Our guest blogger, Kathryn Bradt, is one-half of the duo behind the Dames in Debt blog. The Dames are sisters working off their combined $250,000 worth of student loans and consumer debt while keeping it real about the struggles of being twenty-somethings in expensive cities with limited funds.
Credit cards…love them or hate them, these little pieces of plastic (now featuring the “new” technology that is a slow-as-molasses electronic chip) are a frequent part of our daily lives. With the exception of food truck purchases, I can’t remember the last real transaction I made in cash, and with the advent of credit card rewards programs, I can’t remember the last time I used my debit card instead of my credit card.
That is, until December 26, 2015, when I officially kicked off my “You desperately need to stop paying $150 in interest each month” credit card repayment plan.
How I Got into Debt
I didn’t get into credit card debt because of a lot of frivolous spending. Sure, there were a couple major clothes purchases that were probably unnecessary (or wholly unnecessary), but most of my debt was accrued paying for living expenses.
Over three years of law school and a summer of studying for the bar exam, I put nearly all of my living expenses onto that sad Visa whenever my student loan refund ran out – about 9 months’ worth of living expenses.
How much debt does 9 months of living expenses, a couple clothing splurges, a lot of stress-induced fast-food, and a 14.9% APR interest rate total? $14,055.92. Ouch.
After passing the bar in October 2015, I found a full-time lawyer job as an Assistant Public Defender (my dream job!), and I knew it was time to end my relationship with credit card debt.
Setting Up a Plan with Mint
Being a longtime Mint user, I knew I could use the Goals feature and loan calculator to help me pay off this debt. In the past, I’d set many savings goals and had great success with them, so I figured a debt repayment goal would be just as helpful.
Since my account was linked, Mint easily tallied the debt total, interest rate, and the minimum payment – and actually showed me that if I continued to make only minimum payments, I would end up spending 18.5 years in debt and $23,000 in interest. Super depressing.
After accepting my new job, I tweaked my Mint budget to account for my new income, updated my savings goals (emergency fund, anyone?), and established my new fiscally-responsible “fun” and eating out funds. After doing this, I saw that I had enough left over to make monthly payments that were 4x bigger than the minimum payment!
With my payment calculated and my goal set, I automated my monthly payments, and BOOM! I’m going to be credit card debt free by July 2017.
With Mint, I’ve been able to create a plan that’s doable. I was able to see what it would take to pay off my debt in 12 months versus 24 months, and I think it’s important to see those differences and what you would be giving up to get there, or spend in interest, as the case may be.
I picked a payment that I know I can make each month, but also gives me room to maybe add some extra money here and there. And the best part? Each time I make one of those extra payments, Mint automatically updates my goal completion date for me.
Life’s looking up now that I have my credit card debt under control. As a public interest attorney (read: not the kind of lawyer that makes six figures), I have made peace with my student loans hanging around a bit longer, but that credit card debt? It needed to go.
Now, I’m on a 15-month journey to high-interest-debt-freedom, and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve got big plans for that money once I’m done paying off the credit card…retirement savings!
If you’ve got a lot of credit card debt, there are definitely some things I recommend doing to fast-track your debt repayment. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Track all of your transactions with Mint and make sure they are categorized correctly. The trend charts will really show you where you can (and must!) spend less money in order to pay down your debt.
- Add a monthly budget to cover your interest payment each month, that way you can account for how much of your monthly payment is really going to paying down your debt.
- Stop using credit cards to float cash! Seriously. Learn to live within your means. If you just can’t make it work, then it’s time to pick up another job. I kept my part-time jobs for the first few months of having my new, full-time job to help transition my finances.
- Make your monthly payments (or automate!) the day after your paycheck deposits, that way you don’t have the opportunity to spend that money on something other than debt.
- When making more room in your budget to contribute to your debt, start with your take-out food budget and monthly memberships (gym, cable, phone, massages, etc.). These are the easiest to lower or eliminate without feeling like you can’t have any fun.
- It never hurts to call your credit card company and ask about lowering your interest rate. My company lowered mine 0.9% to an even 14.0% APR – all because I called and asked them about it! Every little bit helps when paying down high-interest debt.
Kathryn Bradt is an Assistant Public Defender in Richmond, VA. When not in the courtroom, she writes about personal finance, life, and her addiction to procedural cop dramas as the East Coast Dame. Representing both coasts of the United States of Indebtedness, the Dames blog about millennial budgeting, saving money without feeling deprived, and how to live first-class on coach funds.