How to Tackle Snowball Debt After a Year of Furloughs and Layoffs

For the greater part of 2020, millions of Americans have faced furloughs and layoffs, subsequently relying on credit cards to keep their heads above water. Here’s how to get out from under those ballooning balances.

The Coronavirus Effect on Debt

When the stimulus checks were dispersed last spring, millions of citizens used those relief funds to pay down debt. However, a number of Americans who’ve been laid off or have had hours cut this year don’t have a financial safety net, so they’ve had to fall back on credit cards. Add to this the number of Americans who lost jobs with employer-sponsored health insurance and are now dealing with unpaid medical bills because of the pandemic, and it’s no wonder why so many Americans are struggling under the weight of debt now more than ever.

Strategies to Pay Down Credit Card Debt

If you’ve had to rely on credit cards this year, steps you can take to diminish your balance include:

Communicate with Creditors

At the start of the pandemic many credit card companies began advertising COVID-related assistance programs. Some of these have since expired, but it’s still worth looking into with each credit card company. You will most likely have to prove that you’re experiencing hardship, but most companies are willing to provide at least some short-term measures of relief, such as flexible payments or a lower interest rate.

Request a Lower Interest Rate

Credit card companies are unlikely to reduce APRs by a lot, but every little bit helps. And if you’ve improved your credit score, you have a greater chance of securing a lower rate.

Transfer Balances

By transferring the balance on a high-interest credit card to one with a low or 0% introductory interest rate, you can slash the overall interest you’ll pay on your debt. Just be sure to pay down the balance during the duration of the rate decrease, or you risk landing right where you started—a high balance coupled with a high interest rate.

Pay Off High Interest Credit Cards

If you need to pay off debt on more than one credit card, there are two conventional approaches to do it effectively.

The first is called the debt snowball, which involves paying off the card with the smallest balance first. Once that card is paid off, apply that monthly payment to the monthly payment of the card with the next highest balance. Each payoff builds momentum until you work your way to paying off the card with the largest balance.

The second strategy for paying off credit cards is called the avalanche method, which aims to tackle debts on the cards with the highest interest rates first. While the debt snowball can provide bite-sized mental victories, this method helps to better curtail interest payments over the life of your credit card debt.