How to Avoid Credit Card Debt When Money Is Tight[yoast-breadcrumb]
How to Avoid Credit Card Debt When Money Is Tight
Credit card debt can sneak up on you when money is tight. One month you miss a payment, the next you’re carrying a balance, and soon interest charges start piling up. Before you know it, you’re deep in debt with no easy way out. But it doesn’t have to be that way! With some smart strategies, you can avoid falling into the credit card debt trap even when cash is scarce.
Track Your Spending
The first step is getting a clear picture of where your money is going each month. Grab your credit card and bank statements and make a list of everything you spent money on last month – every coffee, meal out, shopping trip, utilities bill, etc. Tracking your spending helps you find areas where you may be overspending without realizing it. Once you know where the money is going, you can start making changes.
Make a Budget
Now it’s time to make a budget that reflects your income, necessary expenses like rent and utilities, and discretionary spending money. Be realistic about what you can afford for food, entertainment, clothing, etc. Building some savings into your budget helps you avoid relying on credit cards when unexpected expenses come up. And be sure to budget for credit card payments so you don’t miss any and incur penalties or interest charges. Budgeting takes some work upfront, but it gives you the roadmap you need to spend wisely.
Look closely at your spending – are there any expenses you can cut out or reduce? Even small changes add up. Brew coffee at home instead of buying it every day, eat out less or look for cheaper restaurants, cancel unused subscriptions and memberships. Consider downsizing your cable/internet plan, getting a cheaper cell phone plan, or driving less to save on gas. Turn off lights, adjust the thermostat, and look for other ways to reduce utility bills. Stick to generic grocery brands and skip the impulse buys. Finding ways to spend less each month gives you more money to pay down debt.
Earn Extra Income
Increasing your income even a small amount can make a big difference when trying to avoid credit card debt. Look for side jobs like dog walking, tutoring, freelance writing, ride share driving, or handyman work. Sell stuff you no longer need either online or at a yard sale. Ask for a raise or more hours at your job if possible. Even an extra $100 or $200 a month from a side gig or sale can go toward credit card payments. Consider taking on a temporary second job if money is really tight. Adding more income increases the chances you can pay off credit cards in full each month.
Prioritize Credit Card Payments
Be sure to make at least the minimum credit card payment every month, on time. Missing payments results in penalties, interest charges, and damage to your credit score. Better yet, try to pay more than the minimum if you can. When money is tight, pay necessities like rent and utilities first, then make credit cards the priority with whatever money you have left. Even $10 or $20 more than the minimum helps knock down your balance faster. Avoid relying on credit cards to pay other bills – this is a slippery slope towards deeper debt.
Consolidate High Interest Debt
If you have credit card balances with high interest rates, see if you qualify for a 0% balance transfer credit card. Moving debt onto one of these cards means you can pay it down faster without racking up more interest charges. Just be sure to pay off the full balance before the 0% intro period ends. Also check if you can qualify for a low interest rate credit card to use for new purchases, so you don’t keep adding to your high interest balances. Consolidating debt onto lower rate cards saves you money.
Avoid Cash Advances
Never use your credit card for a cash advance, even if you really need the money. Cash advance fees are steep, interest rates are sky-high, and you give up your grace period so interest starts accruing immediately. Cash advances often lead to a cycle of debt that is hard to break. Find other options when you need cash, like borrowing from family or friends, using a personal loan, or earning extra income. Just don’t turn to credit cards – the costs outweigh the temporary benefits.
Use Credit Cards Sparingly
When money is tight, rely on credit cards as little as possible. Use them only for essential or planned purchases that you know you can pay off in full. Avoid charging unexpected expenses – look for other ways to cover them like tapping your emergency fund. Don’t be tempted by credit card perks and rewards programs, which encourage spending. Stick to a mostly debit/cash system, limiting credit cards to select expenses you can handle. The overspending trap is real – be very selective about when and how you use credit cards when cash is scarce.
Talk to Your Credit Card Company
If you’re already carrying credit card balances you can’t pay off, pick up the phone and call your credit card company’s customer service line. Explain your situation – that money is tight but you want to pay off your debt. There’s a good chance they can offer some type of hardship program or settlement plan, waive late fees, reduce interest rates, or help you in some other way. Credit card companies would rather get some of their money than see you default completely. It never hurts to ask what options they may have to help reduce your burden.
Avoid Taking on New Debt
When finances are stretched thin, do whatever you can to avoid taking on new debt. That means not opening new credit cards or retail store cards – even if they come with great promotional offers. The last thing you need is more credit accounts accruing interest and fees. Avoid payday loans or cash advances that charge outrageous rates and keep you trapped paying interest. Don’t take out a personal loan unless absolutely necessary for something essential like a medical expense. Adding more debt only makes your situation worse.
Get Help from a Nonprofit Credit Counselor
If you’re overwhelmed with credit card debt, contact a nonprofit credit counseling agency like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. They provide free or low cost services to help you tackle debt, like setting up debt management plans, negotiating with creditors, consolidating payments, and giving unbiased advice. Taking advantage of credit counseling assistance can make getting out of debt more manageable.
Make Minimum Payments During Hardships
If an unexpected crisis like job loss or medical expenses makes it impossible to pay your credit card bills in full, focus on making at least the minimum payments. While minimum payments cost more in interest over time, missing payments altogether damages your credit score much more. Call your credit card company right away to explain the hardship and request waived late fees, reduced APRs, or other assistance. Once the crisis passes, you can refocus on paying down your balances faster.
Avoid Relying on Credit Cards Long Term
Credit cards can be helpful as a temporary bridge during financial difficulties, but try not to rely on them as an ongoing source of financing. The interest, fees and credit damage just aren’t worth it. Have a plan to reduce your credit card usage and pay off balances as soon as possible. Make lifestyle changes if needed to live within your means without accruing credit card debt you can’t handle.
With some discipline, smart strategies, and selective use of available assistance, you can break out of the credit card debt cycle even when money is tight. Don’t let an unexpected crisis or income shortfall snowball into years of expensive credit card debt. Take control of your finances today and start reducing your reliance on credit cards. You can do this!