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Paying Off Credit

In 2014, the average U.S. household owed about $15,611 in credit card debt (source).


How can someone pay off that debt?

Let's say Bob and Janie Smithson have exactly that amount of debt on their credit card after getting a little too excited at the local orchid convention (no judging). Their card has a 14% APR and a $100 annual fee, lower than what most folks are paying.

Their monthly minimum payment will be interest plus one or two percent. If we divide that 14% APR by twelve months, that's about 1.167%, and if their bank charges an extra 1% on top of that for a grand total of 2.167%, their minimum payment will be just $338.29 on their huge debt of $15,611. Pretty affordable, huh?

Not really.

Most of that $338.29 is going toward interest, which means that $15,000 isn't budging—and the Smithsons keep paying interest on it. If they pay just the minimum every month, it's going to take them more than 30 years of pay off that debt, and the debt will end up costing them $33,299.39 in total (a sickening $17,710.69 of that in interest).

So they'll pay more than double the original $15,611.

To make a $338.29 payment, the Smithsons are actually going to have to earn over $400 because they'll probably get about 25% taken off their $400 earnings in taxes. To come up with an extra $400 a month, they're going to have to put in a lot of extra hours.

What else can the Smithsons do?

They can pay off the debt faster by paying more each month. If they pay $400 a month, they'd be able to pay off the debt in about four and a half years, and they'd only pay $5,341.62 in interest. That's still enough to swing for a really nice TV, but at least they wouldn't be drawing Social Security by the time they pay off their credit cards.

If they could pay $1,000 a month, they'd be out of debt in 18 months, and they'd pay about $1,723.52 in interest. A lot better, but how can they cough up an extra G a month, especially if they're living paycheck to paycheck like lots of us are? It's a problem that faces a lot of Americans.

If you've racked up a credit card bill, there are a few things you can do to pay it off before you have to start worrying about retirement:

  • Pay off more than the minimum every month.
  • Stop charging more stuff until the card is completely paid off (freeze your card or cut it up if you need to avoid temptation).
  • Get a second job to pay off your card faster.
  • If you owe a lot, consider switching to a balance transfer card so that you pay 0% or a very low rate of six months.
  • Create a budget so that you can see where your money flows and where you can cut back.

Allow us to be blunt: paying off a big debt sucks. You'll feel like you can't afford anything and you'll have to give up on some fun stuff to have more money to pay the plastic gods. But being in debt? That sucks even more.

Millions of people do get out of debt. Even if that credit card bill seems daunting, every bit of cash you put towards your bill will bring that principal down just a little bit.

And you're learning good financial skills along the way, so when you throw your "I paid it all off!" party, you'll know not to charge it.

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