Payment amounts being equal, the lower the interest rate, the sooner you'll pay off your debt. But do you know if your rates have gone up? Get out your most recent credit card, line of credit and student loan statements. Find the line that tells you the current interest rate. Is it the same interest rate as last year? (Check last year's statement.) If the interest rate has increased, then the amount of money you're paying toward the principal of your debt just got smaller.
There are two options here when it comes to payments. The first is to continue paying the same amount each month, knowing it'll take you longer to pay off your debt. The second is to add a few dollars each month. It doesn't have to be a big difference, but even a slight increase can get the principal down that much faster.
Start with, say, 10 or 20 more dollars a month and keep an eye on the part of your statement where it tells you how long it will take to pay off your debt, or use an online calculator (just search for "debt payment calculator") to see what might happen with different payment amounts.
Interest rates tend to change on cards -- it's in the small print -- but let's be honest. How many of us read what credit card companies send us? If you do, congratulations. For the rest of us, it makes financial sense to keep an eye on your interest rates.
One month, maybe you have a rate of 12 per cent; the next month, it jumps to 14 per cent. It's usually not because of anything you did -- rates just increased overall. (That's how they make their money.) That extra two per cent means more interest if you're carrying a balance.
Page 1 of 2 - Keep reading to learn what to do with extra cashonce you've paid off your debt
More on credit cards
If you're not paying off your card every month, now is the time to start -- a credit card with its high interest rate is no place to carry a balance. If you can't do that, up your monthly payments to eliminate your debt in less time.
It's also worth taking the time to call your credit card company and negotiate a lower interest rate -- or even switch companies to get that lower rate. If you get a new card, do make sure you use it to pay off the old one, rather than taking it to the mall for a test drive.
What to do if you've paid off debt
If you've successfully paid off one debt -- say, the credit card that had the highest interest rate -- don't falter. Stay on track by taking the amount you used to put on that debt and adding it to the next one you want to focus on. You're used to the money coming out anyway, so why not double up on the remaining debt and get rid of it faster?
What to do with extra cash
Not everything is about interest rates. Sometimes, it's about cold, hard cash. If you got any money as a gift for the holiday season -- or a bonus at work -- as much as it pains us to say this, consider putting it (or, at least, most of it) toward debt repayment.
The beginning of the year is an interesting time. We're just coming out of the holidays, and that new shiny thing is much more fun than paying attention to your finances. But remember that paying off your debt first leaves you with more years to have more shiny things. By staying on top of the conditions of your debt, you'll end up paying a lot less interest overall -- and making it disappear sooner.
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