Canadians face unique challenges when climbing their way out of credit card debt, and it’s important to hear from experts who know the struggles we face. There are many paths toward getting crushing, high-interest debt out of your life. Hear what these 14 experts have to say, and if you’ve still got questions, get in touch with a certified debt counsellor today.
Credit-card debt seems to be the number-one concern amongst readers of Canadian Budget Binder simply because it’s easily accessible. When faced with credit card debt, one of the easiest ways out is to pay it off in full, but realistically, that isn’t going to happen for many consumers.
If you are working with more than one credit card, you can turn to a balance transfer option. This allows you to transfer what you have on one credit card to another with a lower interest rate. Before you even attempt to do that, I would contact your credit card company and ask to see if they could lower your interest rate.
Be honest with your credit card company and let them know you are struggling to pay your minimum payment, and really want to continue paying your debt. If they say no, then move on to your next sensible option, which would be the debt snowball effect of paying off credit cards. What this entails is you pay the minimum payment on your highest interest credit cards, and as much as you can on the one with the lowest interest. Once you pay off one credit card you move to the next one with the lower interest and so forth. All of your extra money each month should be devoted to that lower interest credit card.
I always suggest finding, if possible, to earn some extra money whether that be overtime hours, a second job or a hobby such as blogging to bring in cash. Use that money to pay down your credit card debt following the above method.
Lastly, move your credit card debt to a new card that offers a lower rate and better perks. They want your business, so it’s not hard to find a credit card company willing to take a customer on.
According to the Canadian Banker’s Association, the majority of consumers (58%) pay their credit card off in full each month. That’s good news for most. But if you find yourself struggling to pay your card off, or worse, just paying the minimum, you have high interest rate, compound interest working against you!
The high costs of paying the minimum
The Office de la protection du consonnateur has a great calculator online to help you see how much only paying your minimum payment can cost you.
For example, a balance of $1,000 on a credit card with an annual credit rate of 19.9% would see a consumer paying the monthly minimum for 25 years and 10 months to pay off that balance — and pay $3,001.40 in credit payments while doing so.
In trouble? Get help!
Look for a non-profit credit counsellor in your area to assist you in setting up a debt repayment plan. You can also call up your bank or credit card company and see if they offer a lower interest rate option. Or, inquire about a consolidation loan that will provide you with a much lower interest rate and force you to make greater principal payments, thus getting the debt paid much sooner.
I think the best approach to get out of any kind of debt is stepping back and taking a look at the emotional triggers that may have caused the debt to begin with, and making sure you have a plan in place to deal with those triggers to spend and go into debt when they arise. If you try to pay off your debt all at once through belt tightening, then you are just as likely to fall off the wagon and go back to the same level, or even deeper in debt. Try to replace the debt-inducing behaviour with a new one, or come up with a plan of action for whenever you feel triggered to spend.
Once you have that under control, the next step would be to find a way to lower interest rates. If you still have good credit, taking advantage of a 0% balance transfer credit card offer is one way to provide up to a full year of relief from interest. Just be sure not to use that credit card for anything else but debt repayment. You can also look into low cost secured loans or lines of credit to lower your interest rate.
If you have poor credit, then I would suggest calling the credit card company and requesting they lower the interest rate if you agree to a payment plan. You can also consider a consolidation loan if you have a lot of debt.
Finally, turning the process of getting out of debt into a game for yourself is a fun and effective way of getting out of debt. This is similar to turning saving money into a game. Find ways to round up your purchases, save money on everyday expenses, lower your bills and expenses, shop sales, redeem reward points, make your coffee at home, among many other ways to save money. Every time you do save money, put it in a debt repayment jar, envelope, or account and watch how quickly your debt melts away.
My main tip to get out of credit card debt is to stop using the credit card immediately, and work on paying it off as soon as possible. Interest rates on credit card debt are very high, so if you can pay off as much as the balance as possible, do that. Paying the monthly minimum amount will not help you at all, so strive to pay off everything as quickly as possible.
The level of debt carried by the average Canadian relative to their disposable income has become alarming, and consumer debt (credit cards) is a big part of the problem.
Here are some of my top strategies for getting out of credit card debt quickly:
- Understand your debt problem. Why are you in debt? Is it due to your habit of spending more than you earn? Take a seat and figure out how exactly much you owe and their corresponding interest rates.
- Develop a payment plan. The debt snowball and debt avalanche are two popular debt-repayment strategies you can follow. I prefer the debt avalanche method to tackle highest-interest debt first, and then work your way down. This strategy can end up saving you hundreds or thousands of dollars in interest fees.
- Create a budget that includes the maximum monthly payment you can make towards paying down your debt. Minimum payments don’t cut it when you have a plan to become debt free, because compounding interest rates mean your principal debt amount continues to grow.
- Give your budget some breathing room by cutting your expenses and/or increasing your income. You may need to work extra hours or find a side gig to complement your day job.
- Buy yourself some time and consolidate your debt using a low-rate balance transfer card, such as one offering a 0% rate for 6 to 12 months. Read the fine print, and be sure the transfer fees are worth your while. Pay down as much of the principal as you can during this interest-free period.
- Put away your credit cards and pay cash until your credit card balances are cleared.
- After becoming debt-free, remain debt-free by always paying off your credit balance in full during the grace period.
We know it can feel like there is no end in sight when it comes to credit card debt. But there is, you just need to know where you’re starting so you can create a plan to find the end.
If you’re dealing with any amount of credit card debt, without a doubt, the first thing you need to do is create a list of all your credit cards, how much you owe, what the interest rates are, and what your minimum payments are. Choose the snowball or avalanche method, whichever works best for you. It’s just important that you start making larger payments so you can see your balances change. This should provide the motivation you need to implement a few healthy habits into your daily life to help save more.
Sure, you can give up your morning coffee, but why not choose something that you won’t miss? Paper towels, expensive cleaning products, bottled water, daily takeout lunches that are never as good as you hoped, and impulse purchases from the grocery store you know you’re never going to eat: the list goes on. Yes, cutting back on paper towels won’t help you get out of debt, but cutting back on all the small insignificant expenses that don’t improve your daily life will.
Want to get out of credit card debt? The first thing you’ve got to do is stop using your credit cards. The easiest way to do this is to eliminate the temptation by taking them out of your wallet and leaving them at home. Some debtors will go to extreme lengths — such as freezing their cards in ice to prevent “accidental” use — but all you really need to do is break the habit of using plastic to pay for everything. Instead, go on a cash-only diet for a while, and consider separating needs from wants. By remaining conscious about your spending, you’ll think twice before spending money, and this goes a long way toward paying off current debt.
Another step is to make a complete list of all your debts (outstanding balances, interest rates and charges) and prioritize them in order of importance. Mortgage or rent payments and vehicle payments are typically at the top of most lists, as these provide your shelter and transportation to get to and from your job. Then comes necessities such as food, insurance and utilities. As you go down the list, consider whether you really need each item. If it’s an “if” or a “maybe,” consider cutting the cost and then immediately using that money to pay more against your outstanding credit card debt. You’ll be surprised how a cancelled subscription and a missed hair appointment can add an extra $50 or $200 to a credit card payment each month.
Next, develop a strategy to pay down the debt. This should be a combination of discipline and reward.
For instance, you could consider paying off your most expensive debt — the card that charges you the highest interest rate. To do this, pay the minimum on all other debts and throw a large monthly (or one-time) payment towards this expensive credit-card debt. Once the highest rate card is paid off — treat yourself to something financially manageable. Maybe it’s a new game, or pair of jeans or a meal out, but reward yourself. In the following month, take all the money you were spending to pay off that expensive credit card debt and tackle the next high-interest debt. Repeat this cycle until it’s all paid off. Along the way you accomplish three things:
- You pay off your debt
- You don’t put yourself into a feeling of lack — which often prompts the spend-too-much cycle
- You develop an excellent credit score (because retailers and lenders love someone who pays their bills!)
Finally, a good strategy for staying on course with your debt repayment plan is to target a large financial goal. For many, it’s a down payment for their own property. Each time you pay off a debt, consider making a contribution to that “large financial goal.” After a year or two, you’ll either be debt-free, or closer to debt-free, plus you’ll be much closer to that big financial dream goal. The closer you get, the more motivation you get and the easier it will be to stick to the overall strategy.
One of the biggest impediments to setting financial goals is that people tend to think about them in isolation instead of breaking down the steps to get there. Paying off $5,000 of debt or building up $5,000 of savings may seem daunting. But $500 a month for 10 months, or $100 a month for 50 months, somehow seems easier.
Automating things can be helpful. Whether you’re paying down debt or saving for the future, doing so monthly can help you reach your goals. If you allocate your target debt repayment or savings first, then spend the rest, it can be a better mindset than spending first and then trying to hit your financial targets with what is (or often isn’t!) left over.
Pay off the debt with higher interest rates first. Not all credit cards charge the same interest rates, which means your debt is going to grow on some cards faster than others. For example, in Canada the American Express Platinum Card charges 30% interest, while the American Express Cobalt Card charges just 19.99%. If you have debt on both cards, then, you’d want to pay off the debt on the Platinum Card first.
Call your credit card company and ask for a rate reduction. This is something most people think is impossible, but it’s actually much easier than you might think, for one simple reason: it shows that you’re actually willing to pay. Credit card companies spend a lot of time chasing people who can’t pay because of the high interest rates, so they’re often willing to lower your rate if it means you’re going to pay them back. Cutting your interest rate in half is not unheard of. One trick for getting a lower rate: if you ask your credit card company for a lower rate and they say no, tell them you’re going to move your spending to a competing company, and then cite a particular competitors’ card. This almost always works.
Most Canadians do their best to keep up with their monthly credit card payments. Improving your financial well-being should start with reducing debt. Eliminating high-interest debt like credit cards should be your first goal, but it can be daunting at first. Below we have outlined a few tips to help you overcome your credit card debt.
Take an honest look at your situation, balances and payment history. Commit to reducing your debt and set achievable goals. It won’t be easy or quick, but if you’re committed, you can reduce your debt over time.
Change your lifestyle
Stop using your credit cards for discretionary expenses, and only use them for emergencies. Remember, paying with credit is less stressful, so people tend to spend more. Also, because the monthly credit card payment applies to multiple purchases, buyers don’t feel the true “pain of paying” that paying with cash provides. Changing your lifestyle to better align with your means will help you reduce spending and credit card debt.
A well-thought-out budget can free up more money to put towards your debt, and help you stay on track. There are a few great budgeting apps out there, like Mint and PocketGuard. A notebook works, too. Whatever works best for you to record your spending and stay on track.
Try to work with the card companies
When considering credit card debt, interest is the real culprit. Try to negotiate with the credit card company to get a lower interest rate. It doesn’t always work, but you should try, and you need to be willing to work for it. Be prepared to ask for a supervisor, and let them know you’re willing to transfer your card balance to a competitor card.
Try a payment strategy
There are two popular strategies discussed online for paying down credit cards.
One method is to consider it mathematically and cover the minimum on your lowest-interest rate credit cards, while paying as much as possible towards your highest-interest rate credit cards. The aim is to eliminate the balances on the higher interest cards first, in order to reduce interest and total cost over time.
Another approach is to appreciate the human component. Some people are motivated to reduce debt by accomplishment and progress more than by numbers. By paying off small credit card balances first, you get quick wins that encourage and motivate you to keep going. Plus, you can take the saved monthly payment from the paid-off card, and apply it to the next card’s balance. This approach can provide you with a feeling of accomplishment that helps keep you committed.
Combine & conquer
There are many benefits to consolidating multiple high-interest credit cards onto a single lower interest vehicle like a balance transfer card, home equity loan or debt consolidation loan. This allows you to stop making multiple payments and consolidate all your debt into a single lower-interest-rate payment.
If your credit card debt is no longer sustainable and you need more help, consider contacting a professional to review your options. A Licensed Trustee in Bankruptcy can offer credit counselling, bankruptcy and consumer proposal options to help you deal with your debt.