Health Advocate Blog

Reduce debt stress by becoming credit card-savvy

Using credit cards can be a helpful way to manage finances. Yet incurring mounting debt from high interest rates with high finance charges, especially on multiple cards, is extremely distressing. Here are tips to help reduce your existing credit card debt and things to know before signing up for another card.

  • Tally the credit card debt you have. Write down the balances, minimum payments and interest rates for each card. Then rank them from highest to lowest interest rate, regardless of balance.
  • Aim to pay off the card with the card with highest interest rate first. Then move on to pay off the card with the next highest rate and so on. This will save you money over time, keeping your interest rate in check.
  • Or, you can pay off the card with the lowest balance first, then proceed to the card with the next lowest and so on. Though a more expensive route, this strategy can be the fastest way to reduce debt on individual cards and boost your confidence to pay off cards. 
  • Put any extra money plus the minimum monthly payment toward the card you’re paying off first.
  • Continue to pay the minimum monthly payments on all your other cards.
  • Don’t make any new purchases on the card you’re paying off  
  • Repeat the above steps until all your credit cards are paid off.

Remember, pay your balances on time to avoid paying late payment fees!

Each of your credit card balances directly affects your credit score, which measures your creditworthiness (how likely you are to pay back a debt, based on your credit history). Late and missed payments can lower your score, making it difficult to for you to borrow money for a mortgage or car, for example—you’ll pay more for the money you’re able to borrow. On the other hand, the longer your credit history and consistency of payment, the better your score.

Have debt on multiple cards? Consider debt consolidation. Rolling your various debts into one monthly payment can help simplify or lower your payments. Before you consolidate, talk to a qualified credit counselor.

Before signing up for a credit card…

Know the APR (the annual percentage rate) of the cards. This is the interest rate (fee the lender charges). The higher the interest rate, the higher your finance charges each month (the dollar fee charged for paying over time instead of all at once.). When you’re trying to pay off your debt, higher interest rates hurt you because much of your payment goes toward the finance charge.

Use an online calculator to determine the true cost of paying off the card with interest. If you’re unable to pay the balance on your card each month, you can end up paying more for your purchases due to interest rates. Look for a calculator to discover the cost of paying only the minimum each month.

Need help to dig out of debt? Visit the Federal Trade Commission at

Or the U.S. government Information Services: