Personal Finance Insider writes about products, strategies, and tips to help you make smart decisions with your money. We may receive a small commission from our partners, but our reporting and recommendations are always independent and objective.
- Over 16 years, writer Laura Dunn racked up $US23,000 of credit card debt.
- For years, she didn’t realise that paying only the monthly minimum payment wasn’t enough, and her balance continued to grow.
- In January, she and her fiance made a plan to pay off her credit card debt faster by paying more than the monthly minimum payments. Now that she’s in the habit of paying more than the minimum, her debt is disappearing fast.
- Credible can help you compare offers to consolidate and refinance your debt »
I got my first credit card in 2003 as a college freshman when I opened up a Chase Bank account, and 16 years later, I’d racked up $US23,000 in credit card debt over 10 credit cards.
For a long time, I hid the severity of my rapidly growing debt from myself, refusing to change my lifestyle because I wanted to keep up with everyone else.
But about five years ago, I woke up and started working towards financial independence and decided to pay off my credit cards. As of today, I’ve paid off over $US8,229 of my $US23,000 credit card debt, bringing the remaining amount to $US14,771.
However, I’ve made the most progress in the past few months, thanks to change in my payment strategy that’s made all the difference: I started paying more than the minimum.
I’m getting married next March, so this January I decided to step things up and make some serious changes in my strategy, in part because my fiancé has a great credit score, and I don’t. This is embarrassing to admit, but until we formulated a plan to pay more than the minimum on each and every card, I never once paid more than the bare minimum. In fact, sometimes I ignored or forgot to make a payment at all.
I didn’t realise what an impact that would make. In the months since I’ve started paying more than the minimum, I’ve reduced my debt by more than I had in the past few years combined.
“Most credit card companies set minimums so low that the minimum monthly payments barely cover the interest accrued for the month,” Corbin Blackwell, a financial planner with Betterment, told me when I asked about minimum payments. She continued: “By paying the minimum, borrowers end up paying much more interest over time and stay in debt longer. Making the minimum payments on time helps you avoid late fees but does very little to help you actually chip away at your credit card debt.”
Due to a less-than-stellar credit score, I have high APRs: My five cards range from 21.74% to 29.99%, higher than the average credit card interest rate of 17.8%. Because they’re so high, it’s especially important that I pay off as much as I can.
Paying just the minimums meant I paid $US364 a month. Now, after a close look at my budget, I’ve nearly tripled that amount to $US915 a month.
Thanks to this strategy, I have now paid off nearly $US5,000 in credit card debt in the past few months alone, eliminating the debt completely from five of my 10 cards. By the time my wedding day arrives, I will have put another $US8,235 towards my credit card debt. That means that when we get married on March 8, 2020, I will be almost completely free of credit card debt.
For the first time in my life, my New Year’s resolution stuck, and I’ve never felt so free, empowered, content, or inspired. In the most welcome reverse of my life, I now struggle to only put $US915 of my monthly income towards my credit card debt. I wish I could pay more because I love seeing my credit card debt go down so fast and my credit score get higher.
In order to start the process of saying goodbye to my credit card debt, I first had to get out of denial. Only then could I start paying substantially more than the monthly minimum. If I hadn’t changed my habits, I would still be living in the vicious loop I was in for 16 years.
Need help with your debt? Credible can help you find the right rate to refinance any kind of debt »
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.