Maybe you’ve been working through credit card debt for a while now. Or maybe you racked it up recently as you prepared for the coronavirus lockdown. Regardless of how and when you got into debt, ridding yourself of this financial burden can free up cash and relieve at least one stressor in an exceptionally anxious time.
If you’re in a good financial position right now, meaning you have savings in the bank and a steady income, it’s a good time to knock out some credit card debt. Here’s how to think about debt payoff now and what tactics you should consider.
GET YOUR BUDGET AND SAVINGS IN ORDER
The economic and personal upheaval of the coronavirus pandemic has made sorting out your budget and savings top financial priorities, even before debt payoff.
— Update your budget: Unless you were a grocery-hoarding hermit before the pandemic, chances are your spending habits have shifted. Revise your budget to reflect where your money is going now, accounting for things like expanded grocery expenses and less spending on entertainment, such as concerts and dining out.
— Beef up your savings: Preparing financially by increasing your emergency fund is almost always a wise decision. Savings are a source of stability in uncertain times. Work to have at least a month or two of expenses in the bank.
“Now is actually a good time to pay off your debt,” says Kate Welker, a certified financial planner in Rochester, New York. “But my advice is build the emergency fund first, because it can get you through a tough time and help you avoid building up new debt in the future.”
HOW TO PAY OFF CREDIT CARD DEBT
Though it feels like the world has changed from top to bottom, tactics to pay off debt have largely stayed the same, says Billy Hensley, CEO of the National Endowment for Financial Education, a nonprofit promoting informed financial decision-making.
“The traditional sort of boring vanilla strategies still seem to work well,” Hensley says. “Look at where you can cut expenses now, look at if you can lock in a lower interest rate that could save you a few dollars a month.”
The goal is to knock out your debt while you’re in a good place financially so you don’t have this burden if you lose your job or your income is reduced later on. Don’t close credit cards as you pay them off, though. You may need access to that credit if your situation changes.
— Ask your creditors for lower interest rates: You may not qualify for any hardship programs being offered by your credit card company, but you might be able to get your interest rate cut. That can make paying off your debt more affordable.
“It’s not a bad time to call a lender and see if they can reduce your rate right now,” Welker says.
Be sure you understand the terms of any agreement and get them in writing, including how long the benefit will last and any trade-offs, like having a lower credit limit.
— Direct freed-up cash toward debt: With restaurants closed, travel a no-go and fewer events to buy new clothes for, you might have actually saved money throughout lockdown. Use that money to boost your debt payoff. And if you have federal student loans, which are on pause through September thanks to the coronavirus relief bill, consider putting what you would have paid on those loans toward credit card debt, which likely has a higher interest rate.
— Try your luck with a 0% APR card: For those with good credit, balance transfer credit cards with 0% APR introductory periods are a go-to for making debt more affordable. Creditors aren’t handing these out as generously as before, but they’re still on the market. If you qualify, these cards can make your debt payoff faster and cheaper, because for a time your entire payment goes to your balance, not interest.
In addition to these tactics, try to find a debt payoff method that works for you and stick to it over the long haul. Take the debt snowball method, for example: You direct your cash toward your smallest debt first, maintaining minimum payments on the others. When the first debt is paid, focus your payoff efforts on the next-biggest debt. Picking off the smallest balances first can give you some quick wins that will help see you through your debt payoff journey.
This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Sean Pyles is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @SeanLoranPyles.