High interest rates signal that it’s time to address credit card debt
(nerd wallet) – Credit card debt can be difficult to manage even at the best of times, but increasingly high interest rates are adding to this challenge.
The Federal Reserve has announced a 0.75% increase in the Federal Funds Rate – the largest increase in almost 30 years. Increases in this interest rate tend to make borrowing more expensive, which means maintaining a balance on your credit card can become more expensive.
But by creating a plan to pay off your credit cards over the coming months, you can save money on interest. Whether you’re tackling the debt individually or consolidating it under a fixed-income product like a personal loan, there are strategies that can help.
Prioritize credit card debt
Most credit cards have a variable interest rate, which means the interest rate can go up and down based on a few factors, including market conditions. While fixed-rate products like personal loans may not change interest rates as much when the federal funds rate rises, variable-rate products like credit cards likely will.
Higher credit card interest rates mean people will pay more to carry a balance at a time when household budgets are already tight due to rising consumer costs, said Jeff Arevalo, financial wellbeing expert at nonprofit credit advisory agency GreenPath.
It can also mean progress on other important goals, like saving for a home, being sidelined as more people focus on making ends meet. However, Arevalo says there is still plenty of time to forestall a rising rate environment.
“If (the Federal Reserve) hikes interest rates, it may take a month or two for credit cards to have a full impact, so ideally consumers can be proactive,” he said. “When you know these changes are coming, and you’re carrying these higher credit card balances, it’s important not to let fear paralyze you.”
Brittany Davis, an accredited financial advisor who works with people struggling with credit card debt, says taking the first steps to get out of debt can be the biggest challenge for clients.
First you must confront the extent of your debt. Davis recommends writing down your account balance, minimum monthly payment, and interest rate for each credit card to get a complete picture of your debt.
Then, she said, you can use an online tool like a debt settlement calculator to plug in the numbers and compare different strategies. Two popular payout strategies are the avalanche and snowball methods. With the avalanche method, you start with the debt with the highest interest rate and work your way down, typically saving you time and money on interest. With the snowball method, you start with the smallest debt and work your way up, which builds motivation.
Another tip from Davis: For now, stop using your credit cards and look at the websites and apps they already link to. While you might be thinking about not reaching for a credit card when making a big purchase, it’s the smaller, recurring expenses like monthly subscriptions that creep up on you.
“Money moves fast now,” says Davis. “It’s easy to forget where our maps are linked. If you’re really serious about not using a credit card when paying, make sure you switch those accounts to a debit card.”
If your debt feels too overwhelming to avalanche or snowball, there are other strategies that can help lighten the load.
Negotiate with your creditors. It never hurts to call your creditors and ask what they can do for you, Davis said, especially if you’re already in a relationship with them. Your bank or credit union may offer a lower interest rate, waive a fee, or provide a higher credit limit, which can reduce your credit utilization and make it easier for you to access lower-interest financing in the future.
Just watch out for the implications of what you’re asking about. For example, extending a higher credit limit may require a hard credit deduction, which can temporarily remove some points from your credit score.
Consolidate your debt. If you have high-interest debt on multiple credit cards, consolidating is a smart move, especially if you qualify for a lower interest rate than you’re getting on your current debt.
A 0% balance transfer card is one of the best ways to consolidate debt if you have good or excellent credit (690 or higher FICO score). These cards charge 0% interest for a promotional period – sometimes up to 21 months. So if you transfer your debt to the card and pay it back within this period, you pay zero interest. Some cards charge a fee for transferring the balance, typically 3% to 5% of the total amount transferred.
If you can’t qualify for a balance transfer card, a debt consolidation loan is another good option. These loans are available to borrowers across the credit spectrum but charge interest that is fixed over the life of the loan so you make the same payment every month.
Contact a credit counseling center. After all, you don’t have to go it alone. Arevalo recommends looking for a reputable, not-for-profit credit counseling agency that can help you create a budget, negotiate with creditors, or enter into a debt management plan.
A debt management plan typically consolidates credit card debt at a lower interest rate and gives you a three to five year payoff schedule. You may be charged an initial fee and a monthly fee for using this service.