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5 Essential Steps to Paying Down Your Credit Card Debt

Chelsey Zhu  |  April 11, 2023

Tackling your debt might seem like a daunting task, but you can break it down into bite-sized pieces using these steps. 

Inflation has been eating away at our earnings for a while now, yet the sticker shock doesn’t seem to fade. You’re buying your normal haul at the grocery store, but it feels like your bill just keeps getting higher. Or maybe you’re planning your first big trip in years, only to find that the cost of flights and hotels is hundreds of dollars more than you remember. It’s no surprise that we’re still struggling to keep costs down — and racking up a record amount of credit card debt to pay for our expenses.  

“It’s expensive to live now, and there’s been an increase in consumer goods across the board,” says Jennifer Streaks, senior personal finance reporter at Insider. “But you cannot rely on credit, especially if you cannot afford to pay it.” 

It’s important to address that buildup of debt as early as you can — before you’re on the hook for too much interest. But if you’re committed to paying it down, you’ve already taken a crucial first step. 

Streaks has reported extensively on the recent rise of credit card debt, and she stopped by the HerMoney Podcast to share five steps you can take to get that balance down to zero. 

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Yes, attacking your credit cards with a pair of scissors might seem a little dramatic, but it’s a tried-and-true method for removing the temptation to swipe. You can also take your cards out of your wallet and stash them somewhere hard to get. No matter the method, what’s most important is preventing yourself from adding to your debt.

Once the cards are out of the way, take a closer look at your spending patterns. Streaks recommends taking a pause before confirming any big purchase and asking yourself the question: “Do I have this money in the bank to spend right now?” 

If you consistently find yourself spending more than you’re earning, it’s probably time to revisit your budget (or make a new one, if you haven’t done it before). Here are some of our tips for getting started. 


Once you’re in a position to throw some money at your debt, look at the interest rates for each card you hold. The Fed’s interest rate hikes over the past year have also caused credit card APRs to rise to around 20% — so if you haven’t checked in a while, now is a good time. Then you can build your debt payoff plan and prioritize. “I would definitely go with getting rid of the highest-interest debt first,” says Streaks. “That’s what’s costing you the most money, so get rid of that first and then on down the line.” 

Otherwise known as the “avalanche” method, focusing on the card with the highest interest rate makes sure that more of your money is going toward paying down the principal as soon as possible. But don’t forget to still make minimum payments on your other cards. Missing payments completely can expose you to late fees, trigger even higher interest rates, and damage your credit score.


If you’re generally good about making your payments but have recently fallen on hard times, call your credit card company to see if they can offer support. And if any extenuating circumstances are impacting your finances (a layoff, illness, etc.), be sure to mention it. 

“Hopefully, if you have up until that point a great history with this creditor, they will be happy to work with you,” says Streaks. “They want you to keep your account on track with them, and they want to get paid, so it’s in their interest to work with you.” 

You can ask them to waive a late fee, give you a lower interest rate, or even work with you on an individual payment plan. During negotiations, emphasize your history of making on-time payments or carrying a low balance and your desire to continue using their card as a financial tool.


A balance transfer card can be a great option for paying off debt — as long as you know what you’re signing up for. The process involves moving your debt from your regular high-interest-rate credit card and onto a card that has a much lower rate (or even a rate of 0%) for a certain period of time — typically around a year. Many cards charge a fee of 3% of your balance to complete the transfer. 

Your goal should be to pay off the entire balance by the end of that promotional period. Once the promotion expires, the interest rate will rise and might be even higher than the one on your original card. Then you’ll be charged that higher interest rate on whatever balance remains. 

“You have really got to read that paperwork,” says Streaks. “A balance transfer card works only if you can afford to pay that off, and you can be really diligent about it.”

Before you sign up for one, do some self-reflection on your spending style. Can you commit to paying off your balance during the promotional period? Will a 0% interest rate tempt you to add more onto your debt? Compare different offers for balance transfers, and run some calculations on whether the fees and potentially higher interest rate will be worth it. 


Rewards credit cards can be a great way to earn some extra perks, but you never want to spend more than you can afford just so you can get a sign-on bonus or reap benefits you might not even need. Some rewards cards also have annual fees that are hundreds of dollars, and whatever travel credits or cash back you get might not make up for that cost, depending on your lifestyle. 

“Understand whether or not this card is really going to work for you with the life that you lead,” Streaks says. “It doesn’t matter what the rewards are … if you are over your credit utilization limit, if you’re carrying a high balance every month, and if the interest rate is high.”


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