The holiday season can leave you with more than just a pile of returns and a fridge full of leftovers. In fact, a study last year found that those with credit card debt added over $1,000 just during the holiday season. If you’re looking to clean up your financial situation and start the New Year fresh, here are some easy ways to get started.
Find out how much you owe.
You can’t put together a plan to tackle your debt unless you know how much you need to pay back. Set aside some time to review your current situation. Make a list of all debt obligations, how much you owe and their APR.
Want to do this from one place? With MoneySync you can. It’s our exclusive, free financial management app and it consolidates all your accounts into one login.
Determine your monthly “pay down” amount.
If you don’t already have a monthly budget, now’s the time to make one. Determine your monthly payment obligations and spending – like rent or a mortgage, car loans, groceries, transportation. Subtract that total from your income. (Here are some other helpful tips for first-time budgeters from MoneyCrashers.com or The Balance.)
Be realistic about your spending habits. If you know that your busy schedule will not allow you to cut out $50 on takeout, then be sure you add a line for that to your budget. Your goals should stretch you, but if they aren’t realistic, then they aren’t sustainable.
After you’ve decided how much money you can afford to put towards your debt, make a commitment to actually use that money to pay off your credit cards.
Put together a debt plan.
There are a variety of different methods to conquering credit card debt. The right approach for you will depend on a.) How much you owe and b.) How much you can pay towards your debt every month.
Snowball. If you’ve got multiple cards with similar interest rates, then this is for you. Experts suggest that paying off a card completely, even if the balance is low, gives people a sense of satisfaction, accomplishment and motivation to continue to pay off debt. Take the amount that you determined you’re spending each month to pay down debt, and start applying it to the card with the lowest balance. After that card’s paid off, move to the next lowest balance.
Interest rate first. Logic suggests that you should tackle the card with the highest interest rate first. If you’re confident that you’ll continue to make extra payments even if the debt isn’t completely paid off – then you should tackle your highest interest rate first. If you choose this route, then MoneySync’s debt feature can quickly and easily help you determine which credit card to start with.
Balance transfer with caution. Many credit card companies will offer a 0% rate if you transfer an existing card’s balance to them. While this can be a good option for those who meet the tough qualifying criteria, it’s also a dangerous game to play if you’ve struggled to conquer credit card debt in the past. Remember, the interest rate won’t stay at 0% for long, so we recommend only those who are confident they will have the funds to repay the entire debt opt for a balance transfer, like if you’re expecting a quarterly bonus at the end of the month.
Ask for help.
If your household’s debt is due to more than just a few too many Christmas gifts, then it may be time to seek some help. Regardless of the reason – medical bills, loss of a job, death of a loved one – if you know you cannot meet your minimum payment, contact your credit card provider as soon as possible. Ignoring due dates and phone calls will only make things worse. Some providers even offer hardship payment plans to help get consumers back on track.
There are government-approved agencies and nonprofits that can also help consumers conquer debt. Check out the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Information page about the topic and for a list of verified groups that can help.
Remember to do your research before you work with an organization; many debt settlement “companies” are nothing more than con artists who promise to negotiate and take away your debt in exchange for payment. Unfortunately, when those “guarantees” don’t come true, the credit card owner is usually left in an even worse predicament.