20 Top Tips from CFAs & CPAs to Get Credit Card Debt Under Control
Ashley Jones is a freelance writer based in Houston, Texas and can be reached at [email protected] Her work has appeared across multiple platforms including Romper, Cancer Today, Publisher’s Weekly, Elite Daily, Mommy Poppins, Cancer Wellness Magazine, Motherfigure, Ladders News, and Let Grow.Read full bio
At a Glance
If you’re struggling to pay off credit cards, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans are dealing with credit card debt, and trying to get it under control can feel overwhelming. Even if you’re also trying to handle other types of debt like student loans and a mortgage on top of managing credit card debt, there are some things you can do to make the process a little easier.
As experts in personal finance, we asked certified public accountants, chartered financial analysts, and a host of top consumer spending experts for their best tips for getting your debt under control. Getting out of debt may seem tough, but implementing these credit card debt payment tips can help:
1. Thoroughly examine your spending habits
“I mean this literally: go through a few months’ worth of credit card statements to really understand where your money is going,” Samuel K. Swenson, CFA, CPA, CFP, a financial planner with CGN Advisors, LLC, says. “If you’re in debt, you’ll want to eliminate adding to it by removing unnecessary expenses, or those that don’t align with any particular long-term goal of yours.
2. Write everything down
To begin tackling your debt, financial counselor Ana Gonzalez Ribeiro, MBA, AFC, recommends first writing down all your expenses before you try to make any changes. “It could feel tedious and cumbersome, but you can change your perspective a little by thinking of it as a tool you are using that will help you control the beast of debt. By going through this process, you will become more aware, you will be able to see where your money is going and can then make modifications.”
3. Cut unnecessary expenses and use those savings to pay off credit card debt
One way to trim expenses is to nix unnecessary spending. “You can see what you really need to keep spending on and what perhaps you can eliminate altogether or minimize,” Ribeiro suggests. “There are the subscriptions you might no longer need, or the phone plans you can change for cheaper ones. Also review car or home insurance and get a more budget friendly quote with a different company. Cleaner service is expensive, maybe instead of taking your clothes to the cleaners 4 days a week, you can do it twice a week. Some food and clothes subscriptions services can be modified in this way or eliminated for a while.”
4. Set a budget
Planning for where your money will go seems simple enough, but it’s often such a simple task that it gets overlooked when dealing with debt. “By assigning a job of each dollar of income, you get the maximum benefit of them all,” John Madison, a CPA and Financial Counselor says. “Prioritize living essentials, like food, rent, gas, etc. The remaining dollars can be used for debt payments. Remember, this is only for a season of your life while eliminating debt, not a permanent lifestyle change! A spending plan will also reduce frivolous spending that leads to even more debt.”
5. Consider debt consolidation methods
“Having one monthly payment to attack the entirety of your debt can be psychologically relieving, even though it won’t make the debt disappear,” says Swenson. “If you’re tasked with paying off 5-10 different cards per month, it can feel like your entire financial life is in flux. Consider one of the many low- or no-interest balance transfer options.”
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6. Automate your payments
Not paying bills on time — credit card or otherwise — can put a dent in your debt payment strategy. “Setting up automatic payments from one’s bank account is a well-documented method of helping consumers become disciplined about repaying debt,” says John H. Robinson, a financial advisor and owner of Financial Planning Hawaii.
7. Pay toward high-interest debt first
When it comes to paying down debt, Swenson suggests attacking debts without any tax benefit for paying the interest — like credit cards or other personal unsecured loans — before any other debts. “Focus on your highest-interest debt first: this is mathematically the best option for preventing further expensive interest charges,” Swenson advises.
8. Use a proven debt payoff strategy
“My favorite debt strategy is the waterfall method,” Rick Nott, CFA, CFP, CPWA, and Senior Wealth Advisor at LourdMurray says. “Take all of your debts and order them by the interest rate. Focus on aggressively paying down the highest rate debt first. Once that is completed, focus on the next highest using the funds you allocated to the previously highest and so on.” You can use a calculator like this one to accomplish this strategy.
9. Pay off student loan debts as fast as you can
In addition to paying toward high-interest debt like credit cards first, Nott also advises consumers to prioritize paying off their “bad” debts like student loans as a debt management strategy. “Some debts are not as bad as other as well,” says Nott. “For instance, student loan or paydown loans are terrible and should be extinguished as fast as possible.”
10. Consider a balance transfer credit card
“If your credit card debts become too high, and you can’t afford them, you may opt for a balance transfer card and transfer all the outstanding credit card balances over there,” Lyle Solomon, principal attorney at Oak View Law Group and consumer finance expert says. Many of these cards offer an introductory period with 0% APR. “This way, you can pay off your credit debts while paying no interest during that period. It is the most suitable option to get out of debt when you can’t pay off high-interest credit card debts at a time.”
11. Completely curtail your spending
“Try a few months of austerity,” Swenson says, referring to a period of reduced or severely restricted spending in order to put saved funds toward debt. “While nobody wants to do this, it is unfortunately the necessary course of action if you’re facing a large amount of debt. It may not be the best time to go on vacation or pass on side hustle opportunities. Take a break from some of the luxuries until you’re more comfortable with your overall debt load.”
12. Refinance your existing debt
Examine your existing debt and look for ways to reduce costs by refinancing at a lower rate. “For instance, home equity loans often have much lower interest rates than credit card debt and may be a powerful debt reduction tool. 401(k) loans may be a great source of refinancing funds in certain circumstances as well,” Robinson says. Also, don’t overlook credit card debt forgiveness as another option to explore when it comes to credit card management as you work to pay down your debt.
13. Keep making large payments after you refinance
Once you review your debt terms and improve your rates, don’t be tempted to reduce the amount you throw at them, but keep making large payments instead. “Review your debt terms to look for improvements, such as lower interest rates. You can’t refinance your way to debt-freedom, but you can reduce interest costs,” Madison says. “Be sure to keep making as large of payments as possible, and don’t use the lower interest charge to reduce the amount you’re paying.”
14. Consider using emergency funds to pay down high-interest debts
Though this is not a blanket debt resolution strategy, some consumers find that paying down revolving lines of credit or home equity lines of credit with emergency reserve funds to be an effective use of that money. “Consumers who hold ongoing credit card debt or carry home equity loan balances that charge a higher interest rate than the rate earned on emergency cash reserves would do well to use this money to pay down debt. This is because the transactions are reversible,” Robinson says.
If an emergency does pop up, you can use the card again to get the money back out, but you’ve saved on interest charges in the interim. “Mortgages and installment credit such as auto-loans and student loans are typically less reversible, and, as such, it may be less advisable to pay them down with emergency reserves.”
15. Borrow the money
A debt consolidation loan can get you the funds to pay down debt quickly — and it’s probably the fastest way to pay off credit card debt, specifically— but Robinson advises not to overlook the “Bank of Mom and Dad” for a loan. “Although borrowing from friends and family is often a delicate proposition, there are tools available that can formalize and even collateralize such loans. Often the terms of the loans may be beneficial to both parties,” he explains.
The total amount of household debt in the U.S. according to the latest data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit.
16. Identify spending triggers like impulse purchases
“While taking steps to pay down debt is important for your financial health, you also have to think about what caused you to get there in the first place,” Andrea Woroch, a nationally-recognized consumer finance expert says. “If reckless spending is a key driver, it’s time to nip this bad behavior in the butt for good which requires a bit of deeper digging. Begin by identifying spending triggers that lead to impulse purchases so you can avoid them in the future.”
17. Make some extra cash to pay off credit card debt
Get creative with the ways you make extra money above and beyond your job to pay down your debt and pay credit card bills. Madison recommends selling unused items, working extra hours, or getting a part-time job. “Dedicate all these additional dollars to debt elimination,” Madison says. “Again, this is for a season of life, not forever!”
A side hustle like dog walking or freelance writing is also a great way to earn extra funds that can help you pay down debt and bolster your savings, Woroch suggests. “Earning more money is the real ticket to improving your finances,” she says.
18. Seek out-of-the-box ways to cut down on bills
“Paying down debt may feel impossible as inflation soars and your budget grows tighter, but you could be wasting money on monthly bills that could go towards lowering your over all credit card balances,” Woroch explains. “Scrutinize each recurring bill for services you don’t need or us, beginning with recurring charges such as subscriptions and cancel what you don’t need or use.” This includes your wireless service, TV provider, electric bill and more. Applying those funds directly to your credit card payment is one of the best ways to pay off credit card debt quickly.
19. Assess how your debt happened to prevent more debt
“Be honest with yourself about how the debt was created, and how you can prevent it in the future,” Madison explains. “Was it from a sudden medical bill? How can you improve your health insurance coverage to prevent it from happening again. Do credit cards lead you to overspend? Close them now! There is no shame in maturely addressing spending blind spots.”
20. Seek professional help
If getting your debt under control on your own isn’t working out, ask a professional for help. Debt management companies and financial advisors exist to help you determine the best ways to pay off debt. “The experts in this field would help you budget, prepare a debt repayment plan, and even consolidate your debts on your behalf,” Solomon says. “So, if things are getting worse and you don’t believe you can ever climb over your mountain of credit debt, think about reaching out for help.”