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A child watching their parent insert a credit card could easily mistake this “magical” plastic rectangle as “free money.” But as adults we know the truth: You’re actually paying to borrow money if you carry a balance from month to month.
How much you have to pay for the ability to borrow said money will depend largely on your annual percentage rate (APR). Factors that determine the APR include your credit score and type of card. The average U.S. interest rate typically falls somewhere between 15.49 percent and 22.67 percent, according to U.S. News & World Report. Cash-back cards tend to fall on the lower end of that spectrum, or even below, while store cards tend to carry higher interest rates.
It only makes sense to minimize the amount you’re paying in credit card interest without giving up the benefits of using credit in general, right?
Here are five tips to help
Exceed Your Minimum Payments
Minimum payments represent the smallest amount you can pay to avoid late fees and keep your account current. You’ll see the minimum amount due delineated on your credit card statement, either as a flat fee (like $25) or a percentage of your balance (like two percent).
Making minimum payments and nothing more may seem like a good way to keep your debts at bay when money is tight, but you’ll pay the price for doing so routinely.
Here’s an example from CNBC: You have a credit balance of just under $6,100. Paying only the minimum, you’d end up paying more than $4,000 in interest alone over the course of approximately 14 years. But if you could add just $100 dollars a month on top of your minimum, you could pay off the debts in three and a half years at about $1,400 in interest.
Consider a Consolidation Loan
Consumers with solid credit can often secure a consolidation loan, use it to pay off higher-interest credit card debts, then work down the loan in installments over time. The ideal end result is that you’d pay less in interest on the loan than you would on the cards.
Know the pros and cons of debt consolidation before jumping in. Mainly, you’ll need to calculate how much you’ll pay in interest using the loan vs. how much you’d pay on your debts as is. It might make sense to proceed if you can get a favorable interest rate that’ll save you money — not to mention bundle multiple high-interest debts into one simpler monthly payment, which is nice for the sake of convenience.
Transfer High-Interest Balances
Another strategy worth exploring is the balance transfer. Be aware you will pay a fee to transfer a balance from a high-interest card to a new card with an introductory offer of zero interest. However, the benefits may outweigh the cost — as you’ll gain a “grace period” to work down your principal balance without racking up new interest charges. These introductory periods are often 12-18 months but be sure to read the fine print before signing up.
Use the “Avalanche” Repayment Method
If you’re going to repay your debts on your own, it’s smart to prioritize them. Here’s where the avalanche method helps.
Start by paying the minimum amount due on every account, every month. Then throw any extra funds you can gather up toward your highest interest account again and again until it’s been obliterated. Then take those funds and focus them on the next-highest-interest account. Repeat until you’ve systematically eliminated your debts one by one.
Negotiate Down Your Interest Rate
You may be able to negotiate down your interest rate, particularly if you have a strong track record of paying on time and maintaining a good credit score.
There are a couple tactics you can use here — like requesting lower rates due to a specific hardship, informing your creditors you’ve received offers for lower interest rates, or asking your creditors to recognize your loyalty as a customer. Be prepared to cite specific reasons you feel you should receive a rate reduction, too.
There are absolutely ways to minimize credit card interest payments.
You just have to know where to look.