3 Credit Card Debt Relief Options You Probably Don’t Know About
When minimum payments don’t work, these credit card relief solutions offer better ways to repay.
Finding debt relief means that you identify a solution that minimizes the burden of debt repayment. The goal is to reduce or eliminate interest charges and fees so you can pay off your debt faster. In many cases, you can pay less each month and still get out of debt faster than with traditional payments. Essentially, you find a better way to pay back what you owe.
There are three basic ways to find relief from high interest rate credit card debt:
- Do a credit card balance transfer so you can pay off the debt interest-free
- Consolidate the debt with a low-interest personal loan
- Enroll in a debt management program through a credit counselling agency
The first two can be done on your own in the right circumstances. They both require a high credit score and have certain limitations. With the last solution, you enlist the help of a team to eliminate your debt. This option is more open; you can have a low credit score and still qualify, as well as repay larger volumes of debt.
As a credit counselling agency, Consolidated Credit can help you enroll in a debt management program. But before that, our credit counsellors can help you review all your options for relief. Feel free to research more below or you can request a free debt analysis.
3 options for debt relief
Option 1: Do a credit card balance transfer so you can pay off the debt interest-free
Credit Limitation: This option only works if you have good credit; excellent credit is better. Balance transfer credit cards offer 0% APR on balance transfers when you open the account. An excellent credit score means you qualify for the longest 0% APR introductory period possible. Some cards have promotions that run up to 18 or 24 months. That gives you up to two years to pay off your debt interest-free.
Be Aware of Fees: Balance transfers always involve transfer fees, even when you have 0% APR. You pay a fee for every balance you transfer – anywhere from $3 to 3 percent.
How It Works:
- You open a balance transfer credit, qualifying for rates and terms based on your credit score
- You transfer the balances from your existing accounts to the new account with fees added.
- You have a set number of months to pay off your debt with no interest charges.
Make sure to calculate carefully to ensure you eliminate the balance before the clock runs out. Otherwise, the interest rate on your debt could be even higher than it was originally.
Option 2: Consolidate the debt with a low-interest personal loan
Credit limitation: Like a balance transfer, a personal debt consolidation loan is usually only a viable solution for consumers who have a good credit score. The higher you score, the lower the interest rate you can qualify for on the loan. APR of 5% is ideal, but anything below 10% may be enough to provide the relief you need. If you can’t qualify for a rate below 10%, look for other options.
How It Works:
- Check rates with your bank or credit union, as well as other financial institutions and online lenders. Your goal is to find the best rates and terms.
- Apply for the loan that fits your needs. The lender bases your approval on your creditworthiness.
- Once approved, you use the money you receive from the loan to pay off your debts; in some cases, the lender will send the money directly to your creditors.
Essentially, you use the money from the loan to pay off your credit card balances and other debts. You can pay off things like medical bills, too.
When using this option, you want a loan with a term of five years or less. Any more than that means your total repayment costs will be too high. Just keep in mind that a shorter term means higher monthly payments. Calculate carefully to make sure you can afford the payments.
Option 3: Enroll in a debt management program through a credit counselling agency
The benefit of professional help: A debt management program is the solution you use if you can’t make progress on your own. If you don’t have good credit or you’ve missed some payments, your creditors may be resistant to working with you. However, if you enlist the help of a credit counselling agency, go get a team of negotiators on your side. That makes it easier to craft a repayment plan that your creditors will actually accept.
How It Works:
- First you talk to a certified credit counsellor to review all your options. The counsellor makes sure a debt management program is the right solution; otherwise, they can direct you on where to go.
- If debt management is the right choice, they can help you enroll. Together, you find a monthly payment that works for your budget.
- Then the counsellor calls each of your creditors to get them to sign off on the adjusted repayment schedule.
- They also negotiate to reduce or eliminate interest charges, as well as to stop future penalties.
Debt relief options you want to avoid
The three options outlined above are not the only options out there. There are other ways to find debt relief – we just don’t recommend them. At Consolidated Credit, we promote a “do no harm” strategy when it comes to debt relief. In other words, your debt solution should not put you in a worse position that when you started.
Each of the solutions above – when used correctly – can eliminate your debt without causing credit damage or setting you back. Other solutions can decrease your credit score or negatively impact your long-term financial plan.
- You can use a home equity loan to pay off debt. However, this puts you at an increased risk of foreclosure. If you miss payments, you could lose your home.
- You can tap into your 401(k) or IRA, but you may face early withdrawal penalties. You can also drain funds that you need later in life to retire on time.
How to tell that it’s time to seek debt relief
Here’s a simple truth: Minimum payment schedules were never designed to help you get out of debt. Interest charges are a credit issuer’s revenue, which means they’re quite happy to allow you to stay in debt as long as you like.
Thus, minimum payments only pay back a small percentage of what you owe – usually around 2%. It’s more affordable month to month, but the trade off is that you stay in debt for a long time. Frequently, if you only make minimum payments you could be paying those purchases off for decades.
And that’s only half the problem. If you run up high balances then even larger payments may not make a dent quickly at such high rates. Depending on your available cash flow and interest rates, it may be impossible to pay off your credit cards efficiently.
Try a simple test:
- Use the debt calculator below to see how long it would take to pay off just one of your big balances.
- Enter the balance and your current interest rate; if you don’t know your payment schedule, check your statement or choose 2%.
- Now weigh two other options: Pay the minimum plus a little extra or make a larger fixed payment.
That’s just one debt. Now think, how long will it take to pay all your debts off? If you don’t like the answer, it’s time to find debt relief.
On the other hand, if you still want to try paying off the debt with regular payments, follow the steps below. They will increase your chances for success.
Step 1: Negotiate lower rates with your creditors
A lower rate means more of each payment you make can go towards the debt instead of accrued interest. You can accelerate repayment, especially if you make larger payments.
Your chances of a successful negotiation increase if:
- You’re not behind on your payments
- Your credit score increased since you opened the account
- You’ve been a loyal customer for a number of years
Step 2: Implement a debt reduction plan
You basically strategically arrange your bills and make the largest payments possible on one debt at a time. You find as much cash flow as possible in your budget, then target each debt successively.
We offer resources that describe how to implement an effective debt reduction plan.