It happens to the best of us — we fall into debt with a little help from our plastic. But while getting into debt is easy, getting out of it is another story. For some, it can even take decades. If your card has an unwieldy balance that’s weighing your credit down, here are some steps to consider.
1. Put the Card on Ice
If spending is your weakness, put the card away for awhile. Some examples of times you should do this include being shocked by your statement, struggling to make minimum payments, having trouble managing all your accounts, and spending money just to earn the rewards. If any of these describe you, it’s time to evaluate your habits and adjust them accordingly.
2. Get Current on Payments
Credit cards can tank your credit in a couple of ways. Missing a payment can cause a score to drop up to 110 points, so if your bad credit is due to falling behind, you’ll want to get the account out of delinquency as soon as possible. If you missed a bill and your payment history is otherwise stellar, call the creditor to see if they’ll agree not to tell the credit bureaus.
3. Pay the Balance Down
The other way a credit card can hurt your score is by negatively skewing your credit utilization (i.e., how much debt you are carrying versus how much credit has been extended). If you’re bumping against your credit limit, your score can rebound if you pay that balance down quickly. For a great score, keep your debt below 30% and ideally at 10% of your available credit.
4. Prioritize Your Payments
If you’re carrying several balances, you may expedite paying them down (and boost your score) by making certain payments a priority. One option is to pay off the card with the highest APR first while making minimum payments on others to spare yourself interest.
The debt snowball method involves paying off debts in order from least to greatest balance, regardless of interest rate or monthly payment. Once you’ve payed the minimum balance on all other debts, you throw whatever you can on the smallest debt to pay it off faster. Each time you pay off a debt, you tack more money onto the monthly payment for the next debt you’re about to pay off.
It’s an emotionally rewarding strategy, but since you’re paying off your balances over time, the interest is going to cost you more.
5. Consider Debt Consolidation
For those with debt on several cards, consider applying for a debt consolidation loan or a balance transfer credit card. Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to get a great rate. But if your credit history’s spotty, that might not be the case. Shop around to find the best deal for you — and try to limit inquiries, which can ding your score.
6. Repair Your Credit
Whether you enlist the help of a company or choose to go it alone, improving your credit should be top priority. To get started, pinpoint your credit score killers, or the adverse behaviors that brought down your score. Remember, your payment history is the most important factor; your credit utilization is the second-most important. From there, you’ll need to dispute any errors you find on your credit report with each of the three major bureaus. You can find more tips for fixing your credit here.
However you decide to tackle your debt, keep track of how it’s affecting your credit score. You can get two free credit scores, updated monthly, on Credit.com.
More on Credit Cards:
- Credit.com’s Expert Credit Card Shopping Tips
- How to Get a Credit Card With Bad Credit
- An Expert Guide to Credit Cards With Rewards