How to Get Rid of Your Credit Card Debt

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On this edition of Industry Focus, host Michael Douglass and Fool contributor Matt Frankel discuss personal finance -- in particular, credit card debt. The average American household that carries credit card debt owes more than $16,000. At an average interest rate of more than 15%, that translates to more than $2,400 in interest per year. Michael and Matt talk about how to get rid of that debt.

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A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Oct. 30, 2017.

Matt Frankel: The average American household has about $5,700 in credit card debt. But that doesn't really tell the whole story, because only about one in three households carry credit card debt. So, among those households that do, the total is a little over $16,000. The average credit card interest rate is about 15% right now. That implies that the average household that carries credit card debt is paying nearly $2,500 a year just in interest for the privilege of owing that money.

Michael Douglass: Yeah. That's a pretty brutal set of statistics there. I think it really highlights this question we all have to ask ourselves of our money. Is our money enriching us, or is it enriching somebody else? When you have credit card debt, your money is enriching someone else. And I think there are some misunderstandings about credits. I've heard this myth pretty often, where people say, "I have to carry a balance on my credit card to benefit my credit score." That's not true. You do not need to do that. In an ideal world, you are never in a spot where you're carrying a balance and having to pay interest on it. You want to pay your credit cards off on time, every time.

Frankel: Yeah. There is some truth, in the sense that you need to use your credit cards in order to maximize your credit score, use your credit. That's the whole definition of having a credit score. But, the concept that you need to carry a balance from month to month, that's a very popular misconception. You don't need a balance in order to maximize your credit score. I think one of our writers, Sean Williams, actually has a perfect credit score and carries no credit card debt whatsoever.

Douglass: Yeah. It's certainly doable without carrying a balance. In fact, carrying a balance does not do anything to help you. The other thing that this highlights to me is, it really stood out to me, when you talk talked about that $2,500 per year that people are paying in interest on their credit cards, think about how much money that is. Think about if that $2,500 were going to an emergency savings. I think there's a lot of need for people to think about how to really pare down that credit card debt. For me, I think a lot of people end up in this spot, where because they didn't have a lot of emergency savings, they then end up owing credit card debt on a car repair, or something like that. So suddenly, they're in this spot where they're trying to fight to keep their heads above the water. One of the things that really jumps out to me is this idea that a lot of folks are stuck paying the minimum balance on their credit cards, that minimum payment. The thing is, if you commit to paying the same amount each month at least, so, your minimum balance will decrease over time, because the amount that you owe decreases over time as you gradually pay it off. But, if you keep to that same amount, you can save a lot on interest by just paying that, let's just say, for example, $360 every month, instead of, as it drops down to $350 or $340, paying that minimum. That'll enable you to pay off that debt significantly faster, while still maintaining the same budget that you had.

Frankel: Another good point, right now, competition among credit card companies has really never been higher, and there are a lot of great, I mean, the best I've ever seen, 0%, balance transfer offers, some companies are even willing to waive the balance transfer fee, which is historically unprecedented, almost. You can find 0% interest up to 21 months, as of right now, 15 months with no fee whatsoever. So, this could be a good way to make sure all of the money you're paying is going toward paying down your debt, rather than making the credit card companies money.

Douglass: Yes. 0% balance transfers are an incredibly attractive option if you have a pretty good credit score and are sitting on some credit card debt. Just like you said, Matt, it's a great way to make sure that you are paying off that debt as quickly as possible with as little money as possible so that you're not enriching that credit card company. The important thing is to commit to doing that. So, if you do that 0% balance transfer, don't just sit and wait for 21 months and spend money elsewhere. You really want to make sure that you are paying it off quickly.

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