Get expert advice delivered straight to your inbox.

Skip to Main Content

How to Pay Off Credit Card Debt

Listen, if credit card debt is stopping you from paying your bills or keeping you up at night, I see you.

Back in the day, my husband and I had over $20,000 of credit card debt. I still remember how ashamed I felt. I used to keep my phone on silent and turn it screen-side down so no one saw all the missed calls from the credit card companies. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

It’s time to drop it like it’s hot. (Sheesh, people, I’m talking about dropping your debt!) Here’s how to pay off credit card debt fast—one step at a time.


Key Takeaways

  • Of all the strategies out there, the best way to pay off credit card debt is with the debt snowball method.
  • Options like balance transfers, credit consolidation or personal loans only make your debt problem way worse.
  • You can pay off your credit card debt faster by getting on a budget, lowering your spending, and earning extra money.

Ways to Pay Off Credit Card Debt

Paying off credit card debt—or any debt—is never easy (and anyone who says different might be scamming you). There are plenty of so-called “quick fixes” out there for credit card debt, but most of them will only add more money problems to your plate.

So, let’s talk about the most popular credit card payoff strategies—and whether or not they’ll actually help you get out of debt.

1. Debt Snowball

The debt snowball method is the best way to pay off credit card debt—and the fastest way. (Trust me: I know from personal experience!) Here’s how the debt snowball works:

  • List all your debts from smallest to largest. If you’ve got multiple credit cards, list the balances individually. And if you’ve got other debt, like car loans, personal loans or student loans, be sure to include those too. Don’t worry about the interest rates right now—just focus on the balances.

  • Start making minimum payments on all your debts, except the smallest. This is important because you don’t want 1-800-Pay-Me (aka debt collectors) blowing up your phone.
  • Attack your smallest debt with any and all extra money you can get. Knock it out as fast as possible! (I’ll give you some tips on how to do that in a bit.)
  • When that smallest debt is gone, take what you were paying on it and put it toward the second-smallest debt until it’s paid off. Continue to make minimum payments on your other debts.
  • Keep doing that until all your debts are gone! Remember, each time you pay off a balance, you’ve got that much more money to throw at the next debt—like a snowball rolling downhill. It’s unstoppable. You’re unstoppable. That credit card debt (or any debt) doesn’t stand a chance!

The debt snowball is all about motivation and momentum. Instead of trying to do everything at once, it gives you a game plan to attack your debts—one at a time. That’s why you start with the smallest balance first.

Right about now you might be thinking, Jade, why not tackle the debt with the highest interest rate first? I know, I know. But the truth is, what you really need right now is a quick win. And the best way to start off strong and stay motivated is to knock out that smallest debt ASAP and feel that win.

money icon

Pay off debt fast and save more money with Financial Peace University.

Take it from someone who knows. When it comes to paying off debt, money is mostly about your mindset, not math. Once you get that first debt behind you, you’ll be on fire and ready to knock out the next debt!

2. Debt Avalanche

Unlike the debt snowball, the debt avalanche is a method that focuses on paying off the debt with the highest interest rate first. But the problem with this method is rooted in motivation.

With the debt avalanche, your first targeted debt might be a huge balance that could take a long time to pay off. But you need quick wins that encourage you to keep going! The debt avalanche sounds nice in theory, but it takes too dang long to see real progress.

Remember: Paying off debt is less about math and more about behavior. When you experience a win, your body gets a shot of dopamine and wants to continue that behavior. A study published in Harvard Business Review fully backs up that the debt snowball is the most effective path to debt freedom.1 So, sorry, debt avalanche, but in the words of Ariana Grande, “Thank you, next!”

3. Credit Card Balance Transfer

A credit card balance transfer is when you move all your credit card debt onto one new credit card that has a low interest rate. Here’s the thing: I’m not mad at you for considering it. But it’s not the solution. You might lower the temperature of the fire temporarily, but please believe you are still on fire. You didn’t actually pay anything off.

You could also get hit with transfer fees and risk going blind reading the fine print. Okay, that last part is an exaggeration—but there’s no exaggerating that huge spike in your interest rate when you make just one late payment or the introductory period expires.

Remember, what you owe (aka the debt) is your main problem. The interest rate is just an annoying symptom. So, let’s stay focused on paying off that credit card as fast as possible, instead of moving the debt around—because it’s burning up your money!

4. Personal Loan

If you’re already in credit card debt, you might be tempted to take out a personal loan to pay it off. But taking out more debt to cover your other debt only traps you further in the debt cycle. Instead of just moving your debt around, you need to deal with it head on.

5. Debt Consolidation

When you consolidate your debt, you basically take out a loan to combine your debts into one single payment. This sounds like a good idea until you realize that it actually extends the length of your loan, which means you’re in debt for way longer.

Also, in most cases, the interest rate still depends on your credit score. I’m not a fan of the credit score (aka your “how much do I love debt?” score), but if you’ve got credit cards, you’ve got one. And you should know, if your credit is a hot mess, your interest rate will be too. Plus, if you do happen to snag a low interest rate that seems too good to be true, know that bad boy will usually go up over time. 

6. Debt Settlement

Debt settlement companies will charge you a fee and promise to negotiate with your creditors or reduce the amount you owe. Wait a minute—why pay someone to do something you can easily do yourself for free?

The truth is, these companies usually just take your money and leave you drowning in the debt you already had—plus all the new late fees that built up when no one was paying on your balance.

7. Credit Card Forgiveness

Watch out for debt relief companies that advertise credit card debt forgiveness! These are just debt settlement companies trying to pull a fast one on you. Do you see a trend emerging here? None of these options are a true solution. They are just hoaxes that will keep you busy but not productive in paying down your debt.

8. 401(k) Loan

Unless you’re facing bankruptcy or foreclosure, never ever borrow from your 401(k) to pay off your debt. I repeat—never borrow from your retirement! Not only will you get hit with penalties, fees and taxes on your withdrawal, but you’re also stealing from your own future. And I know y’all know better than that!

Oh, and if you mess around and get fired or quit your job, the full amount of that 401(k) loan immediately becomes due. That’ll turn your emergency into a full-blown crisis.

9. Home Equity Loan 

A home equity loan is a second mortgage that borrows against the equity you’ve built up in your home and uses your house as collateral. In other words, you’re trading what you actually own of your home for even more debt. This puts you at risk of losing your house if you can’t pay back the loan on time. Talk about making a bad situation worse.

I’m going to go ahead and say that out of all the terrible options we’ve talked about so far, this one may take the cake as the worst! Don’t mess with a home equity loan unless you also like the idea of possibly losing your home.

10. Borrowing Money From Family and Friends

I don’t care who you are or how rich Uncle Boo Boo might be, borrowing money from family and friends is a recipe for drama. Not only will it make Thanksgiving dinner extremely uncomfortable, but it also turns that loving uncle (or your friend) into a debt collector. And no family needs that extra tension—especially around the dinner table.

How to Pay Off Credit Card Debt Faster

As I’ve already said, the debt snowball is the best way to pay off credit card debt. But there are other things you can do to get out of credit card debt faster.

Get on a budget.

A budget is like a toothbrush—everyone needs one, and without it, things get ratchet real quick. If you really want that credit card debt gone, you need a plan for your money. I’m talking a zero-based budget. It’s up to you to tell your money what to do and where to go. And in this case, you need as much of your money as possible going straight toward your debt.

Go ahead and create a free budget with EveryDollar. Start by taking care of your essentials. Then be honest about what you’re spending each month on the fun stuff (eating out, trips to the nail salon, streaming services). If you’ve got any extra money in your budget, throw it at your smallest debt!

Lower your spending.

Once you’ve created your budget, it’s time to free up some cash to help you pay down your credit card debt. So, take a good, hard look at your budget. What expenses can you cut?

If you need some ideas of where to start cutting, ya girl has got a few:

  • Restaurants (eating out will eat into your budget big time)
  • Entertainment (this includes sports games or going to the movies)
  • Cable or streaming subscriptions (for now, sit through the ads on those free versions)
  • Daily coffee runs (you can be your own barista)

Also, find ways to lower your monthly bills and save money in the categories you can’t cut completely. You can do this by watching your electricity use, meal planning, or choosing generic over name brands.

If you make enough small changes, you’ll feel like you got a raise! Just make sure you’re also intentional about putting your freed-up money toward paying off debt—not wasting it on unnecessary or impulse purchases.

Earn extra money.

Another way to help you get rid of that credit card debt faster? Find ways to increase your income.

Try selling your stuff. Or see if you can work extra hours at your current job. You can also snag a side hustle (or two!), like driving for Uber or delivering groceries with Shipt.

Don’t be afraid to use the skills you have to tutor, babysit or take freelance gigs. You could also do what I did and teach music or sell cakes. Either way, you better be working! Will it take more of your time and energy? Yes. But will it help you pay off your debt faster? Most definitely!

Life is about trade-offs. This is just a season of cutting back and working harder, but it means you’re on the path to being credit card debt-free. And that’s worth every ounce of sweat you’ll pour into this thing. I did it. I know you can do it too!


Next Steps

  • Create a free budget with EveryDollar (be sure to include your credit card payment in your budget!).
  • Find out how to cancel your credit cards and avoid getting into more credit card debt.
  • Want to ditch credit card debt for good? Learn how to get out of debt and stay out of debt with Financial Peace University. This class has helped millions of people take control of their money—and now it’s your turn!

Did you find this article helpful? Share it!

Jade Warshaw

About the author

Jade Warshaw

Jade Warshaw is a personal finance coach, bestselling author of Money’s Not a Math Problem, and regular co-host on The Ramsey Show, the second-largest talk radio show in America. Jade and her husband paid off nearly half a million dollars of debt, and now she’s a six-figure debt elimination expert who uses her journey to help others get out of debt and take control of their money. She’s appeared on CNBC, Fox News and Cheddar News and been featured in Fortune and POLITICO magazines. Through her social content, recent book, syndicated columns and speaking events, Jade is on a mission to change the typical American money mindset. Learn More.

Related Articles

How to Cancel a Credit Card

How to Cancel a Credit Card

Bust out your heavy-duty scissors, folks! Learn how to cancel your credit card and break free from credit once and for all.

Jade Warshaw Jade Warshaw
What Is Debt Consolidation?

What Is Debt Consolidation?

Juggling multiple payments got you feeling like you’re in a circus? See why consolidating your debts can actually set you back even more.

Jade Warshaw Jade Warshaw
debt snowball

How the Debt Snowball Method Works

The debt snowball method is the fastest way to pay off your debt. You'll pay off the smallest debt while making the minimum payment on all your other debts, and gain momentum as each one gets paid off.

George Kamel George Kamel