Tips to help you pay off your debt

January 26, 2012 3:41:25 PM PST
By now you have probably received all your credit card bills that you racked up from Christmas. And if you are trying to figure out which ones to pay first, we have the answer.

If you have several credit cards with balances on them, the experts say you should make a plan of action to pay off your debt, and there is a strategy to help you do that.

It's not hard to get into credit card debt, especially during the holidays.

"Sometimes you want what you want and that's where the temptation comes in," shopper Sharron Sanders says.

But it is hard to get out of credit card debt.

"It's not free money, it's borrowed; you have to pay all that back," shopper Dakota Jackson says.

And John Lopez with the University of Houston's Bauer College of Business says there is a method to paying it back.

First make a list of all your credit card balances.

"From the lowest down to the highest," Lopez says.

Then this might surprise you, but Lopez says once you make your list...

"Pay the minimum balance on the biggest number and attack the lowest number as soon as possible," he says.

Lopez says the reason why you do this is for the sense of accomplishment.

"You feel empowered, you have, in effect, have started to eliminate your debt," he says.

Now that you have mapped out your balances and their interest rates, it's time to negotiate on the phone and ask for a lower rate. If that doesn't work, it might be worth it to make a balance transfer.

"There are credit cards that offer incentives to move your existing balances to their accounts and they will do that for 0 percent interest for an introductory period of time," Lopez says.

But beware, there are a couple of things to look out for: transfer fees and eventually the introductory rate will run out usually within six months.

Something else to keep in mind:

"You are opening up another line of credit, if you will, so it may ding your credit score but as long as you are attacking the debt aggressively, the credit score is reflecting that you are attacking that debt aggressively," Lopez says.

Now that you have mapped out your credit card payments, Lopez says if you don't have one, you should set up an emergency savings fund with about three months' worth of living expenses.

"If you don't have that cushion, boom -- the credit card gets hit again," he says.

According to our expert, the bottom line is to attack the credit card with the lowest balance then start chipping away at the big balance.

The non-profit American Counsumer Credit Counseling also has other tips about managing your credit card debt.

Our expert says you can ask for a lower credit limit, so if you credit card limit is $5,000, ask to get that lowered to $2,000. It will also help your credit score.