How To Get Free From Credit Card Debt
Before I get to the options you may have, I’ll make an important point: don’t miss or delay minimum payments while you plan your strategy. This will lower your credit score and eliminate some of the best solutions.
That said, here are four distinct ways to work it now.
1. Transfer your balance.
Introductory zero-rate balance transfer offers on cards were rare in 2020, but more are coming now, says Sara Rathner, credit card expert at personal finance website NerdWallet. These cards typically charge up to 5% of the transferred balance up front, so it only works if you get an introductory offer that’s long enough that you can make a big dent in your balance. This spring, Rathner found, the US bank’s Visa Platinum card offered one of the longest interest-free periods – 20 months. The Citi Double Cash card offered 18 months without interest.
2. Ask for a break.
COVID has made card issuers more flexible. Since the start of 2020, about 83% of people who asked for a rate cut have gotten it, reports LendingTree. Many issuers have special programs in place for struggling cardholders, said Bruce McClary of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). He says to tell your lender that the coronavirus has affected your finances and that you intend to maintain your payments and reduce your balances, but more affordable terms would help. Your issuer could lower your interest rate for six to nine months, he says.
3. Refinance with a personal loan.
Ask your credit union or bank if you can consolidate all of your card debt into one low-interest loan. The average rate on a two-year personal loan from a bank was less than 10% at the end of 2020, according to the Federal Reserve. This may be a better deal than what you can get from your card issuer. Don’t borrow against your house or car to pay off your card; this creates a new risk of losing your property. And don’t grab the “debt consolidation loans” from companies you’ve never heard of. There is too much of a chance that they will charge you new fees or, worse yet, rip you off.
4. Get a workout plan.
A final solution is to create a repayment plan through a nonprofit credit counseling agency, which you can find on NFCC.org. At no cost, an advisor will look at your income and debt and determine what is achievable. Then the advisor will negotiate with your lenders, usually getting them to agree to a payment plan that will lower your interest and monthly payments and possibly write off some debt. If you reject the plan, you are no worse off than before. Accept it and you will start making a monthly payment to the advisory service, which in turn will pay the issuers. You will likely pay a small fee and forgo any cards included in the plan. But over time, you will be able to pay off your debts and rebuild your credit. Most importantly, you will be able to get rid of the burden and worries of your debt.