The tree might be taken down and the decorations tucked away, but the Christmas credit card debt you racked up may still be decking your halls. According to CBS News, the average holiday debt load soared 24% in 2022 to almost $1,550 — the highest amount in the past eight years. If you are in this situation, don’t worry, you are not alone.
Get rid of your ghost of Christmas past with these tips:
Know how much you owe.
The first step in tackling any debt is figuring out how far in the red you are. Write down every credit card balance and debt owed, and total them up. This is probably the biggest mental and emotional step—opening all those bills and reading the “amount due” line can be daunting—but it is the most important. You can’t efficiently pay down your debt if you don’t know how much you owe. Also, once you do this, you’ll probably find the rest of the debt-reduction process less daunting.
Make an aggressive budget for January, February and March.
Paying down debt aggressively during the first quarter of the year will help avoid paying more in interest later on, and it’s also a great way to ensure consistency throughout your debt-repayment plan.
Combine your balances.
Making small monthly payments on several different credit cards can make you go crazy. First, is logistically difficult, and second, it can take longer to see your progress, i.e. a shrinking balance. Shop around for credit cards that allow you to transfer your balance at a low or zero interest rate, and ideally, transfer all of your balances onto one card.
Use the Snowball Method or the Avalanche Method.
If a balance transfer is not an option for you, the best thing to do is “snowball” or “avalanche” your debt. This means making large payments to one credit card while continuing to make the minimum payment on the rest of the cards. Then, once the first card is paid off, send your largest payment to another card, and so on until your holiday debt is repaid. The key difference is that in the snowball method, you focus on your smallest balance first to get it out of the way, but in the avalanche method, you start with the card with the highest interest rate (since it is mostly costly to maintain) and work your way down to the lower interest balances. Both strategies can help you make forward progress on paying down your debt.
Track and celebrate your progress.
Success is a huge motivator in debt reduction, and seeing it will definitely encourage you to keep up with your payments. Set milestones and celebrate in a small way when you reach them. For example, if you owe $3,000, commend yourself each time you pay off $1,000 by popping open your favorite bottle of $6 wine or taking a nice long bubble bath. For some people, merely ticking off another payment is gratifying enough!
Remember you are not alone!
State ECU is here to help you achieve your financial goals. We offer our members no-cost debt and budget coaching as part of our commitment to serving our communities. To learn more or to sign up visit balance.secunm.org.