The holidays are over, but for many Americans, paying off their credit card debt is just beginning.
According to a survey of more than 2,000 American adults by the personal finance website NerdWallet, consumers were planning to spend $776, on average, over the holiday season, up from $660 one year ago. They also planned to charge a higher percentage of their spending to their credit cards.
That's bad news, especially because credit card interest rates have been rising over the past year, says Matthew Frankel, a certified financial planner with The Ascent, a personal finance website run by The Motley Fool.
"It's more expensive to carry holiday debt this year, so there's more urgency to pay it off," he says.
For consumers who liberally used plastic and are trying to pay down their balances, here are a few tips to do so faster:
Look for a lower interest rate. Many credit card issuers offer 0 interest balance transfer cards. But make sure to crunch the numbers before you take such an offer so that you know how much you'll be saving, says Bill Hardekopf, CEO of LowCards.com, a site that tracks credit cards.
To start, check your credit card's current rate and estimate how much you would spend on interest if you kept paying off your bill instead of moving it to a 0 interest balance-transfer card, says Hardekopf. You should do this for a period of 12 to 21 months, depending on how long the 0 interest rate applies.
Then take into account any fees that may be charged by your balance-transfer card. Many charge an up-front fee of 3 to 5 percent of the balance, which reduces any savings. (Your best bet would be to get a fee-free balance transfer card.)
Be sure you know the rate you’ll pay after the 0 percent offer ends, says Hardekopf. At that point, you could be charged a high rate, from 14 percent to almost 30 percent on an outstanding balance depending on the card. So it's important to pay off the entire balance before the interest rates kick in.
It's also a good idea to call your current credit card company to see whether it will lower your rate to keep you as a customer. If you go with a balance-transfer card, make sure to pay the minimum due on time every month. Being late often terminates the 0 percent deal and can eliminate any savings on interest you may have expected, Hardekopf says.
Be strategic about paying off multiple debts. Many Americans have more than one credit card, which can lead to questions about how to divvy up payments.
According to a study by David Gal, a professor of marketing at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Blake McShane, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University, some people pay off their smallest debts first because they can more quickly zero-out a balance. That gives them a sense of accomplishment, which motivates them to repeat the task on other credit card balances.
Gal says that if you have the ability to pay off your debts, though, a better option is to pay off your highest-rate ones first, because that will save the most money.
Pare your budget so you can pay off debts. A good first step to do this is to make a detailed monthly budget. Then you can see how you spend your money and identify places to trim, says Gal.
For example, Gal says that to make a dent in your debt, reduce your bigger expenses. While eating out less can save you money, he says you should also focus on shopping for cheaper car insurance and unplugging appliances (especially older ones) to save on your utility bill.
Pay your credit card bill more frequently. Many people don’t realize that credit card companies will accept more than one payment a month, Hardekopf says. If you're paying interest on an outstanding average daily balance, you’ll pay less over time if you send in money when you have it rather than waiting until you receive the next monthly bill.
“If you skip a $25 dinner out to stay at home and eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, immediately go online and pay off the $25 on your credit card,” Hardekopf says. “That might not be a big savings in the first month, but overall you’re going to pay down your debt faster.”
Earn some extra cash. In her book, “The Gig Economy,” Diane Mulcahy, an adjunct professor at Babson College in Boston Mass., explains how people can make the most of part-time work arrangements to meet their financial goals, including paying off their credit card bills.
You could always earn extra money through Airbnb, Lyft, and Uber, of course, but sites such as LinkedIn ProFinder, Upwork, FlexJobs, and Guru, and industry-specific sites like Catalant and Toptal can help you find freelance work.
Landing gigs online can be competitive, so be sure to tap your own professional networks and look locally for opportunities, says Mulcahy.
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