How to Cut Your Credit Card Debt by 50%
Cutting credit debt in half is easier than you might think – but you’ll need the tools and temperament to get the job done.
Aiming for a 50% reduction in plastic-related debt is simply smart financial business. With total U.S. credit card debt standing at $934.8 billion and the average individual credit card debt  at $7,938, cutting that debt in half would trigger a healthy $3,969 in savings. That’s enough to pay other bills, invest in the stock market, and put something away for a rainy day.
Setting the Stage
To realistically get the job done you’ll need two tools to start cutting away at credit card debt, you’ll need a decent credit score and a healthy dose of discipline to stick with the program.
“It is absolutely possible to cut credit card debt in half in only a few months, even if you have a relatively large amount of debt,” said Brennan Sanders, a financial planner based in Louisiana. “There are many methods available to help with reducing credit card debt in a short amount of time, including debt-stacking, debt consolidation, and money management.”
Sanders said that he once accumulated massive credit card debt, and successfully paid that debt off.
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“In my case, I had several credit cards with high interest rates that were all close to being maxed out,” he said. “However, my credit wasn’t in bad shape, as it was about a 650-670 score. My best course of action was a debt consolidation loan.”
Sanders said he had $15,000 of debt between three cards, with roughly a $5,000 balance per card. The average credit cards carry an interest rate of about 22%.
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“The minimum payment on $5,000 balance with 22% interest is approximately $142 per month,” he explained. “If I paid the minimum balance on the card every month, it would take me 281 months (or 23 years) to pay down that debt. By the end of the payments, I’d have paid over $8,700 in interest alone – and only on $5,000.”
As Sanders noted, that’s only the debt on one card. “Between the three cards, my monthly minimum payment is $426, and will cost me over $26,000 in interest over 23 years,” he said.
To get back to square, Sanders started researching debt consolidation loans. “I found one that had high approval odds, and the estimated rate I would receive was about 9% for 60 months. That sounded much better than paying a 22% card rate at 23 years.
Using the debt consolidation loan, Sanders paid off the entire card debt, and saved big money in the process.
“I paid the $15,000 debt with a debt consolidation loan with a rate of 9% for 60 months, which equates to only about $312 per month, for only five years,” he said. “The reason you’re able to reduce the time and the monthly payment is because you’re converting revolving interest (credit card) to a simple interest loan (debt consolidation). That frees up more of your money per month, allows you to pay your total debt down significantly faster, and frees up your available credit, thus strengthening and raising your credit score. It’s big win-win scenario.”
Action Tips to Cut Credit Card Debt Half
There are multiple ways to attack substantial credit card debt. While some work better than others, all give you a great shot at cutting your credit debt by 50%.
Here are some of the best ideas, offered by personal finance experts.
Transfer your balance to avoid interest fees. Interest fees will make it harder to pay down your debt fast, but transferring your current credit card balance to a new card can help.
“In fact, many cards offer 0% interest on balance transfers for a promotional period that ranges from 12 to 21 months, most often hitting right at that 18 month mark,” said Andrea Woroch, money-saving expert at AndreaWoroch.com. “As long as you can pay off the balance in full by the time that promotional period is up, then this strategy can save you a lot of money and make your current debt payments go further since the entire payment goes toward the actual principal balance instead of any being wasted toward interest.”
Use cash back to boost debt payments. Opening a new credit card can earn you free cash.
“For example, the Chase Freedom card offers $200 when you spend $500 in the first three months,” said Woroch. “If you’re spending this money any way on say monthly utilities and groceries, then why not snag that free cash bonus and use it to pay down your credit card debt. Just make sure you’re paying off your regular purchases on the card in full at the end of the month, or even better, after each purchase posts to your account.”
Woroch said you can “double dip” on cash back by using an app like Dosh. “Just link your card to Dosh and you will earn extra cash back every time you pay with that card at a partner retailer like Walmart or Instacart,” she added. “The money gets deposited into your Dosh wallet and you can cash out via PayPal. Then use those funds as extra credit card payments to fast track your debt repayment.”
You can also earn cash back when shopping online using the Cently browser extension, which automatically adds coupons and cash back at check out without having to do anything. “The money in your Cently account can also be cashed out via PayPal to help pay down debt faster,” Woroch said.
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Get a side hustle. The best ways to pay down $50,000 in debt is to either increase your income or decrease your spending – or, ideally, both,” said Anna Barker, personal finance expert and founder of the personal finance website LogicalDollar.com.
“This means that things like starting a side hustle or, if you can, taking a second job can both be really effective at helping you to generate more income that can all be thrown at your debt,” Barker said.
Track your spending. Cutting your expenses is also key in curbing credit card debt, as many cardholders may not realize just where all our money is going every month. “A great first step is to start to track all of your expenses throughout the month,” Barker said. “That way, once you get to the end of the month, you’ll be able to see exactly how your money is being spent and start to make adjustments accordingly.”
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Use the debt snowball strategy. By and large, the debt snowball method has a higher rate of success over the debt avalanche method when paying down credit card debt.
“With the debt snowball method, you list all of your debt amounts from the smallest to largest,” said Steffa Mantilla and I’m a Certified Financial Education Instructor (CFEI) and founder of the personal finance website MoneyTamer.com. “You then make minimum payments on everything except the smallest debt. All extra money goes towards the smallest debt until it’s paid off and then the focus moves on to the next smallest.”
With the debt avalanche method, you pay off debts with the highest interest rates first regardless of their amounts. “This method will technically save you more money on interest payments but it doesn’t have as many success stories as the debt snowball,” Mantilla noted. “The reason for this is due to behavior. With the debt snowball, you’re able to knock out the smaller debts entirely in a short amount of time. This is a reinforcement for the action of paying off debt and keeps you motivated. With the debt avalanche, your wins are going to take longer, so you’re more likely to get discouraged along the way.”
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Get a personal loan. A personal loan can be a great tool to reduce interest rates meaning the loan can be paid off more quickly. “Just know that this route is advisable for those with great credit scores who can secure a very favorable interest rate,” said John Davis, a debt management expert at ScoreSense, a Dallas, Tx.-based credit score services company.
When You’ve Cut Your Credit Card Debt in Half
When you reach your goal and have cut 50% of your credit card debt, don’t stop there – there’s more to do in cementing your new savings status.
“Once the credit card debt is paid down, make sure you always pay the balance in full each month,” Davis said. If you’re using a credit card, utilize only 20% of the maximum available credit to keep debt low and help boost your credit score.”
Additionally, don’t take your new-found credit card debt management situation for granted.
“One of the biggest mistakes people make in paying off debt is assuming it can be paid off later,” said Alex Miller, Founder & CEO of UpgradedPoints.com — a travel site that provides analysis, data, reviews and in-depth guides to travelers. “While you’re saving money to pay it off, folks sometimes get in the habit of slipping back to where they were before and not actually paying it off. Set a schedule every month for how much you’re going to pay and stick to that plan.
If you’re not meeting your timeline goals and you’re feeling financial pressure when hacking away at card debt, cut yourself some slack.
“The most realistic time frame for you is going to depend on just how much you can earn and how much you can cut your spending,” Barker said. “Once you’ve worked that out, you’ll be best placed to determine just how quickly you can pay off any credit card debt you carry.”
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Brian O'Connell has been a finance writer at TheStreet, TheBalance, LendingTree, CBS, CNBC, WSJ, US News and others, where he shares his expertise in personal finance, credit and debt. A published author and former trader, his byline has appeared in dozens of top-tier national publications.