If you're saddled with too much credit card debt, you're not alone—far from it. A recent study based on Federal Reserve and Census data found that 38% of households carry a credit card balance, and that their average balance is $16,048. When you consider that the median household income is $55,775, it's pretty clear that credit card debt is a problem for many people.
Since the amount you owe determines 30% of your FICO score, reducing your debt can improve your credit. Here are a few tips on how to be a smart credit card user.
1. Use cards only for convenience and to earn points. With average interest rates over 15%, credit cards are a very expensive way to borrow. Pay off the full balance every month, and you won't have to deal with high interest charges.
2. Cut your interest rate. If you have a large balance or multiple cards, it could pay to consolidate them with a personal loan at a lower interest rate, which will give you more time to pay.
3. Always pay on time. This one may seem like a no-brainer, but late fees can be more expensive than high interest rates and, since payment history is 35% of your FICO score, paying late can really hurt your credit.
4. If you have an emergency home repair or medical bill, it's OK to take a few months to pay it off. Emergencies happen, and leaning on a credit card from time to time to take care of business is understandable. Once you've got your credit cards under control, though, you should set up an emergency fund, which is a much better safety net for these situations.
5. Use the snowball method to pay off your balances more quickly. Haven't heard of the snowball method? This is how you do it:
- Target the account with the smallest balance to pay off first.
- Pay the minimum on all other accounts on time to avoid late fees.
- Pay as much as you can on the target account each month.
- When the target account is paid off, add the amount you were paying to the minimum payment of the account with the next lowest balance, and make that your new payoff target.
- Repeat until all your balances are paid off.
For many, this method works by giving people easy victories over small debts, which builds their confidence to take on the bigger balances. This free calculator—recommended by some SoFi members—can help you figure out how much to pay.
6. When you pay off a credit card, don't close the account. Having access to credit that you don't use will improve your FICO score, because you'll be using a smaller percentage of your overall credit.
7. If you are still spending too much, try switching to cash. Apple Pay, Google Pay, and credit cards make it easy to pay for things. Paying in cash is harder and can be an effective way to spend less. Decide how much you want to spend each day, put that amount of cash in your pocket, and when it's gone, you're done spending for the day. Soon you'll be making better spending choices and have more money to pay down your credit cards.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a credit repair organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair" services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding" or “improving" your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC's website on credit.