Sure, there were the good times — back when you and your credit card first got together. Maybe your card was giving you a 0% introductory APR. Maybe you went everywhere together, bought everything together … but things changed. Today you feel like you’re giving a lot more than you’re getting, and now you’re wondering how you can leave your high-interest credit card behind.
While there aren’t as many options for leaving your credit card as there are ways to leave your lover (Paul Simon famously notes there must be 50 of those), it doesn’t mean you’re stuck. No, you’re probably not going to be able to slip out the back, Jack (that debt’s not going away even if you run!), but you most definitely can make a new plan, Stan. So don’t be coy, Roy, just listen to me …
1. Negotiate a Lower Rate
Most people don’t bother to ask their credit card issuer for a lower rate, but sometimes lowering your current APR can be as simple as that, so …
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
Before you storm out on your credit card, try communicating. It could be worth your time to see if your card issuer will lower your interest rate, especially if your relationship is a long one. Keep in mind, they might pull your credit to see if you’re deserving of a lower APR. That’s why you’ll want to …
3. Check Your Credit Score …
You’ll want to get an idea of whether you’re likely to qualify for a lower APR, lest you incur a hard inquiry on your credit report only to get rejected. (You can view two of your free credit scores, along with some recommendations for credit cards it could help you qualify for, on Credit.com.)
4. … Fix it Up Before Inquiring
If your scores are less than stellar, you may want to try brushing them up before you call up your issuer. You can find 11 ways to improve your credit here.
5. Do Some Research
Are there other cards out there you qualify for that can offer you a better APR? If so, you can use this information to your advantage while negotiating with your current issuer.
6. Begin Negotiating With Your Oldest Card
Like we said before, your issuer might be willing to work with you, especially if you’ve been a cardholder for several years, so start negotiating with whichever card issuer you’ve been with longest to see if you can reduce your interest rate there.
7. Keep It Simple
It’s not a difficult process to ask for a decrease in your APR. In fact, it’s as simple as a call to the customer service line listed on the back of your card. Yes, they could say no, but that’s where your research will come in handy and you can …
8. Leverage Your Loyalty
If they say they can’t reduce your rate, remind them of how long you’ve been with the company, how you’ve never had a late payment or maxed out your card’s balance. Whatever positives you can cite can be helpful. If that doesn’t work, tell them what the other cards you’ve researched are offering. But most importantly …
9. Don’t Give Up Right Away
The old adage “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” is especially important here. Your issuer may say no, but that doesn’t mean you should give up. Call them multiple times, and ask to speak to a supervisor if their answer continues to be no. Of course, you’ll want to be polite throughout the process. If all of this doesn’t work, it’s time to …
10. Consider an Upgrade
A lot of card issuers have tiered credit card offerings, so you could potentially upgrade to a new card with the same issuer that offers a lower interest rate and transfer your current balance to that card.
11. Keep Watching Your Credit …
Just like when an issuer considers lowering your interest rate, which we mentioned above, they’ll likely check your credit as part of your application for a card upgrade. So, if you think there’s a better credit card available elsewhere, you might not want to ask them to upgrade you.
12. … & Limit Your Card Applications
In fact, every time you apply for new credit you’re going to have a hard inquiry and a ding to your credit scores. These can add up if you have too many in a short span of time and even impact your ability to qualify for a new card, so be very selective or you could end up hurting your credit. (You can read here about how often you can apply for new credit without hurting your credit scores too much.)
If you’ve tried all these steps with your current credit card issuer to no avail, it’s time to look at starting a new relationship with a new issuer.
13. Get a Balance Transfer Card
Let’s say you’ve tried everything to lower your current APR with your card issuer and they just won’t work with you. Perhaps you’ve had some late payments or you just haven’t been with them that long. Getting a balance transfer credit card could make sense for you.
14. Find an Introductory 0% APR
There are lots of options to choose from in the world of balance transfer credit cards with a low or even 0% introductory APR. Here’s how to find the right one for you …
15. Comparison Shop
You can start by checking out some of the best balance transfer credit cards and comparing what they offer.
16. Give Yourself Plenty of Time
There are balance transfer cards that offer as long as 21 months at 0% financing for balance transfers and even new purchases. If you have a lot of current credit card debt, that could be very beneficial to you, as you’ll eliminate your interest while paying down your principal.
17. Don’t Forget the Transfer Fees …
Of course, most balance transfer cards charge you a fee for transferring your balance – typically 3% to 5%, so be sure to compare those amounts as well.
18. … & the Annual Fees
Some cards also charge an annual fee, so you’ll want to consider that cost as well as you compare balance transfer offers.
19. Make Sure You Time it Right
If you’re looking at buying a new house, car or other major purchase anytime soon, you’ll want to time your credit card application with that in mind since your credit scores will be impacted by that aforementioned hard inquiry that takes place during your application process.
20. Include Your Balance Transfer Amount in Your Application
This can help ensure the transfer goes smoothly and quickly. The new issuer will reach out to your current card issuer once you’re approved and get the transfer process started right away, saving you the hassle of doing it later.
21. Pay Off Your Balance
Once you have your new balance transfer card, it’s important to focus your attention on getting that balance paid off before your introductory rate expires. Otherwise, your balance is going to revert to the standard variable rate.
22. Keep Your Old Card
No, keeping your old card isn’t exactly leaving it, but hear us out. You might be tempted to close your old card, particularly if your card issuer refused to reduce your APR when you transferred your balance, but keeping it open can be good for your credit score.
That’s because your credit scores improve the longer you have a credit account in good standing, so if you had a decent payment history, keeping that card open could really help. Moreover, your total credit line will be higher if you keep it open, also helping your scores. (You can find a full explainer on how closing a card can affect your credit here.)
Go ahead and cut it up, though, if it makes you feel better. That will also keep you from using it.
23. Keep Your New Interest Rate Low
Now that you have a card with a lower APR, even if it’s just an introductory rate, there are things you can do to keep your rate as low as possible. You’ll want to …
24. Make Your Payments On Time …
Late payments can send your APR soaring, so make all of your payments on time to avoid a penalty APR.
25. … & Keep Your Balance Low
If you can’t pay off your balance each month, at least try to make payments that keep your balance below 30% of your credit limit, though below 10% is even better if you want to do your credit scores a real favor.
26. Don’t Take Cash Advances
These usually come with a higher variable APR than purchases or balance transfers, so try to avoid them if you want to keep your rates down.
27. Try Some Other Alternatives …
If you’ve had a bad run financially and aren’t going to qualify for a credit card with a lower APR, you still have plenty of money-saving options, so don’t give up just yet. You have some alternatives …
28. Like a Personal Loan …
You may be able to pay off your credit card debt with a personal loan from your bank or credit union, but keep in mind that unless you have excellent credit, you’ll likely need some kind of collateral to secure it. Be sure to ask about the lender’s credit requirements before applying.
29. Or a Home Equity Line of Credit …
If you own a home and have some equity built up, this can be a great option for paying off debt at a lower interest rate. You can save a ton by moving your debt to a HELOC.
30. … But Don’t Spend Your Savings
Use the money you save by refinancing through a HELOC on creating an emergency fund (if you don’t already have one). Once that’s set up, you can use the money as prepayment against your home loan or to boost your retirement savings.
31. Consider a Debt Management Plan …
A debt management plan allows you to turn over all of your debt information to a credit counseling agency. You make one monthly payment to them, and they pay your credit cards and other debts for you. These plans usually last three to five years, and a lot of lenders lower your interest rates when you participate in such a plan. You’ll want to be sure to find a reputable credit counseling agency, so do your research.
32. … Or File for Bankruptcy
As a last-resort option, you can consider getting out from under your high-interest credit card debt by declaring bankruptcy. You’ll lower your debt and have many years to pay it off depending on the type of bankruptcy relief you file for. Just remember you’ll also have a major blemish on your credit reports for up to 10 years that could seriously affect your ability to get credit (in general and at n affordable rate) during that time. Still, if your debt is significant, this could be the right option for you. Talking to a credit counselor or bankruptcy attorney before deciding could help you make the right choice for your circumstances.
Have another question about credit card debt? Leave it in the comments section and one of our credit experts will try to get back to you.