How to Pay Off $30,000 in Credit Card Debt
You have $30,000 in credit card debt and wonder how you got there. More importantly, you wonder how you’ll ever pay it off.
As 2021 drew to a close, nearly one in five credit card holders had five-figure balances. In a recent survey, 12% of those with credit card debt said they have no idea when they’ll be able to pay it off; 5% said they expect to die in debt.
While you’re in the five-figure club, you don’t have to be in the group wondering how they’ll ever pay it off. If you owe $30,000 in credit card debt, or more, there are options that will help you make a big dent, or even get to zero, in just a few years. It involves understanding the facts, creating a budget and following a debt management plan, either do-it-yourself or through a nonprofit debt management agency.
If that still sounds overwhelming, consider Jason Probus.
Probus never intended to be buried in debt. He joined the Air Force five days after high school graduation, and his plan was to retire in his early 40s with a military pension while embarking on a second career with the Industrial Technology degree he’d earn in the service.
Not part of the plan was nearly $30,000 in credit card debt. “I lived beyond my means and let it all stack up,” he said.
But Probus, 27, a staff sergeant at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina, is back on track. Halfway through an InCharge Debt Solutions debt management plan, the $30,000 in credit card debt is down to $14,000, and he and his family are on their way to long-term financially security.
Make a List of All Your Credit Card Debts
It’s human nature to avoid things that you don’t want to face. But you know that ignoring $30,000 in credit card debt isn’t going to make it disappear. The first step to conquering the debt monster is to face up to it so you can plan how to deal with it. Breaking it down into its parts will put you in control and make it less overwhelming.
You already know minimum payments aren’t making a dent. A consumer with $30,000 in credit card debt who makes a minimum payment of interest-plus-1%-of-balance will pay $700 a month. While that seems like a lot of money, it goes almost nowhere as far as paying off the balance.
The average credit card interest rate in 2021 was 16.13%. With 16% interest, it would take 447 months (more than 37 years) to pay off $30,000 in credit card debt. The final bill would be $69,459.47. Keep in mind that’s 16% interest. With that much debt, your cards probably have higher interest rates – as much as 30% or more. And, of course, that’s if you didn’t accumulate more credit debt in those 37 years.
To get a realistic view of what you will owe making minimum payments, check out your card statement. The information on how long it will take to pay off the card and what you will ultimately pay is there, required by federal law. You can also find credit card calculators online that will give you the same information.
Jason Probus wasn’t thinking about the math when, at 20, he got his first credit card, with a $20,000 limit. He and his wife, Amber, soon had two kids and were living payday-to-payday, with credit cards covering whatever shortfall came along. When they paid the bills every month, they made minimum payments on the cards.
One day they sat down to do the math, looked at each other and said, “We can’t keep doing this.”
Take a lesson from Jason and Amber and do the math on your $30,000 in credit card debt. Make a list that includes each card with the card balance, minimum payment, interest rate and due dates. Don’t let the numbers scare you, but think of it as empowering. It will give you a clear picture of what you owe and it’s the first step in your plan to pay it off.
You can make the list on a digital spreadsheet, or it can be as simple as writing it all down on a legal pad or a document on your computer. Do it in a way that works for you and is easily available, so you can keep track every month.
When broken down into its parts, the $30,000 in credit card debt is less of a monster, and more of a project that can be tackled with a plan and commitment.
Make a Budget and Strategy
Once you have a clear picture of what you owe overall, as well as monthly, on each card, it’s time to make a budget that will help you keep track of your money and find ways to pay more than just the minimum to the credit card companies. Think of budgeting not as a chore, but as the tool that puts you in control of your finances, rather than letting debt control you.
If your aim is to pay down $30,000, or any amount, of credit card debt, then you must create a budget that puts as much money as possible toward paying off those balances.
A budget doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s simply a monthly picture of what you have coming in, and what you have going out. It’s a way to plan your spending that keeps it within your means.
You have fixed expenses, such as your rent or mortgage, car payment, insurance – things that are the same every month. You also have variable expenses – food, gas, utilities. Your credit card payments are also variable. They can be anything from the minimum to the full balance owed, depending on how much money you have available to put toward them.
Be sure when you budget to include realistic amounts for variable expenses. But also be aware that if the goal is to put more money toward paying down credit cards, so things like eating out, shopping sprees, expensive video games or shoes, and other frills that you don’t need should go by the wayside. Take a firm look at your “needs” versus your “wants.”
If you have trouble reining in spending, find a way to remind yourself. For instance, use a credit card calculator, or look at your statement for the amount you’ll pay making minimum payments and how long it will take, and write it down in big letters and stick it on the refrigerator, or another place where you’ll see it every day. “37 Years and $69,459.47” can be a good reminder about why you want to pay those cards down.
One thing that may help is to set up automatic payments for the minimum payment on your credit cards to be sure you don’t miss a payment. But also make extra payments as soon as you have the money to do it. Every dollar paid toward the balance is one less dollar interest will be charged on.
Even if you already have a budget, look for ways to cut expenses. Track what you spend for a month, and then look hard for places to cut back. There are obvious ones, like eating out less, canceling subscriptions, cutting cable. Also consider things like hand-making gifts instead of buying them, or walking instead of driving. Try to think of ways to cut expenses that are specific to you and your life.
Jason Probus, for instance, got rid of his smart phone and got a simple flip phone. It may not be “cool,” but it’s a lot less expensive.
Re-evaluate your budget frequently – it should be a flexible tool that works with your circumstances. But the end goal should be to use your money wisely to pay off your debt.
Set Goals and Timeline for Repayment
Once you’ve created a monthly budget, it’s time to plan for the future.
If you have $30,000 in credit card debt, you also need a timeline for paying it off. This will keep you on track and also help you maintain a budget. Set goals that are realistic. If you aim too high and can’t reach it, you may get frustrated and give up. If you aim too low, it will take you years, or even decades, to achieve the goal.
You may want to begin with a short-term goal on a short timeline – pay down a certain amount of the balance in 12 months. Once you achieve that goal, you can make adjustments and set the longer end goal. Seeing the progress you made in 12 months can be a great motivator for overall success.
Implement the Debt Management Plan
Once you have a budget, strategy and timeline, you have the basics of a debt management plan.
With a debt management plan, you make payments on all cards, but focus much higher payments on one card until it’s paid off. You already have automatic minimum payments set up for each card. Target the lion’s share of the extra payments on one card in order to get it paid off fast.
It’s up to you which one to target first. It may be the one with the lowest balance, or the one with the highest interest. There’s no wrong answer. It’s whichever one you feel will give you the biggest motivation to keep going.
A debt management plan takes a lot of planning and commitment. You may decide you need the help of a nonprofit debt management company. You make one fixed monthly payment to the company, which pays your creditors after working with them to lower interest. Debt management programs take 3-5 years, and the monthly payment includes a $40 fee. One advantage to doing it through an agency is that it’s easy to budget – you know what that monthly payment will be and how long you’ll be making it.
That’s the route Jason Probus took. After due diligence, he decided to give InCharge a try.
“It seemed more legitimate than some of the things out there that didn’t feel right,” he said.
Halfway through their debt management plan with InCharge, the Probus family has cut its debt to $14,000. Every spare penny is being thrown at the debt. The plan is not only to pay off what was once $30,000 in credit card debt, but to also build up $10,000 in savings.
Will he treat himself to anything when that goal is reached?
“Oh hell no,” Probus said. “No, no, no.” He said the treat will be, “When the kids want to do stuff, we won’t have to say no.”
Make Adjustments and Seek Credit Counseling
If you are doing it yourself, as your financial situation evolves, you will adjust your debt management plan. If your income increases, you’ll want to increase your debt payments. If your income decreases, or you have a medical emergency or some other financial setback, you likely will pay less.
You may want to seek advice from a credit counselor at a nonprofit agency like InCharge Debt Solutions. Credit counseling can help with everything from budgeting and sorting out your finances, to helping you decide if a debt management plan will work for you. Counseling at agencies like InCharge is free.
Probus said that he’s happy he got help.
“We were buried and really needed a program,” Probus said. “We’re not all the way there yet, but it’s a good feeling knowing we will be.”
About The Author
Joey Johnston has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist with the Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times. He has won a dozen national writing awards and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Sports Illustrated and People Magazine. He started writing for InCharge Debt Solutions in 2016.
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