Each credit card statement you receive includes a "minimum payment" amount along
with transaction, balance and interest rate information. Depending on other parts of your financial
situation and your spending habits, the temptation to pay only the minimum can be great. As tempting as
it may be, you should always try to pay more.
Credit card companies usually calculate the monthly minimum payment due as a percentage of your
outstanding balance. The percentage is usually more than the interest rate they are charging on your
balance, but low enough to make the minimum payment amount seem attractive. After all, they make money
by charging interest on what you owe.
The cost of paying only the minimum
As you consider how much to pay each month, be sure you understand how all the numbers work. To keep it
relatively simple, let us assume you have an outstanding balance of $5,000, the annual interest rate
being charged is 12% (1% per month) and the minimum payment is 2% of your outstanding balance. If you
just pay the minimum of 2% ($100) and have no additional charges, $50 of the payment goes to pay the
interest and your balance is paid down to $4,950. If you continued on that schedule, it would take you
299 months (almost 25 years) to pay off the balance. On the other hand, if you paid $250 each month, you
would have the balance paid off in about 23 months.
As a practical matter, unless you just stop
using a card each month you will have additional charges, interest will be charged, and you can decide
how much over the minimum you wish to pay. Paying more than the monthly minimum will eliminate the
balance much faster, save you considerable interest charges and provide some peace of mind knowing you
are taking a prudent action.
Pay more than the minimum
Here are five ideas for finding cash to make the payments and reducing your credit card balance faster:
- Use cash or your debit card for more of your purchases. Fewer monthly charges on your credit card
will bring your balance down faster.
- Avoid using the credit card while you’re trying to reduce your balance owed. Begin using your credit
card and earning rewards points again when you are able to pay off your credit card each month or when
you have paid down the balance.
- Use some of your savings to pay down the balance on your credit card. If you can reduce your expense
(interest charged) by more than your income (interest received), you will end up ahead.
- Consider some other type of loan. The interest rates charged on home equity loans and mortgages
would probably be less than what is charged on your credit card.
- Cut back on your total spending. Conserving some cash, even for just a few months, and using it to
make larger credit card payments can make a difference. It may even develop into a good habit.