how to reduce credit card debt

Denouncing the Devil on Earth: How to Reduce Credit Card Debt

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One of my best friends is fond of saying that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” (Turns out she got this from Albert Einstein but, hey, they are both pretty smart so who am I to argue?) And I’ll admit. I was insane. Bat-shit-crazy-whacked-out-of-my-brain insane when it came to managing my credit cards. And apparently, I am not alone. Learning how to reduce credit card debt is a challenge for many.

The Statistics

It is estimated that 39% of Americans have unpaid credit card balances. The total credit card debt owed by US consumers is $747 billion.

Wait. What?!?! $747 billion? That’s INSANE! With that much money, we could give every person on the planet $100 each, AND have a hefty chunk of change leftover to flip the bill for…oh, I don’t know… the annual cost to the American economy of unvaccinated individuals. (I know, I know. That is another discussion entirely.)

“Currently, the average credit-card interest rate is 18.76 percent and the average household pays a total of $1,292 in credit-card interest each year.” Bankrate.com states that “if you sent just the required minimum payment, it would take nearly a decade to pay off the average U.S. household credit card debt.”

A decade??? Think about that. That’s 10 years of your life struggling with that burden?

The Belief

Truth is, I have bailed myself out of credit card debt at least 3 times. Great, right? Wrong. Because three times is two times too many. Insanity, remember? The eventual exhaustion and defeat from that recurring insanity led me to my very first financial revelation. Credit cards are the devil on Earth.

Now, I am not a religious person. I don’t associate with any organized church or denomination but I do believe in a “higher power” or at least something larger and smarter than this current reality. And because I am a geek girl and love Newton’s laws, I know that “all forces in the universe occur in equal but oppositely directed pairs.” So, for me, if there is a “good” God then there is a “bad” Devil.

In the Bible, Corinthians warns us that “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” Apostle Matthew told a tale that “the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.”

Hmmm. Kingdoms of the world. Doesn’t that just sound eerily similar to the tag lines of American Express (Do More), Chase (What Matters Most), Citi (Live Richly), Discover (Brighter), or VISA (Life Takes Visa)? So, if there is a Devil and his gig is to tempt, misdirect, and steal your soul, then I can find no more fitting definition of “Devil” on Earth than the modern-day credit card.

 

The Solution

Many years ago, I denounced the Credit Devil. I quit the insanity and gave up credit cards entirely. It may have been one of the best financial moves I’ve personally made for myself and I’m super proud I found the strength to resist temptation and live a cash-based life.

Now, in all fairness, I wrestled with the Credit Devil for years and engaged in many battles to defeat him. Below is a brief overview of some strategies that worked and some that didn’t. However, for me and maybe for you, removing credit cards completely from your life might be the start of your financial salvation.

Perhaps, Apostle Luke said it best. “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Right on, Luke. Right on.

How to Reduce Credit Card Debt

Direct Negotiation

The letters and bills won’t stop and the last thing you want to do is talk to those devils. However, calling your creditors and discussing your situation is a necessary and worthwhile first step. If you can, be nice, be honest, and be cooperative. If you get a meanie, politely end the call and call back until you find someone nice. Try to arrange a lower interest rate or a repayment plan that works for your budget.

Remember, the Credit Devil wants money. Even some money is better than no money.

Borrowing from Friends and/or Family

Ugh. Yes. Everyone you confide in seems to jump to this one first, right? I understand that it’s humiliating to admit that you are drowning in debt. Asking for help sucks, too.

But if is true that good conquers evil, then your friends and family might be able to bail you out. I’ve borrowed money from my friends on far too many occasions and, beyond the embarrassment, there is so much gratitude and love for having them help me when I desperately needed it.

One word of caution: remember that the boy who cried wolf too often got eaten. If you aren’t sincere in changing your spending habits or reliance on the credit devil, I can not recommend dragging your loved ones into your financial mess.

Balance “Surfing”

You’ve probably done it. Hell, I rode the credit surfing wave for years in college to survive! Whether it’s moving balances to lower interest or higher reward cards, it’s still dealing with the devil, in my opinion. Hell, I even played the game of paying one card with another card for a while, which was colossally insane.

Yes, I’ll acknowledge the savings of lowered interest rates looks smart. But credit surfing is really just a stalling technique. The real win would be to surf it all of your balances to one lower interest card pay as much as you can, as fast as you can.

Debt Consolidation

I have personally used these services in the past with strong success. These companies negotiate low or zero interest rates and distribute the requisite payments on your behalf. You pay them one monthly payment (automated deducted from your checking account) and a small monthly fee and they distribute the agreed to monthly payments to each of your cards.

It can good deal but make sure you can afford that monthly amount. Most plans have some flexibility for late or skipped payments but you need to stick with the plan or you will get dropped. And then you are back to where you started and probably pretty pissed off to boot.

Oh, and make sure to wean yourself off your credit card dependency first. Once you enter the program, all your cards are cut and accounts closed. Are you sure you won’t just apply for new cards?

Here are a couple of companies I’ve used but there are many out there. Please do your own vetting and/or research to ensure it’s the best solution for your situation.

Charge Off

Yup, I’ve done this, too. In fact, after my divorce, I had little option to let some cards go to write off. This is a tempting quick fix and to some degree it is. However, those unpaid balances and written off accounts impact your credit score for a very long time. Plus, for me, it’s icky to know I took the chicken-shit way out.

But backed into a corner, it’s worth discussing with your bank. Oh, and helpful hint, you may be offered a realistic repayment package if you throw around words like “default” or “bankruptcy” with your bank.

Bankruptcy

Yup. I’ve been there, too. During a particular difficult time in my marriage, we consulted with a bankruptcy attorney. In the end, my husband’s pride overruled what I felt was a logical solution to our financial problems. Beyond that, I have little to say except that it is an option and it has both pros and cons. Bankruptcy ain’t pretty…but either is struggling for 10 years to pay off a credit card.

What did I miss? When did you learn how to reduce credit card debt? Anyone else out there living on a cash-only basis? 

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