Feds hike interest: How to keep your credit debt low

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(NewsNation) — The Federal Reserve raised interest rates to the highest level in 14 years Wednesday, to a range of 3% to 3.25%, as it tries to control spiking inflation that’s making food, housing, gas and other necessities increasingly unaffordable for everyday Americans. 

But that means it’ll be pricier to borrow money, putting an extra burden on families turning to credit to make ends meet. 

U.S. credit card debt per cardholder increased to $842 billion earlier this year, with the average cardholder owing $5,769, according to moneygeek.com. The rate increase could mean you pay 0.25% more in interest on your credit card bill, reports CNBC.

As credit card interest may make payments spike soon — especially if the Fed fulfills expectations to rise the rate further this year — the time is now to make a plan for reducing debt. Here’s four tips. 

Pay for things in cash when possible

Using debit or credit cards can make it hard to track how much you’re spending day-to-day, according to American Consumer Credit Counseling.

“With a credit card, those small charges can just keep adding up until the end of the month,” their website states. “The rows and rows of small transactions accumulate into a surprisingly high bill, and if you don’t pay it in time, even more charges and fees are tacked on.”

In contrast, while often less convenient, studies have shown the act of physically parting with your money can help you save more than when paying with a credit card — up to 83% in some cases. 

Say ‘no’ to bad debt

If you do need to use credit, avoid toxic credit, like payday lenders who charge above 30% APRs. Interest that high quickly becomes incredibly difficult to pay back, as many realized during the 2008 financial crisis

“The loan will usually cost you significantly more than the value of the loan amount,” financial advice manager Trina Patel told CNBC. 

Ideally, you want to make more per month than what you owe. But that standard of living is particularly out of reach for many Millennials, who currently have the highest debt-to-income ratio of any living generation due to high student loans and lower comparative wages. 

Wells Fargo has a handy debt-to-income ratio calculator.

Find a credit counselor 

Some nonprofits offer free or reduced prices for credit counseling, says financial columnist Michelle Singletary. This can be particularly helpful if you don’t feel comfortable with contacting your lender or have many different types of loans. 

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling works like this: Their counselors advocate on your behalf with creditors, helping individuals, homeowners and small business owners get out from under month-to-month debt, which 62% of Americans carry, according to their data.

Sometimes, they can even negotiate a “debt management plan,” where you have one monthly payment that the nonprofit distributes to creditors, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They can also help you try to lower overall monthly payments. 

NFCC says they’ve helped more than 1 million consumers, with 73% paying back their debt.

When burdened with many different types of debt, experts recommend a more methodical approach. 

Try debt stacking

As Neale Godfrey writes for Forbes, “This method concentrates on paying the minimums on your credit cards and allocating any leftover money towards paying off the card with the highest rate.”

This kind of work takes a lot of discipline and planning, but you’re saving yourself money and stress in the long term by going above the monthly payment. 

If your debt is 40% less than your gross income, an option to consider is debt consolidation, which rolls multiple obligations into one single payment.

However, this works best during periods of low interest rates and for people with many high-interest loans, according to U.S. Bank’s financial education blog: “If your credit score isn’t high enough to access competitive rates, you may be stuck with a rate that’s higher than your current debts.”

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