Being proactive and disciplined about meeting at least your minimum payments—and more, whenever possible—is essential to settling your debt. Overestimating what you can afford to pay, however, can create an untenable financial situation that might require you to take on even more debt. Arbour recommends using a calculator like this interactive budgeting tool to help yourself find the sweet spot.
“What dream or goal do you have for your future self or loved ones that you could be saving for now, rather than using your hard-earned dollars to repay that debt for months or years to come?”
Why it’s important to tackle your debt now
Carrying debt can be a huge strain on your financial health and also your emotional well-being.
When you have unpaid debt, the dollar amounts on the credit card bills only represent a portion of the cost of repayment. You’ll also need to account for the interest accumulated while you pay them off. The longer you take, the more interest will accrue.
An unbalanced credit utilization ratio (the amount of debt you carry compared to the amount of credit you have) or missed payments will have a negative impact on your credit score, which could, in turn, affect your ability to take out a loan, get a mortgage or even get a job.
“What I’d also like people to take into consideration is the opportunity cost of letting a debt sit for any period of time,” notes Arbour. “What are you giving up on by not repaying that debt as quickly as possible, or even letting it get larger? What dream or goal do you have for your future self or loved ones that you could be saving for now, rather than using your hard-earned dollars to repay that debt for months or years to come?”
Also, debt, particularly when held for a prolonged amount of time, can cause enormous amounts of stress. Arbour points to sleep problems and health complications as the physical effects. These can lead to lower productivity and higher absenteeism, negatively impacting your professional life. Emotionally speaking, debt can affect your moods and your relationships with others.
Proven strategies to bring down credit card debt
Once you’ve decided to tackle your debt, you’ll want to build a strategy. “The best, first step is to take a deep breath and to face the issue,” Arbour advises. “Debt can feel very isolating, but you are not alone and there is help available.”
Make a budget
You simply can’t plan to pay back debt effectively unless you understand what you’re working with. “Knowing your numbers—how much you owe today, at what interest rate and to whom—is a great place to start, as well as knowing your resources—how much money you have to direct to the debt each week or month,” says Arbour. She also recommends reaching out to a neutral, confidential, professional source, like her organization, which provides accredited counsellors to assist.