month instead of your principal debt. So pay off the card with the highest interest rate first, contributing more to those payments instead of paying the minimum amount. Once you get this monkey off your back, you can tackle the card with the next highest interest rate.
If you are the type who likes instant gratification, this method might suit you best. Ignore interest rates and pay off the credit card with the smallest balance first. The idea is that you will feel a sense of accomplishment paying off the debt and want to continue. Giving yourself a psychological boost might help you pay off other credit cards quickly, too.
3. Transfer your balance
If you’re determined to pay off your credit card debt and want to set a deadline to do so, you might consider transferring your balance. After all, if you can only manage to pay off the interest rate each time your credit card bill comes, you’re not really going to improve your financial situation. If you can afford the fees (usually 3 percent of the transfer balance) associated with transferring your credit card balance onto another card (with zero or low interest), you will save money in the long run.
The key to a successful balance transfer is having a plan of action so that you continue to chip away at your credit card debt while taking advantage of paying lower or no interest. Merely transferring the balance isn’t going to help you. Note that a balance transfer might hurt your credit score in the short term, but if you can pay off your debt more quickly, it’s worth considering.
4. Cut back elsewhere
If you’re someone who can stick to a lean diet, then this strategy might work for you. Take a look at your monthly expenses and determine what you can cut out of your life. Can you downgrade your smartphone plan? Can you spend less on entertainment of food each month? Wherever you can save money, take action and do it. Then apply the amount of money you’ve saved towards your credit card bill. It won’t be fun, but it will help you cut down on your embarrassing credit card debt.
Each of these four strategies — or a combination of them — will help reduce your credit card debt and leave you feeling relieved instead of embarrassed. That said, if you’re the type who has read the article and still don’t feel motivated to do anything about your debt, it’s time to take drastic measures. To cut your spending — and to stop piling onto your existing debt — follow one of these steps:
a. Cut up your cards
Take the cards with the highest interest rate and cut each of them up. Keep one for emergencies, but get rid of all the others. Then do one of the steps below.
b. Freeze your cards
Put the cards in a large ziplock bag, fill with water, and stick them in your freezer. The next time you even think about using your credit card, you’ll have to wait for the ice to thaw.
c. Wrap your cards in paper
The next time you want to use the card, you’ll have to tear the paper off in front of the store clerk. It sounds silly, but it may deter you from needlessly swiping.
d. Give your cards to a trusted loved one
If your parents live closeby or you can trust your spouse or a loved one with your cards, hand them off. That way you’ll have to go through them first if you want to make a purchase on your card.