When you spend years treading water in a deep pool of credit card debt, escape can seem like a faraway dream. Sure, you could always solve the problem by selling off all your belongings, taking a vow of poverty and moving to a monastery high on the Tibetan plateau, but your spouse and your boss aren’t going to like that very much. With the ascetic lifestyle off the table, what other options do you have? More than one, actually, and none of them require a drastic lifestyle overhaul. Follow these 5 tips and watch your debt shrink – no monastic oath required.
1. Make use of tech tools. When you miss a payment deadline, you don’t just sucker punch your credit score – you also pile added fees onto your already existing debt. With so many free online tools and smartphone apps out there, there’s no reason this should ever happen. Set up automatic debits from your checking account, track payments online or even set reminders in your Google calendar. Do what you need to do to pay on time, every time.
2. Flee the retail beast. Saving an extra 15% on that washer and dryer might seem like a good idea at the time, but when you sign up for credit cards at retail stores, you’re hurting yourself. These cards carry extremely high interest rates and late fees, so they’re a real drain on your finances. The best thing to do is to pay them off, cut them up and don’t look back. Here’s a great debt-killing strategy that you can use with all of your cards. Each month, make the minimum payment on your low-interest cards, but pay a little extra on the cards with the highest interest rates. Before you know it, you’ll be free of that slavering retail beast. And you’re never going to mess with him again, are you?
3. Ask and you shall receive. Want to know the easiest way to lower your interest rates? Ask! “This is one of those tips that’s so easy, people hardly ever even think of it,” says Bill Hazelton, founder of CreditCardAssist.com. “To lower your monthly credit card payments and your overall debt, try calling your creditor or bank and asking if there’s any way to get your interest rates lowered. If you’re a good talker and can make a decent case, you might just get get what you want.”
4. Stop getting seduced by rewards. Cash back, gift cards, even air miles credit cards – these common rewards can seduce even the savviest spender. Don’t fall into this common debt-building trap. As a rule, you don’t need more than a couple of credit cards in your wallet, so don’t keep signing up for new ones. And if you do need to charge a purchase, use the credit card with the lowest interest rate, not the one with the best perks. Because let’s be honest – when you’re taking out a second mortgage on your home, you probably won’t be in the mood for a Disney World vacation anyway.
5. Put your cards on ice. We’ve all seen at least one Lifetime movie scene in which a disinherited lady of leisure is forced to tearfully chop up her credit cards. It’s a bold statement to make, and doubtlessly one that will cut spending. But is it really the best course of action? What about family emergencies, or surprise bills? Maybe it’s time for a tamer but equally effective intervention. Try putting your cards on ice. Seriously. Freeze your cards in a block of ice and you’ll need to physically thaw them out in order to make a purchase. While the ice melts, you’ll have time to do some deep soul searching. Drip, drip, drip. Is that the sound of water droplets falling on stainless steel or is it a sonic metaphor for your financial life? Maybe buying that discount bouncy castle from Groupon really isn’t worth the trip after all.
The key to reducing debt is simple: spend less and pay back more. Truly hardcore debt fighters might be tempted to sell off their possessions and live on bread and water until they’re finally free, but most of us are slightly more realistic. Sure, being a monk can be cool – but hey, what are you thinking, man? Instead of abandoning the West and living a simple life on a snow-capped mountain, try these simple tips instead. There are no flat-screen HD TVs in the Himalayas. Remember that.
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Ben DeMeter blogs about credit cards and personal finance over at CreditCardAssist.com. He’s been featured on Business Insider, as well as a wide variety of personal finance sites.