The average American has four credit cards. While having multiple credit cards increases your total available credit and maximizes your rewards potential, it also puts you at risk of racking up debt and missing monthly payments.
In this article, you’ll learn how to manage multiple cards responsibly and discover the best way to pay off multiple credit cards. (Hint: It’s not the same for everyone.)
Stop taking on new credit card debt
Before you can chip away at your credit card bills, you must decide not to take on any new credit card debt. Even if you can make the minimum monthly payment on every card, credit card companies still apply interest charges to the unpaid balance, thus increasing your overall debt.
People are often enticed by credit cards that offer 0% APR for an introductory period. However, if you don’t make the minimum payment or make a late payment, the intro period ceases and credit card interest begins to build. The credit card issuer may also charge late fees or penalty APRs, which can quickly add up.
Think of your current credit card balances as your “peak” and commit to not opening new accounts or charging more on your credit cards until you pay off your existing balances. If you’re not sure you can do this on your own, consider freezing your credit. You can freeze your credit at no charge through all three credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and Transunion — and unfreeze them at any time.
Create a budget and stick to it
If you don’t already have a budget in place for your personal finances, take a look at your last six months of spending and identify your necessities. These essential expenses include things like your rent or mortgage, utilities, groceries, car payment, health insurance and student loans.
Create a budget to determine the amount of extra money you have left over each month after paying necessary expenses. You can use a free monthly budget calculator from companies like Quicken. Then, decide how much you want to put toward paying down your debt. Maybe you want to cut out all discretionary spending. Or perhaps you’re willing to buy a cup of coffee once a week instead of every day.
Whatever you decide, remember that the quicker you pay off your debt, the more you’ll save in the long run since you’ll cut down on your total amount of interest payments.
Use the debt avalanche method
Many financial experts consider the debt avalanche method to be the best way to pay off multiple credit cards. With this approach, you pay off the credit card accounts with the highest interest rates first and make the minimum payments on your other accounts.
Once you pay off the card with the highest interest rate, you move to the card with the next-highest interest rate until you reach the card with the lowest rate.
Each time you pay off an account, you’ll have more money to put toward your next debt. Note that this method works for all forms of debt. Your credit cards are the riskiest debt, so pay those off first. Once you do so, you can pay off other high-interest loans like student loans.
For instance, let’s say that you’re paying $25 in minimum monthly payments to three cards and $125 each month toward the balance with the highest interest rate, for a total of $200 per month. When you pay off one account, you’ll free up $125 to put toward the account with the next-highest interest rate. Now, you can pay $150 ($125 in leftover funds + $25 for previously-allocated minimum payments) to put toward the next account.
It may seem as though nothing is happening at first. But once you pay off the first account, you can move on to paying off your remaining debts.
Use a balance transfer credit card
Another way to pay off multiple credit cards is with a balance transfer card. Using a balance transfer card is a debt consolidation technique that moves all of your credit card balances to one low-interest (or no-interest) credit card.
Although lenders may make the occasional exception, you need to have a good credit score to qualify for balance transfer cards. The lowest interest rates on balance transfer cards are reserved for those with FICO scores of 670 or higher.
Balance transfer cards are convenient because you only have one due date and one monthly credit card payment. They also typically have a 0% interest rate for the first year or two. Using a balance transfer card allows you to pay down debt aggressively without collecting interest.
There will probably be a balance transfer fee of 3% to 5% of the total transfer amount. But if your current credit cards have an APR higher than this fee, you’ll still save more money in the long run compared to your current cards and collective interest.
Use a credit card payoff app
To take the guesswork out of managing multiple credit card debt payments, consider using a credit card payoff app like Tally. Tally offers a line of credit that combines all your cards into one monthly payment at a lower interest rate. Much like a balance transfer card, you’ll need a good FICO score to qualify to use the Tally payoff app.
Use the debt snowball method
Unlike the debt avalanche method, which pays off the credit card account with the highest interest rate first, the debt snowball method focuses on paying off the account with the lowest balance first.
The theory behind the debt snowball method is that you can quickly gain momentum by securing “small wins.” Once you pay off your smallest debt, it can motivate you to keep going and pay down your other balances.
The snowball option leaves your accounts with the highest interest rates for last, which means you may collect more interest charges while paying off your smaller debts. Still, if your debts are small enough that you can pay them off quickly, you may want to consider this approach.
This method may improve your credit score by lowering your credit utilization and reducing the number of accounts you have with outstanding balances.
The best way to pay off multiple credit cards is up to you
The best way to pay off multiple credit cards for one person may not be the same for another.
For instance, if you’re worried about long-term interest charges, consider the debt avalanche approach. If you’d rather pick up a few quick victories to get you going, try the debt snowball method. If you have a good credit score, a balance transfer card or payoff app like Tally might be the best way to go.
Before you get started, make a conscious decision not to open any new credit card accounts and create (and stick to) a budget. Once you do so, you’ll be well on your way to paying down debt and putting extra money into a savings account for retirement or a big purchase.