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On average, Americans carried $6,200 in credit card debt in 2019, according to Experian data. But a little more than 1% of credit card users had balances of at least $50,000.
Getting rid of $50,000 or more in credit card debt can feel like an insurmountable task. But with the right strategy, some good financial tools and time, it's possible to achieve your goal of becoming debt-free.
Make a Plan to Tackle $50K in Credit Card Debt
Because every financial situation is different, there's no one right way to pay off credit card debt, especially when you have a lot of it. Here are some things to consider before creating a plan to tackle your credit card balances.
Reevaluate or Create Your Budget
Paying off $50,000 in credit card debt will require dedication, consistency and extra payments. To make the last one possible, it's important to understand how much money you're working with every month and where it's going.
If you already have a budget in place, reevaluate it to see how you're spending your money and where you can cut back to prioritize paying off your debt. Cutting out streaming or other subscriptions you rarely use, eating out less often, or making your current wardrobe last another season without adding to it are just a few ways you can trim your monthly budget, leaving more for debt payments.
On the other hand, if you aren't currently following a budget, create a new one to help manage the money you have and see if you can redirect cash from other expense categories to put toward paying off your credit cards. This begins with tracking your monthly spending to understand where your money is going. Creating a budget and sticking to it is one of the best ways to break bad money habits and begin the task of getting back on track financially.
Look for Ways to Decrease Recurring Expenses and Increase Income
Downsizing your lifestyle isn't ideal, but it could be key to paying off your debt and keeping you debt-free in the future.
Look at your housing situation, car payment and other recurring expenses to see if it's possible to reduce those monthly costs. If you're a renter, you could take on a roommate or look for a less expensive place to live. If your car payment is eating too much of your monthly budget, consider whether refinancing may be a good option.
In addition to reducing expenses, look for opportunities to increase your income. Whether that's asking for a raise at work, committing to overtime hours, taking an extra job or looking for side hustles, increasing your income even by a few hundred dollars a month could make a huge difference in the long run.
Set Concrete Goals
Paying off credit cards can be tricky because they don't have a set repayment term like loans do. You can pay whatever you want as long as you meet the minimum amount every month.
Instead of allowing the minimum payment to guide your repayment strategy, set a goal of your own for when you want to pay off the last dollar. Before you set your goal, though, make sure it's reasonable. Use a credit card payoff calculator to get an idea of how long it would take based on your specific situation and ability to pay.
Choose a Debt Payoff Method
You should always pay at least the minimum monthly payment on each of your credit cards to avoid late payments, which could damage your credit. To work toward paying off a large balance, though, consider using the debt avalanche or debt snowball approach.
With the debt avalanche method, you'll make the minimum monthly payments on all your credit card accounts and apply any additional payments you can afford to the account with the highest interest rate. Once that balance is paid off, you'll take all the money you were paying toward it every month and apply it to the card with the next highest interest rate.
You'll continue this strategy until all of your credit cards are paid in full.
The debt snowball method follows the same process as the debt avalanche approach in every way except for one: Instead of targeting your account with the highest interest rates first, you'll focus on the account with the lowest balance.
Neither approach is inherently better than the other, so you'll need to decide which is best for your situation. In general, the debt avalanche method will save you more on interest because you're paying off higher-interest accounts first. On the flip side, the debt snowball method will give you wins early on because you're eliminating smaller balances.
Consider both options and your situation to decide the best path for you.
Consider Other Options for Paying Off Debt
In addition to the debt snowball and avalanche methods, consider other ways you can eliminate your credit card debt more efficiently and save money along the way.
Ask for a Lower Interest Rate
You may be able to negotiate a lower interest rate on your credit card accounts with your credit card issuers. It's not a guarantee, and you may only get a lower rate temporarily, but it could ensure that more of your monthly payments go toward your principal balance instead of interest charges, at least for a period of time.
Look Into a Debt Consolidation Loan
Debt consolidation loans are personal loans you can use to pay off credit card debt. On average, personal loans carry lower interest rates than credit cards, so you may be able to save some money this way.
What's more, personal loans have set repayment terms, which means you know exactly when you'll be finished paying off your debts—and you'll have a single set monthly payment to help you manage your monthly finances.
That said, you may not be able to get an affordable debt consolidation loan if your credit score is in bad shape. Also, the monthly payment on the loan will likely be larger than the minimum payments on your credit cards. So make sure you run the numbers to ensure it's a good fit for your situation.
Consider a Balance Transfer Credit Card
Another way to consolidate your debt and save money is through a balance transfer credit card. These cards are specifically designed to pay off other credit card balances and typically provide an introductory 0% APR promotion on those balances.
While you likely won't be able to put $50,000 on a balance transfer card, you could use it for some of your debt, paying off the transferred balance before the intro APR period ends. Depending on the card, you could get a year or more with no interest, making it easier to pay down your credit card debt and save hundreds or even thousands of dollars in interest in the process.
Note, however, that many balance transfer cards charge an upfront fee, typically 3% or 5% of the transfer amount. In many cases, the interest savings can far outweigh the initial cost. And you will need good to excellent credit to qualify.
Look Into Debt Relief Options
If you're having a hard time making progress with your credit card debt, consolidation options and payoff methods may not be enough. In that case, it may be worth looking into credit counseling, debt settlement or even bankruptcy.
Credit counseling can provide you with some relief through a debt management plan. For a modest upfront and monthly fee, you'll make payments to the credit counseling agency, which will then pay your creditors on your behalf.
In many cases, credit counselors can also negotiate lower interest rates and even monthly payments with your creditors. Consider credit counseling if you've exhausted all your other options but want to avoid the damage to your credit score that debt settlement and bankruptcy would cause.
Debt settlement is the process of negotiating to pay less than what you owe on your accounts. It's typically best done through a debt settlement company, which will charge you a fee for the service. It's important to keep in mind, though, that the process can cause significant damage to your credit score.
This is because you'll need to make payments to the debt settlement company until you've reached an amount the company can use to negotiate on your behalf. With tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt, it can take some time to reach this goal.
In the meantime, you're generally instructed to stop making payments on your accounts, which will seriously hurt your credit. As a result, it's generally not a good idea if you've been keeping up with your payments until now. If you're already significantly behind on your bills, however, the damage may have already been done, and debt settlement may be a viable option.
Bankruptcy is typically a last resort with any form of debt. But if your financial situation makes it impossible to pursue any other path to eliminating your debt, bankruptcy may be the only option left.
If you're considering bankruptcy, note that it could damage your credit significantly for several years to come. Consult with a credit counselor or bankruptcy attorney to determine if it's the best fit for you.
Learn How to Use Your Credit Responsibly in the Future
Paying off $50,000 in credit card debt is no easy task, and no matter how you accomplish it, opportunities are available to improve your overall financial situation going forward.
Once you've accomplished your goal of paying off your credit card debt, it's important to be proactive about credit card habits to make sure you don't end up in the same situation again. This is especially important if you've had to resort to debt settlement or bankruptcy and want to rebuild your credit history.
For starters, make it a goal to check your credit score and credit report regularly. Your credit score is an indicator of your overall credit health and can give you clues about where you stand. And your credit report will provide the information you need to determine which areas to address, if needed.
If you still have your credit cards or can qualify for a new one, use them sparingly and pay your bill on time and in full every month. This can help establish a positive payment history and show a good credit utilization rate, both of which can help improve your credit score.