How Long Will It Actually Take to Pay Off Your Credit Cards?

Minimum payments won't get the job done. Spending 15% of your paycheck on debt is unrealistic. Instead, look for a new way to pay off your credit cards.

Gregory Andersen
Managing Editor at Tally

It’s a question on the minds of millions of Americans: How long will it take to pay off your credit cards?

The answer depends on your financial situation and your willingness to change your spending habits.

Being in debt can be crippling. It affects your quality of life, your credit score, and even your mental and physical well-being. The longer you are in debt, the harder it is to get out. This is because of the expensive interest charges being incurred, as well as the mental habituation of being “stuck” in debt and being powerless to do anything about it. 

With an average debt of $8,195, according to a 2018 study by CreditCards.com, the typical American household needs about 13 months to pay off its credit cards.

Many people dream about eliminating their credit card debt as easily as snapping a finger, but the grim reality for most people is that it will take years of struggling to even make a dent.

The amount of time it takes to pay off your credit cards depends on different factors, including card balances and household income, and those factors vary from state to state. The estimates range from 17 months (New Mexico, Louisiana and West Virginia) to 9 months (Massachusetts).

The main takeaway from this study is that states with lower median household incomes, coupled with higher amounts of debt, feel the greatest burden of credit card debt. As a result, Southern states account for 9 of the top 10 states most affected by credit card debt.

And yet, it still sounds manageable: Seventeen months to erase your credit card debt and start fresh? Sign me up!

The problem is that these estimated timelines are based on an assumption that 15% of your total income goes toward paying off credit card debt — and that just isn’t realistic for everyone.

 It’s not always about being disciplined or making smarter financial choices either. Sometimes, shaving 15% off your income to pay for your credit card debt means doing without necessities, being unable to pay another bill, or not being able to afford important medication.

“Putting 15% of your paycheck toward credit card debt might sound quick and easy, but it isn’t always possible,” said Bethy Hardeman, personal finance expert at Tally. “People struggling with credit card debt need real options with real results.”

Pay less now? Pay more later.

What’s far more realistic — though still a flawed strategy — is paying the minimum amount required on your credit card balance.

Unfortunately, only making the minimum payments has been proven to significantly extend the amount of time you’re in debt. Plus, you end up spending more money on interest charges.

“Minimum payments are often just barely more than the monthly interest, and that’s no accident,” Hardeman said. “If you’re only paying the minimum on your balance every month, it could take years, even decades, to pay off your credit card debt.”

Minimum payment amounts vary based on your credit card issuer and how much you owe. If you owe more than $1,000, the minimum is typically about 2% of the total balance; if you owe less than $1,000, it’s likely a fixed dollar amount in the $25 to $50 range.

Consider a scenario in which you have:

  • $2,000 credit card balance
  • 18% APR
  • 2% minimum payment

If you only make the minimum payment every month, it will take 187 months (more than 15 years!) to pay off the debt, according to the CreditCards.com Minimum Payment Calculator. In the process, you’ll also pay $3,327.70 in interest charges.

So, if spending 15% of your income is unrealistically high, and only paying the minimum is ineffectively low, where’s the happy medium?

The automated answer to pay off your credit cards

Let’s go back to the original question: How long will it take to pay off my credit cards?

We’ve already established a few things that will shape this answer: the balance on your credit cards, your income, your interest rates and your minimum payment. Add to that list: your payment due dates, your credit score and the ability to perfectly manage every payment for every card.

The point is that it can be hard to pay off your credit cards. Really hard. Unreasonably hard. And any missteps along the way extend the amount of time it takes to ditch your debt.

“Lenders make money through interest charges. The longer you’re in debt, the more you’re paying in interest,” Hardeman said. “But it doesn’t have to be this way.”

Here’s how Tally revolutionizes this entire problem:

  1. Tally analyzes the factors that affect how long it will take to pay off your credit cards.
  2. Tally formulates a strategy for you to pay off your credit cards in the fastest, most efficient way possible.
  3. Tally uses your Tally line of credit to help pay down your cards.

Tally works like a robo-advisor for your debt

You plug all of the relevant credit card information into the app. (It could be one credit card. It could be 10.) You control the debt you want Tally to manage.

You also control your debt repayment timeline. Just tell Tally when you want to be out of debt, and Tally gives you a payment recommendation every month to make it happen. If your monthly payment amount feels unmanageable, you can adjust your timeline to reduce the amount.

Remember: The more you pay, the faster you’ll be out of debt. And the faster you’re out of debt, the more you’ll save.

Tally crunches the numbers for you 

This goes far beyond a traditional debt repayment calculator. Tally knows it’s unrealistic to stop using your credit cards entirely. Tally wisely takes your spending habits into consideration. If you spend more than expected one month, you’ll see how it affects your debt repayment timeline.

Tally also knows minimum payments just won’t get the job done. Your payment recommendation is based on your prior month’s spending, plus 3% of your total balances, but Tally customers who regularly pay more than the minimum amount owed on their Tally balance have been proven to wipe out their debt at an exceptional rate.

In fact, Tally customers who pay five times the minimum amount owed, on average, are able to eliminate 20% of their debt in the first three months of using Tally.

Tally pays your credit cards for you

Those high-interest cards? If the APR on your credit cards is higher than your Tally line of credit, Tally pays them first to make sure you’re saving as much money as possible. Have a card with a 0% promotional interest rate? Tally pays the minimum while the offer lasts and allocates your money where it’s most effective.

Because Tally is the one to pay off your credit cards every month, it eliminates the possibility of a missed payment. Tally’s late fee protection gives you peace of mind and ensures you’ll never waste another dollar on late fees. 

Bottom line: Your financial goals are Tally’s financial goals. If you can continuously pay more than the minimum every month and manage multiple payments on your own, more power to you! And if you’re looking for extra help in managing your payments and getting out of debt faster, Tally’s got you covered. Debt relief is within reach.