Editors' pick: Originally published Jan. 19.
When it comes to high credit card debt, some U.S. states are more problematic than others.
That's the sentiment from a study by CreditCards.com, which shows the states with the highest credit card burdens are:
2. New Mexico
Meanwhile, the lowest are:
50. North Dakota
Buried in the report data is something even more revealing about credit card holders wrestling with high card debt, especially in the Sunshine State. "Making only minimum payments, it would take the typical Florida cardholder almost 13 years to retire the state's average credit card debt of $5,603," the report says. "And he/she would pay over $3,600 in interest."
The CreditCards.com data shines a much-needed light on a perennially troublesome topic - high credit card debt can be financially ruinous to U.S. household finances.
"It's very hard to get out of debt if you're already stretching every dollar to pay for food, housing and other essentials," notes Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com's senior industry analyst. "If you're in this position, consider a 0% balance transfer credit card - these interest-free periods last as long as 21 months. Another idea is to dedicate as much extra money as you can towards your credit card debt, certainly much more than the minimum that's due each month."
CreditCards.com also advises steering "at least" 15% of gross monthly income toward credit card debt. "In that scenario, the typical Florida resident's payoff time drops to just 18 months and costs $678 in interest," the report states.
There are other proven, creative ways to prune high credit card debt. Let's eyeball a few more of them:
Don't spend financial windfalls - "Don't let those seasonal commissions and bonus checks give you added confidence to spend," says Kim Mowrey, director of business intelligence at Rocket Loans. "Instead, break that big annual bonus into three parts: debt reduction, major purchase, and savings. Always remember, paying off a large chunk of your credit card debt can save you thousands in interest."
Don't hesitate to consolidate - "If you have multiple unsecured loans that you would like to swap for a single monthly payment or if your current loan's interest rate is too high, you may benefit from debt consolidation," Mowrey adds. "Debt consolidation gives you the opportunity to potentially save hundreds of dollars with a lower interest rate and can make payments more convenient for you -- with a single, automated monthly payment."
Budget downward - One of the best ways to pay down your debt is to find savings elsewhere by setting a goal and then using that savings to pay off the debt," offers Stephanie Nelson, founder of the budgeting website Couponmom.com. "Specifically, when people learn how to cut down on their grocery and household spending using strategic savings strategies, a conservative savings estimate would be $50 a week, or $200 a month," Nelson says. "If you applied an extra $200 a month to that $5,000 credit card debt, you'd pay the debt off in 21 months rather than 13 years, or a savings of 11.75 years."
Take a long-term outlook - Joseph R. Santos, a Merrill Edge financial services advisor based in Southern California, says it's certainly possible to pay down credit card debt more quickly. "First, list all your debts, not just your credit card bills," he advises. "Then, gather and document how much you owe, the interest rate you pay on each loan or credit card, and how much money you currently devote to debt reduction each month."
Define your debt goals - Ask these questions, says Santos. Do you want to reduce your debt to a particular level or be completely debt-free? What is your timeline? "With these questions answered, calculate how much you need to pay each month to meet those goals," he says. "Then, look at ways to find the money you'll need - such as cutting expenses, getting a part-time job or turning a hobby into extra income."
Prioritize - "Focus on paying the highest-interest debt first, since this is the biggest financial drain," says Santos. "Another way, often referred to as the snowball method, focuses on paying off the debt with the smallest balance first, while making minimum payments, or more if possible, on your other debts. Once that smallest debt is paid, continue to tackle the debt with the next lowest balance." Any extra funds are then paid to the highest-interest debt," he adds. "This strategy can help you make some quick progress, giving you the momentum and encouragement you need to stay on track with your plan."
The damage high credit card debt can do to your personal finances is potentially substantial.
To fight back, and pay down that debt, be aware of where you stand with your credit card bill and deploy the tips listed above to curb, and finally eliminate that debt. It won't happen overnight, but it will happen if you stick to your plan and keep making those payments.