Credit card interest is one of the sneakiest expenses a consumer can face. It’s lumped in with a standard bank statement, and it’s not always an obvious cost. Paying $100 in interest doesn’t directly buy someone a good or service — it just keeps a debt obligation from ticking higher.
But the real problem is that Americans are racking up so much credit card debt that they can’t make the payments fast enough to keep interest costs down — and that’s costing families a whole lot of money.
Average household spends 9% of annual income on interest
The average U.S. household now carries more than $16,000 in credit card debt and more than $132,000 in total debt — and the interest is costing a small fortune.
According to NerdWallet, the average household with debt pays more than $6,600 in interest per year — meaning 9% of the average household income ($75,591) is being spent on interest alone.
The average cost of credit card interest per year is more than $1,300.
It’s been said many times that a modest amount of personal debt can be a good thing, particularly debt that increases net worth or saves money in the long-run. But allowing that debt to linger can cripple a person’s finances.
Furthermore, not only can high levels of interest quietly break a budget, but they can also add up enough to drive down credit scores. Allowing interest to accrue over time increases the total amount of debt owed — a big ding to a person’s creditworthiness. Plus, if you aren’t paying on debt payments on time, that hurts your credit score even more.
The good news…
The good news is that there’s a way to immediately reduce what you pay in credit card interest — but few people take advantage of it.
‘Few people ask a card company for a lower rate of interest. However, if you have a pretty good payment record, we’ve found that most people who ask for it do get a lower rate,’ says Matt Schulz, a senior analyst with CreditCards.com.
In addition to asking your credit card company for a rate reduction, there are several other ways to keep the costs of interest down — putting more money back in your pocket!
Read more: Why you should avoid ‘skip a payment’ offers on your debts
6 ways to limit the cost of credit card interest
It’s a no-brainer that dollars spent on interest can be used better elsewhere. So here are some tips to help limit how much you owe.
1. Cut expenses
Dedicating more of your budget to paying off debt is the surest way to save money in the long-run. In the case of debt that has interest attached to it, it’s a case of ‘the sooner, the better’ — each additional month of owing debt is one more month of added interest. Dedicating even a modest amount more of take-home pay to debt is helpful. As the total amount of debt owed decreases, so do the interest charges.
If you’re looking for more ideas, here are 21 ways to cut costs and save more money in 2017.
Also, here’s a guide to getting started on paying down credit card debt.
2. Balance transfer to a 0% APR card
Devoting extra income to debt might not be a feasible option for everyone. In that case, it’s worth considering how to use the terms of credit agreements to your advantage. One prominent example is transferring an existing balance to a 0% APR credit card. The major banks offer cards that have at least some interest-free introductory period — Chase Slate and Citi Simplicity, for example, have lengthy 0% APR terms (at least 15 months), and Slate even has a zero-fee policy for balance transfers in the first 60 days. Approval for a card of this sort isn’t guaranteed — this is why it’s crucial to build good credit! — but obtaining one presents a strong option for limiting interest.
Read more: 3 credit cards with no balance transfer fees and low interest rates
3. Negotiate your existing interest rate down
Clark advises consumers to pay attention to their mailbox for credit card offers from competing companies. They may give you leverage with your current card company:
‘Years ago, the credit card business was so amped up with competition that you could call up your issuer and ask for a lower interest rate if you got a competing offer. To retain you, they would often equal or even go below the competing offer. Well, that’s happening again now. But note this well: You need to have a competing offer in hand. Be sure to watch your mailbox. You shouldn’t just call up out of the blue not having done your research and expect them to accommodate you.’
4. Make multiple credit card payments per month
As US News notes, credit card interest accrues on your daily average balance, meaning that working your way to a lower balance as frequently as possible benefits your finances. For example, paying $400 at the end of the month is not the same as paying $100 four times a month. If you have a credit card balance of $2,000, a one-time payment at the end of the month means you accumulate interest on $2,000 every day of the month but one. Four payments of $100, however, means you accrue interest on $2,000, then $1,900, all the way to $1,700 by month’s end. Depending on your interest rate, the savings might not be that big in the short term. But as with all modest savings, they can add up over time — and without you having to spend a single additional cent on debt payments per month. (For more information on how credit card interest is calculated, see this from Nerd Wallet.)
5. Don’t put frivolous expenses on a high-interest, high-volume card
It’s great that you want to get those rewards points with a credit card purchase. But if the one you’re using carries a high balance already and isn’t in a 0% APR period, it might be worth paying with cash, instead. The idea is to pay down the debt you already owe, not nickel and dime a card you’re trying to pay off. That will only increase the amount of interest owed. So if you won’t be able to pay the bill IN FULL at the end of the month, don’t put the purchase on the card!
Additionally, there are expenses on which you should never use a credit card to begin with: namely, hospital bills, student expenses, and weddings.
6. Earn more
There are tons of ways to make extra money each month — and if paying down credit card debt is one of your goals for 2016, then making some extra cash will help you do that.
Here are 26 ways to make extra cash each month.
BONUS TIP: If budgeting is the real problem behind your credit card debt, check out what Clark suggests as the best way to get your budget in order.