How to handle too much credit card debt

Hitting rock bottom with debt can feel overwhelming. These tips can help provide a breather and path out of debt.

David Goldman/AP/File
July 18, 2012 – Credit card logos are seen on a downtown storefront as a pedestrian passes in Atlanta. Credit card debt is major issue for many families.

Your credit cards are maxed out and you're feeling the pressure. You're stressed and need to make a change. You're not alone.

According to 2015 debt statistics released by NerdWallet, the average U.S. household carries just over $16,000 of credit card debt, and that number continues to climb. Here's how to overcome the stress of having too much credit card debt — and finally get a grip on your finances.

1. Stop Adding to the Debt Mountain

The first step towards regaining control of your credit card is to stop adding to the debt mountain. Cut up your credit cards, hide them away, freeze them in water — in short, do whatever you can to stop increasing the balances. If you've been relying on credit to pay essential bills, it becomes extra important to prioritize spending. Consider negotiating payment plans with your utility company, re-financing (or downsizing) your home, or other means of bringing your essential costs within budget.

The most important part about handling too much credit card debt is to stop the bleeding in the first place. Then you can take additional measures to regain control.

2. Negotiate a Lower Interest Rate

Now that you've stopped using your credit cards, it's time to request a lower interest rate. One quick phone call could help you save hundreds of dollars in interest payments over the life of your credit card balance.

Not all credit card companies will be open to lowering your interest rate, but it never hurts to ask. Remind them of your good standing as a customer, how long you've been with them, and any other things that may set your account apart. You can use this as leverage to get the best rate possible.

If you're still not able to secure a lower rate, consider whether transferring some or all of your balances to a new, lower-rate credit card (ideally one with 0% APR) can help. Keep in mind that balance transfers carry a cost, so any interest rate savings would need to outweigh this fee.

3. Work Out a Payment Plan

If you negotiate a lower interest rate, and find that you still just can't pay the minimum payment every month, it's time to review other options. You can start by asking for a deferment on your payments, or negotiate a new payment plan with the credit card company. Most companies are more than happy to receive any payment at all versus having a non-paying account on their books.

4. Limit Discretionary Spending

You've stopped overspending, negotiated a lower interest rate and better payment plan, so now it's time to limit your discretionary spending. This will help you make larger payments each month, which means getting rid of your debt faster, and paying less interest.

For extra motivation and discipline, consider joining spending challenges — these range from going on a 14-day spending diet, to a 60-day cash spending challenge, to a year-long shopping ban. The point is to start out with small spending habit changes, evaluate your budget along the way, and allocate any extra savings towards your debt.

5. Earn Extra Income Towards Debt

Ask anyone who's rid themselves of debt what their secret is, and they'll likely say it was earning extra money as a way of paying off their credit card debt faster. There's only so much you can do to limit your spending — but earning extra money is a higher gear toward debt reduction.

Seek out opportunities that allow you to earn an extra bit of money. Yes, your time may be constrained. If so, set your specific dollar amount goals, and limit your extra work to that number. Allocate all the extra funds towards your credit cards, and soon you'll have made a significant dent in your debt.

This article first appeared at Wise Bread.

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