Growing up in the U.S. credit cards both intrigued me and terrified me. Credit cards seemed like such a normal thing for adults to have – as if almost a necessity. To buy a car you needed credit. To rent an apartment you needed credit (or a co-signer). To buy a house you definitely needed credit. If I was to be a functioning adult, getting a credit card seemed inevitable.
When I met Mike I was a junior in college. For those of you who are new to our site – we met at Ohio University in 2013. For the next two years Mike and I were in a long-distance relationship (him in the Netherlands and I in the US). We made it a goal in our relationship to visit one another approximately every six to nine weeks. Since we needed to cross the Atlantic to see one another our main source of transportation was by flight. I am sure it doesn’t come to you as a surprise when I say that these plane tickets were expensive – especially for a young professional and a college student. Mike was able to budget his income to pay for his tickets, but I decided to apply for credit cards. In order to cover my plane tickets, I wanted a credit card with a limit of at least $2,000, no annual fee, and the possibility of earning points towards future purchases. After researching different credit card companies I applied and was approved by Discover and Delta Airmiles American Express. Between the two of these cards I was confident that I could build up my credit, buy plane tickets, and earn points I could use towards future purchases. Win-win-win, right!?
Well – kind of. Things went fine in the beginning. I told myself that these cards were ONLY for plane tickets. Then I told myself the cards were only for plane tickets plus my necessities…then I took it out to the bar once or twice…Pretty soon I found myself with two maxed out my credit cards and and a whole lot of debt to show for it. It was then I realized I needed a proactive plan to fully pay off my credit card debt. Even though I had never missed a minimum monthly payment on either card, it was clear that my current strategy was not working. I needed a plan and my plan needed to be realistic to my current situation and personalized to my needs.
Below are the four easy ways that helped me defeat my credit card debt of $5,000 within two years (one of them which I was in college with part-time job).
1. Organize your thoughts
Before I could create a plan to pay off my outstanding credit card balances I needed to get organized. Below are some of the questions I asked myself when brainstorming. Ask yourself similar questions to clarify your current situation.
- To what creditors did I owe money?
- How much did I owe to each creditor?
- What was the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) being charged to my outstanding balance each month?
- Had I accumulated any late fees?
- Am I paying annual fees?
- How much am I paying monthly for each card?
- Could I afford to make more than the minimum monthly payments?
2. Review your monthly statements
Review your monthly credit card statements and account information to get the answers to some of your questions. Credit card companies must provide its customers with the details within the “fine print”. This is usually where they state the APR for your card, how their APR is calculated, if your account is subjective to any fees such as annual fees (the amount you pay the credit card company to have an account with them), late fees (the amount charged to your account if you miss a payment), cash advance fees (the fee charged when you take out cash from the ATM using your credit card), foreign transaction fees (fees charged when you make a purchase in foreign currency), etc.
Gather the fine print details that are applicable to your personal situation so you can start to make a plan.
3. Map out the details
Now that you have brainstormed your situation and gathered the relevant credit card information, start to map out the details. I personally like using Excel for these types of things but even jotting down info on a piece of paper is a good start.
4. Put your plan to action
One thing I really like about Vertex42’s debt reduction calculator is that once you insert the mandatory fields the spreadsheet will keep track of how long it will take you to reach your goal of being debt free. The spreadsheet also gives you multiple payment strategies to help you implement a debt reduction strategy that works for you. Use this tool to keep your debt information in one place and track your progress.