Clark Howard

Clark Howard’s 2024 Credit Card Debt Elimination Strategy

Are you ready to get out of credit card debt in 2024?

That’s great!

Acknowledging the need to remove that nuisance from your financial life is an awesome first step. But what do you do next?

You need a plan of attack. From debt snowball to debt avalanche, many nifty-named and impactful strategies can empower you to kill off these high-interest charges once and for all.

Each strategy has its pros and cons, so you’re probably wondering which you should choose.

Money expert Clark Howard is here to help.

"I know your situation may feel like it's never gonna get better," Clark says. "But it's all about attitude and direction. And taking it on knowing the solution is not instant. Solution takes time, but you can do it!"

Clark recently talked about his preference for debt avalanche as a credit card debt elimination strategy, and, as Team Clark's credit card writer, I wanted to make sure you're aware of his philosophy.

In this article, I will walk you through the latest guidance issued by Clark during a recent episode of The Clark Howard Podcast.

Step 1: STOP SPENDING WITH YOUR CREDIT CARD!

Clark says this step should go without saying, but we’re going to say it here anyway.

If you want to eliminate your credit card debt, you first have to stop spending with your credit card.

You'll often see Team Clark recommend using a no annual fee credit card for everyday purchases because they provide superior consumer protections and also give you the ability to earn cash back on your spending.

But that advice comes with an important caveat: You must pay your credit card bill in full each month for this to work in your favor.

If you’ve run up credit card debt, that means you haven’t been able to pay those bills in full. That means you need to find an alternative spending method while you work on eliminating the accumulated debt.

Good, old-fashioned cash works best for this on smaller transactions that allow it. But you may also benefit from the use of a debit card to help you spend on necessities through this debt-elimination process.

Clark's disdain for debit cards is well documented, but this is a rare case where he recommends that you spend with one.

"This is a case where using the piece of trash fake Visa or fake MasterCard would actually be a good thing to do," Clark admits. "That way you're not running up any more charges on any of your credit cards."

Step 2: Open Your Bills and Take a Look

Understandably, credit card debt can be a source of stress, dread and frustration.

That makes opening the billing statement each month a psychological chore for many people. As a means of coping with the issue, some people opt to pay the minimum each month and try to pretend the bill doesn’t exist.

But doing this only lets the total amount of interest owed grow!

"First things first," Clark says. "The number one problem people have with credit cards is they won't look at the statement. And why won't they look at the statement? Because it's painful to look at the statement. But if you're going to get well with credit card debt, you have to attack it."

Step 3: Break Out Your Pen and Paper

Now that you’re looking at your credit card statements, it’s time to follow Clark’s plan to attack the debt.

We start making this plan by taking inventory of the debts. To do this, Clark wants you to take out a pen and paper.

This may sound a little old school in the modern-day world of technology, but there’s a psychological impact to jotting down a summary of your situation and owning the details in your own writing.

"Write it down," Clark says. "Because I want truth serum. Not to overwhelm you or depress you. I want it to empower you."

Clark wants you to write down the following information from each of your billing statements:

  • Total amount of money owed on that card
  • APR interest rate charged for the balance of that card
  • Length of time it would take you to pay off the card if you just made minimum payments
  • How much you'd have to pay per month to eliminate the debt in three years

Each of these items should be accessible through your printed statement or on your e-statement from the card issuer’s website or app.

It should end up looking like this:

With the national average credit card interest rate hovering above 20%, it may shock you to see how long it would take to pay off your debt by simply making the minimum payment each month.

Clark wants you to wrap your head around how untenable that path is for you.

At the same time, he wants you to see how boosting your monthly payments a considerable amount can help you climb your way out of this hole in as little as three years if you put your mind to it.

Step 4: Attack the Highest Interest Rate First

Now that you have a full list of the realities of your credit card debt, you’re equipped with the information necessary to attack it.

This is where the "avalanche" method kicks in. Clark wants you to identify the credit card with the highest interest rate and pay it off first. By percentage, this card is most aggressively adding to your overall debt each month.

Advocates of the “snowball” method would tell you to pay your smallest balance first as a means of generating momentum and gaining a “win” over your debt, but Clark says the math works out that you’ll pay less money in interest if you go after the highest interest rate first instead.

Many times the interest saved by using “avalanche” over “snowball” can be rather significant, which means you can be out of debt faster if you’re resolved to stick to it.

"Mathematically, you pay off debt quicker if you do the avalanche method," Clark says. "Typically, you'll reduce your overall interest that you pay by 10% or more by attacking the highest interest rate debt as solidly as you can and then working your way down."

If you have a store charge card, this likely is your first “victim.” Those credit cards can have interest rates as high as 35%!

Clark says you should pay the minimum balance on all of your other credit cards and throw as much of your available money at the balance of the card with the highest interest rate until it is paid in full.

Once that card’s debt is eliminated, you can cross it off the list and move on to the next highest interest rate while continuing to pay the monthly minimum on the rest.

Repeat this process until all debts have been paid!

Seek Qualified Financial Help If You Need It

If you're having trouble with this process or feel like you're in over your head, Clark recommends that you reach out to a debt counselor affiliated with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

He says to seek an in-person or video meeting to get a person-to-person consultation that will allow you to ask questions and seek clarity in their advice.

And, perhaps more importantly, he says to avoid debt settlement companies at all costs. They may promise to work miracles on your credit card debt, but this really is a "too good to be true" situation.

“Avoid like a like the plague any of these supposed ‘hero’ debt settlement companies,” Clark says. “They are rip off artists that only put you deeper in debt.”

Do you have a success story from paying off your credit card debt? Have some advice or encouragement for people on their debt repayment journey? We’d love to hear from you in the Clark.com community.

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