1 Mistake to Avoid When Paying Off Credit Card Debt

By Nathan Hamilton Markets Fool.com

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No doubt the financial stakes are high when carrying debt that's incurring interest at double-digit rates. Overspending not only means more out of your pocket today, in the form of fees and interest charges, but also less money to get started investing in your eventual financial independence. Which is why going beyond dipping your toes in to get out of debt is crucial. Some credit card strategies can be helpful to chip away at debt faster (including balance-transfer credit cards) but some mistakes can prolong the time it takes to pay off balances.

In the video segment below, The Motley Fool analysts Michael Douglass and Nathan Hamilton talk about one specific mistake some cardholders make when trying to pay down balances.

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Michael Douglass: Let's say you're in credit card debt. There is a huge mistake that a lot of people make right then and there, and that's only making the minimum payment.

Nathan Hamilton: Yeah, and if you look at why that's a mistake and why you may not want to do that, just running through the numbers here ... Average household carries about 16,000 worth of debt, which is a surprisingly high number. Most credit cards have a minimum payment of about three and a half percent. It does vary by credit card.

Douglass: Sure.

Hamilton: What's your guess on how long it would take to pay that off and what the interest charges would be?

Douglass: I would think at three and a half percent, it would have to be like what, five or six years? Something like that.

Hamilton: Quadruple that. If you look at making the minimum payment of three and a half percent on 16,000 worth of debt, you're looking at 20 years and approximately $15,497 in interest. That's at current rates, which are generally in the high teens for most credit cards. It just puts into context, OK, if you are in debt, it takes more than just dipping your toes in and saying, "I'm going to pay an extra five bucks this month." You really have to look at it and say, "Okay, what can I cut out of my budget and start to actually chip away at that debt a lot faster?" because you can see in this scenario ... You're very financially savvy, you're guessing five to six years. The actual reality is it takes 20 years to pay off that debt balance, which is, for most people, too long of a timeframe.

Douglass: Well, yeah, and you end up essentially doubling your costs during that time.

Hamilton: Yep. Every dollar you borrow costs a dollar to pay back.

Douglass: Brutal. Well, we've got a lot of information about debt and about thinking carefully, about how you approach it, as well as some of the best credit cards, particularly for those who are in debt. That's what zero percent balance transfer cards are for. We've got a lot of information about that at fool.com/creditcards. Check us out there, and we'll pass that along.

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