If you have credit card debt, you probably are so over it. You want to pay off the debt, but it feels like a never-ending process. You know (or hope) that at some point you’ll be able to pay it off. But when? How long will it take? The answer depends on three things.
1. Your Payment Plan
Are you making minimum payments? Or are you haphazardly throwing money at it and hoping for the best?
The payment plan you choose plays the biggest role in determining how long it takes you to get out of debt. The first thing to realize is that there is a potential minimum payment trap. As you pay down your credit card debt, you may notice that as the balance gets smaller, so does the minimum payment listed on your statement. If you continue to make only the minimum payment, calculated at interest + 1% of the balance, at the decreasing monthly amount, the payoff time increases exponentially.
Let’s see how it works out. If you just make those decreasing minimum payments for example, a $10,000 debt at 15% interest will take just under 28 years to pay off and cost almost $12,000 in interest. Not a great plan.
However, you may be able to cut that time dramatically. Take a look at your credit card statement (or statements if you have multiple debts) where you’ll find the amount you’ll have to pay each month to pay off the debt in three years — and stick to that payment amount going forward. It’s a good place to start. If you can pay that amount each month without taking on new debt, that figure can lay the groundwork for your payment plan. But if that amount is too high, you may need to stretch out your debt a little longer or use other strategies listed here to try to get to that point.
Using this credit card payoff calculator, we looked at $10,000 of credit card debt with a 15% interest rate. Making a monthly payment of $347 will get you out of debt in three years, $278 will allow you to pay the balance off in four years and $238 will have you debt-free in five years, assuming you don’t add anything else to your balance.
Just be careful. A payment plan that lasts longer than five years can be risky. If anything goes wrong with your budget during that time you may wind up with more debt. (And if you find the five-year payment amount is too much, consider talking with a credit counselor.) On the other hand, a payment plan that is too aggressive can leave you in a cash crunch where you don’t have the money for basic expenses — and wind up charging again.
Strategy: Find the three-year payment amount on your statement and use that as a benchmark. Then play around with a simple credit card calculator to create a plan that is more realistic for your budget. For some, that may mean paying it off faster, for others it may mean taking a slower approach
2. Your Interest Rate
A higher rate means higher interest costs, and conversely a lower interest rate means more of your payment goes to paying back the debt (principal) rather than interest.
Here’s an example: You have a $10,000 balance with an interest rate of 21.99%. If you pay $285 a month it will take you four years and nine months to pay it off and cost $6,165 in interest. But drop that rate to 12%, make the same monthly payment, and you’ll be out of debt one year and one month earlier and you’ll pay only $2,378 in interest.
That’s a savings of more than $3,700 in interest.
Strategy: Consider consolidating your debt with a personal loan, low-rate credit card (here are some of the best low-interest credit cards) or 0% balance transfer offer. To qualify, you’ll usually need good or excellent credit so find out what range your credit scores fall into before you apply. (You can get a free credit report card from Credit.com, including two credit scores, to see where you stand.)
3. How Much More Can You Do?
Every extra dollar you can throw at your balance saves you time and money. Take our $10,000 balance at 15% example. Add an extra $25 a month to the three-year payment amount of $347 (which will make that $372) and you’ll shave three months off your repayment period and you’ll have saved $213 in interest.
Strategy: Look for ways to free up extra cash — shop around for lower-cost auto or homeowner’s insurance, or by changing cellphone plans, for example. Put that extra money toward your debt and you’ll come out ahead.
More on Managing Debt:
- How to Pay Off Credit Card Debt
- 5 Tips for Consolidating Credit Card Debt
- The Best Way to Loan Money to Friends & Family
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