Quick Tips to Reduce Credit Card Debt

By Mitch Strohm

Struggling with high-interest credit card debt? You are not alone. As of November 2014, U.S. households had an average credit card debt of $15,593, according to an analysis of government data by NerdWallet.

In fact, credit card debt is one of the largest sources of household indebtedness, with only mortgage and student loan debt being higher, notes NerdWallet.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take that may make it easier to pay off your debt.

Get Your Free Credit Report

Regardless of how much credit card debt you have, it's important to check your credit report for errors. Correcting errors on your credit report may give your score a boost and help you qualify for a balance transfer card or a competitive debt consolidation loan.

Keep in mind that, by law, you are allowed one free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus each year. That means you could strategically request one free credit report every four months, taking the opportunity to correct any errors. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to request your free report.

Want to know your credit score for free? Some online personal finance companies - including Mint, Credit Sesame, and Credit Karma - offer members a free credit score from one of the major credit bureaus.

Apply for a Balance Transfer Card

If you have excellent credit, you may be able to get a balance transfer credit card and consolidate all of your high-interest debt onto one low-rate card.

Many of these cards come with a zero percent introductory rate for 12 to 18 months. If you qualify for a credit limit that is high enough, you could conceivably transfer all your debt from high-interest credit cards onto a balance transfer credit card, says Beverly Harzog, credit expert and author of Confessions of a Credit Junkie: Everything You Need to Know to Avoid the Mistakes I Made.

Then, you would have 12 to 18 months - or however long your terms may be - to pay down, or completely pay off, that debt without having to pay any more interest.

"That's a great way to go, if you can qualify," says Harzog.

Keep in mind that there is almost always a balance-transfer fee on these cards. Harzog says that fee should be around three percent. Five percent is too high.

In addition, many balance-transfer cards limit the amount of time you have to transfer your balance - some balance-transfer periods are as short as 60 days - which makes it important to transfer your balances quickly.

Also, remember to find out how much the interest rate on these balance transfer cards will increase after the introductory period ends. Make sure that the rate isn't higher than your current credit card rate.

And, of course, always read the terms and conditions.

Go to a Credit Counselor

Sometimes you can work out a repayment plan with your creditors on your own, but that is not always the case.

"If you're drowning in debt, the first thing I would suggest is to go see a credit counselor and get some guidance," says Harzog.

Credit counselors may offer an overview of your options and advise you on how to deal with mounting credit bills.

To find a reputable credit counselor, start by visiting the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) site, which can help you find an NFCC-certified counselor.

"You want to work with an agency that's a member of the NFCC," says Harzog. It's one way to protect yourself from scams, she says.

Many NFCC members offer a free hour of phone consultation. And sometimes you won't have to go any further than the phone call - the counselor may provide all of the information and advice you need to help you figure out how to manage your debt on your own, notes Harzog.

Consider a Debt Management Plan

While debt management plans are not for everyone, they can be very useful to some.

"Sometimes there's just no other way out," says Harzog. "People shouldn't feel bad about this."

If your NFCC-certified credit counselor thinks you may benefit from a debt management plan, and you agree to try it, he or she will contact your creditors and work with them to try to bring down your interest rates, decrease your monthly payments, or sometimes even reduce the amount owed, notes Harzog.

The Federal Trade Commission warns against signing up for a plan until your credit counselor has spent time thoroughly reviewing your financial situation and has offered advice on money management.

Run the Numbers

Whether you choose to consolidate to a balance-transfer card, seek credit counseling, or sign on for a debt management plan, it's important to make sure you will end up with your feet on the ground.

That means getting out the calculator and comparing all of the options. Do the math to see whether, in the long run, you will be paying a reasonable amount of money over a reasonable amount of time.

"You need to run the numbers and make sure you're going to be better off with this new deal," says Harzog.



Interview with Beverly Harzog author of Confesions of a Credit Junkie: Everything you Need to Know to Avoid the Mistakes I Made

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