You may have began the holiday season with a firm conviction: I will not overspend this year. I will only spend what I can afford. I will not go into debt. Yet the truth is that despite the best intentions, we Americans are notorious for digging ourselves into big financial holes during the holidays.
If you find yourself wanting to run away and hide from your impending credit card statements, this article was written specifically with you in mind. It is too late to undo the damage your holiday spending sprees may have caused, yet that is no excuse for wallowing in self pity for the next few months and allowing the damage to fester.
Excessive credit card debt can place a burden upon you financially and can damage your credit scores as well. As a result, it is important for you to take action immediately so that your credit and your finances can start to recover.
Make a List, and Check It Twice
The first component in your post-holiday recovery plan needs to be a detailed list of the damage which has already been done: aka a list of your outstanding credit card balances. You should begin the list by writing the smallest balance at the bottom and working your way upward. Here is an example to help you get started.
· ABC Bank Card: $2,000 Balance
· XYZ Bank Card: $1,500 Balance
· QRS Bank Card: $800 Balance
Start at the Ground Floor
Credit card debt harms your credit scores even when you make all of your monthly payments on time. The reason why credit card debt can cause so much credit score damage is because 30% of your FICO credit scores are largely based upon your revolving utilization ratio (aka your credit utilization). Your credit utilization is basically the relationship between your credit card limits and your credit card balances. The closer your balances climb to your limits the worse the impact will be upon your credit scores.
Credit scoring models like FICO and VantageScore pay attention to the credit utilization ratio on all of your credit cards combined and also to each of your credit card accounts individually. This means that each time you pay a credit card account off you will probably see at least some credit score increase. In fact, when you pay a credit card balance down by even a mere 10% you might begin to see some positive credit score movement.
By paying off your lowest credit card balances first you may be able to bring about a positive increase in your credit scores more quickly. For example, paying off the $800 on the card with the smallest balance in the example above (QRS Bank) would probably help your credit scores more than if you paid the same $800 on either of the cards with the higher balances (ABC Bank or XYZ Bank). Starting at the ground floor and working your way up as you pay off your credit card debt will give you a lot more bang for your buck.
A Commitment to Change
The most important step you can take as you work toward eliminating your holiday credit card debt is to resolve to break the bad habit of overspending once and for all. In fact, if you will cut your spending in other areas you could free up additional funds to help you wipe out your credit card debt much more quickly. Paying off your credit card debt may not be easy and no one ever said that cutting spending is fun, but making a positive financial change is worth the sacrifice. Take control of your finances so that your finances won't control you.
Michelle Black is an author and leading credit expert with nearly a decade and a half of experience, a recognized credit expert on talk shows and podcasts nationwide, and a regularly featured speaker at seminars across the country. She is an expert on improving credit scores, budgeting, and identity theft. You can connect with Michelle on the HOPE4USA Facebook page by clicking here.