Here’s how to ensure you can make monthly payments on high-balance credit cards.

If you’ve racked up too much credit card debt during the pandemic, you’re not alone. Around 42 percent of consumers added to their credit card debt since March 2020, according to a 2021 survey by personal finance site Bankrate.

Maybe you were optimistic that you could pay off most of your credit card debt within a few months of charging on your card. But now inflation is hitting us all hard, from groceries to gas to rising natural gas and other utility costs. By the time you pay for everything you need just to get by, there may not be much left to pay off credit card debt.

Many people pay only the minimum payment to save money each month. Making only the minimum payment each month is generally a bad idea, since you’ll end up paying hundreds, even thousands, of dollars in interest over an extended period. But what can you do if even the minimum payment on a credit card is out of your reach?

Before you spend another sleepless night worrying about how paying late, missing payments or making no payments at all on a credit card will wreck your credit, try one or more of these tips to help you get the situation under control.

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1. Contact the credit card issuer

Your first instinct may be to avoid your credit card issuer if you can’t pay the monthly bill. That’s a bad idea, though. Instead, call rather than email and explain your situation to the customer service rep. They might be able to extend a lower interest rate or allow you to skip a payment or two while you get caught up.

If you wait too long to negotiate, however, your credit card issuer may not be willing to work with you on finding a better way to pay the balance. Get on top of this right away, however, and you may be surprised at the ways in which the credit card company can help.

Find out: 5 Quick Steps to Reduce Credit Card Debt

2. Transfer the balance to a card with a 0 percent APR

If you can’t afford payments on credit cards with high balances, consider applying for a balance transfer card with a 0 percent introductory APR. Many balance transfer cards offer an introductory 0 percent APR for anywhere from six months to 18 months or longer. That period can buy some time where you don’t have to pay interest that adds to your balance.

You may even be able to make only the minimum payment until you get back on your feet and then make larger payments later.  Before you apply, however, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • You’ll pay a balance transfer fee. Most balance transfer cards will charge a three percent to five percent fee on each balance transferred. For example, a transfer fee of three percent on a $2,000 balance would be $60. Before applying, compare the balance transfer fee to the amount you would likely pay in interest over time if you left the balance on your current card to see if transferring the balance is worth it.
  • Pay late and the deal is off. A balance transfer can help you pay off debt without interest if you’re diligent about making payments on time. Generally, however, if you pay late or miss a payment, most credit card issuers can nix the 0 percent APR arrangement and begin charging a much higher interest rate. If that happens, you could end up with even more credit card debt.

If you pay late or miss a payment, don’t give up right away. Call the credit card company and ask the representative to give you a break this one time. The company may waive the missed or late payment rule this once. Then never pay late or miss a payment again.

Find out: How to Transfer Credit Card Balances

3. Meet with a credit counselor

If your credit card debt is out of control, consider meeting with a credit counselor at a nonprofit or nominal-fee credit counseling agency to sort things out and come up with a debt payoff plan.

Think your debt is too embarrassing to talk about with someone else? Don’t let that stop you. Credit counselors have seen just about every type of horrific debt situation out there and probably won’t bat an eye at your high credit card balances.

Credit counselors are there to help in many ways, including:

  • Helping you create a debt payoff plan
  • Working with you on a new monthly budget
  • Trying to work out a payment plan with credit card companies and other creditors
  • Showing you how you can repair your credit if necessary

Find out: What is Credit Card Counseling and What Can It Do For You?

4. Add to your income

If you’re unable to pay your credit card bills each month, take on a side hustle or part-time job to earn more income. Few people are eager to cut into their leisure time with more work obligations, but earning more money is one of the fastest ways to pay off credit card debt.

If you devote your earnings exclusively to credit card payments, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can chip away and eventually wipe out credit card balances. If working two jobs seems too much, look for a job that pays more so you can pay monthly credit card bills.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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