Paying off $50,000 in Credit Card Debt

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Running up $50,000 in credit card debt is not impossible. About two million Americans do it every year.

Paying that bill? Well, that’s not impossible either, though it is considerably less fun.

Some of the best ways to address that much debt include:

  • Put your card in the freezer and create a budget that includes a line item for reducing debt
  • Get a second job and devote that income to retiring debt
  • Downsize everything from house to car to nights out on the town
  • Negotiate a deal with the card company for a lump-sum payment to settle the debt
  • Automate payments so funding and paying become automatic

Accumulating $50,000 of credit card debt almost always starts innocently and ends badly. You can dig a deep hole of debt by eating at restaurants or getting takeout three or four nights a week, picking up bar tabs a few times, buying new furniture or appliances, taking on an expensive hobby like golf or skydiving or just going on vacation.

All you’ve got to do is show them the credit card.

The real key to growing debt to unmanageable status is to take on multiple credit cards and make only minimum payments on each one. More than 200 million American adults have at least one credit card and the average consumer with a credit card carries four of them. The average credit limit for cardholders in 2020 was $30,365, according to Experian’s end-of-the-year U.S. credit assessment. With that much credit available, you don’t even have to max out your credit cards to get to $50,000 in credit card debt.

So, the question remains: How do you get out?

Advice for Paying Off $50,000 in Credit Card Debt

While the amount Americans owe on credit cards went down in 2020 – the first time that’s happened in eight years – it began creeping back up in 2021. Personal consumption expenditures plummeted to the lowest in five years in mid-2020, but by mid-2021 were higher than they’d ever been. And let’s face it, the up and down nature of other people’s spending really doesn’t have an impact on the $50,000 or more you owe. At 16.13% interest (the U.S. average), or likely higher, it’s a situation that has to be tackled. Most of the options fall into three categories:

The first two require a great deal of thought, discipline and effort. They also require time. Depending on your resources, it takes 3-5 years to put that much credit card debt to bed.

The final option – bankruptcy – is a last-ditch effort that should be considered only when attempts at the first two have not produced the desired result.

Before You Start Paying Down Big Debt

No matter which choice you make to resolve your credit card debt, there are some steps you can take to ensure a more positive outcome.

It goes without saying that putting the credit card away, except for dire emergencies, and start paying for all purchases with cash. This is the first step toward regaining control of your finances. By paying with cash, instead of a credit card, you begin to understand just how much money you’re spending every time you reach into your pocket.

It hurts, and it should. It’s a lesson learned and should make you much more disciplined about when and where you spend money.

Beyond that, here are five steps that will help you conquer $50,000 of credit card debt.

  1. Get Your Facts Straight – Do you really know how much money you spend every month and what you get for all that money? While a 2021 survey by Coinstar showed the pandemic has pushed many Americans to get serious about budgeting – 3 out of 4 said they now have a household budget – that means one quarter of consumers still aren’t planning their monthly expenses. There are plenty of phone apps that will help you track spending as you do it. Take advantage of one and discover why a budget is a great bailout.
  2. Find a Second Income – A second job provides extra income that allows you to hammer away your debt every month. Finding someone to share basic expenses (rent, utilities, groceries, transportation) turns that into a sledgehammer.
  3. Downsize – It’s almost a certainty that you can create more income by living in a smaller place, driving a less expensive car, stop buying any clothing or accessories and limit eating out to no more than once a week. Some less dramatic but equally effective ways to reduce expenses include cheaper cell phone service; no cable TV; and no birthday, anniversary or Christmas gifts. Less will mean more.
  4. Negotiate with Your Credit Card Companies – Card companies want to get paid … something! If you have been making payments every month – even just the minimum – play the loyalty card and ask them to accept less than what you owe to eliminate the debt.
  5. Automate Payments – Paying your bills this way helps you on two fronts. First, you’re on notice every month to have money in your account to pay bills or you get slapped with penalties for insufficient funds. Second, you remove the all-too-familiar excuse that “I forgot to mail the check.” This is a very healthy step toward taking responsibility for your finances.

Even if you only adopt bits and pieces of the five suggestions, you will have enough ammo to shoot down your debt problems.

The next question then is: What method should you choose?

Debt Management Program

Debt management plans might be the simplest way to address excessive credit card debt because credit counseling agencies help with the most difficult parts: reducing interest payments on debt and setting up a budget you can live with.

Credit counselors work with credit card companies to find an interest rate and monthly payment you can afford. The interest rate of the average InCharge client is reduced to somewhere around 8%, and some go even lower.

To see how dramatic a difference that makes, look at the difference in monthly payments and interest charged on a $50,000 credit card debt paying the national average of 16.13% and one paying a rate of 8% secured through an InCharge credit counselor over a five-year period.

Balance:$50,000$50,000
Interest Rate:15.3%8.0%
Monthly Payment:$1,197$1,014
Payout Period:5 years5 years
Total Interest Paid:$21,843$10,840
Total Amount Paid:$71,843$60,840

You would save more than $200 a month on payments and $12,333 over the course of a five-year payout plan. And remember, the pay-it-yourself method only works if you never use the cards or acquire more debt. If you do, the amount you’ll pay keeps going up.

The second thing credit counselors offer is just as valuable: Setting up a budget and offering tips on how to manage your money. The counselors review all your income and spending and then make suggestions on how to set up a monthly budget so you have enough money for the basics (food, shelter, transportation), but create enough space to start paying down the credit card debt.

It is important to do your research before choosing a credit counseling agency to work with. You’ll want to be sure you are speaking with reputable credit counselors when providing sensitive financial information.

A few things to keep an eye out for:

  • Are they nonprofit?
  • Are they accredited by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling?
  • Are they open and honest about the service being provided?

Do-It-Yourself Repayment Options

This might be the most difficult option, if only because you must make every choice yourself, starting with the method you plan to use to attack your debt.

Debt avalanche? Debt snowball? Zero-interest balance transfer? Set up your own monthly payment schedule? Mix-and-match?

Who knows?

For the sake of this argument, we will assume you have six or seven credit cards that are maxed out or nearly maxed out at their spending limit of $10,000 and the total debt owed is $50,000. If the minimum payment due for each card was 2%, you would be paying $150-$200 per card, or a total of somewhere around $1,200 month. That’s just for the minimum amount due!

Here is a look at the pros and cons of some do-it-yourself repayment plans:

Debt avalanche – The goal is to pay down debts with the highest-interest rates first because they cost you the most. You make minimum payments on each card, then devote whatever money is left in your monthly budget to paying off the card with the highest interest rate. When that card is paid off, move to the card with the next highest interest rate and keep going until you’ve paid off every card. Pros: You will save a lot of money paying off high interest rate cards first. Disciplined, on-time payments will be rewarded. Cons: The monthly payment on some high-interest cards can cripple your budget. It would be easy to get discouraged because it’s a slow process.

Debt snowball – The goal is to pay off the smallest debts first and that success will keep you motivated as you move to the larger ones. Make minimum payments on the largest debts, then throw whatever money is left at the smallest debt until it is paid off and move on to the next smallest debt. Pros: It’s easier to stay focused when you have victories, even small ones. Cons: The interest on cards with larger debt grows uncontrollably when all you do is make minimum payments. If something happens and you don’t pay off the small debts quickly, you could be in big trouble.

Zero-percent balance transfer – The goal is to transfer the balance from a high-interest rate card to a zero-percent interest card and make big payments every month to reduce the balance. If you can pay off the debt before the zero-percent interest offer expires, you’re way ahead. Pros: Paying zero-percent interest vs. 15%-25% is a no brainer. Cons: Some cards might allow you to qualify with credit scores of 650 or higher, but the best deals require a credit score above 720. Also, there is a 3% transfer fee on most cards and 12-24 month time limit before regular interest rates apply.

Set up your own payment plan – Start by creating a line in your monthly budget that is devoted to credit card payments. Apply for a zero-percent balance transfer card or two, if you can get them. Choose a starting point – either high interest cards or low-balance – and attack it. This could be tricky, but if you have a good plan and a lot of discipline, it might work.

Bankruptcy Is a Worst Case Scenario

Bankruptcy is treated like a disease, but it’s a financial cure for a lot of people.

Every financial analyst or debt lawyer would agree to aggressively pursue every other possible solution, but if you can’t eliminate $50,000 in credit card debt in five years, either through a debt management program or your own do-it-yourself plan, bankruptcy is a legitimate answer.

There will be severe consequences from bankruptcy – most pointedly the 7-10 year blot on your credit report and credit score – but bankruptcy gives you a chance to start all over again and there is nothing wrong with second chances.

Because credit cards are considered unsecured debt, the obvious choice for bankruptcy is Chapter 7. In Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you keep what is known as “exempt” property such as a house, car, equipment you use at work and any retirement savings and liquidate “non-exempt” property such as second home, second car, bank accounts, stock investments, card collections.

The money gained from selling assets is applied to your debt and whatever is left over is forgiven.

Another option is Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Instead of liquidating assets, a repayment plan is structured to pay off your creditors in three-to-five years.

If this is your only option, it’s best to hire a bankruptcy lawyer to take you through the necessary steps to successfully file. It’s worth noting that every year, 90% or more of people filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy had their debts discharged.

Pay off Your Debt: Start Now

It takes years accumulate $50,000 in credit card debt, so don’t expect to be able to pay it off today. But one thing you can do today is to get started on the path to becoming debt free.

It starts with small steps like working out how to balance your budget. Once you are net positive, you can begin to take bigger steps like choosing a debt relief strategy.

If you are having trouble getting started, consider participating in a credit counseling session with InCharge Debt Solutions is a great first step. It’s free, and the counselors at InCharge can help you with both the big and small steps. First, they’ll help you create a budget. Then, based on that budget, recommend the debt relief option best suited for you.

About The Author

Joey Johnston

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.

Sources:

  1. Dilworth, K. (2021, June 2) Average credit card interest rates: Week of June 2, 2021. Retrieved from https://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/rate-report/
  2. Stobla, S.L. (2020, November 30) Credit Card Debt in 2020: Balances Drop for First Time in Eight Years. Retrieved from https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/state-of-credit-cards/
  3. N.A. (2021, April 13) Coinstar Survey Shows Americans are Development Good Budgeting and Saving Habits During COVID-19. Retrieved from https://www.coinstar.com/press-releases/coinstar-survey-shows-consumers-are-developing-good-budgeting-and-saving-habits-during-covid-19
  4. N.A. (2021, May 28) Personal Consumption Expenditures. Retrieved from https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/PCE