Credit card borrowers have a few watershed moments on the path to significant credit card debt. The first sign of impending trouble is the month when you don't pay one of your balances in full. Then comes the month when you can't make any payments in full. Finally, the month arrives when you quit trying to pay extra and just resign yourself to making minimums.
The impact on your finances can be dramatic. We're often told to consider the real cost of buying on credit and shown how much interest you'll pay on that purchase. But the assumption that you eventually pay off the credit card debt is too simplistic for people with chronic credit card debt. Because you never pay off the debt and keep revolving it, the cost is essentially infinite.
In this situation, continuing down a path of credit card spending when you have debt is flirting with danger. You can't use credit cards as a way out of the problem if credit card debt is your problem. To use an old clich: if you want to get out of the credit card pit, quit digging.
Would you play a game if you knew the cards were stacked against you? Probably not. But in the credit game, the cards are definitely stacked against you. Here are a few examples:
You pay more for items when you buy with credit. Studies by Dunn & Bradstreet, MIT, and USA Technologies show people will spend 15-100% more for an item with credit.
You buy more per shopping event. McDonalds found that the average order increased by 55% when they started accepting credit.
By splitting the purchasing and payment events, credit card companies and merchants have stacked the cards against you in ways that are nearly impossible to control. They know you'll buy more because you don't have the same visual cues that you have when you pay with cash or debit. The only way you can win is not to play.
So how can you stop? Here are a few tried-and-true techniques that have worked for others:
Destroy all of your cards but the lowest APR card. The safest way to not use them is to simply destroy them. Cut them up or burn them. Use your creativity and vent your frustration on plastic.
Put your lowest-APR card in a safe place for use in emergencies:
o Put it on ice! Freeze your card in a bowl of ice and leave them in the freezer.
o Put it in a safe deposit box. Out of sight, out of mind.
o Put it in a plastic bag or a can and bury it in the ground.
o Give it to someone a family member or friend for safekeeping. Chances are the undesirable experience of explaining to them why you want your cards back will overrule your urge to spend.
o Wrap it in duct tape to make it hard to use in a store.
Come to terms with the real cost of spending and recognize that the costs of relying on credit cards outweighs the convenience, rewards, or any other argument in favor.
Set up a separate checking or prepaid account with a debit card for spending. Fund this from your paycheck or primary checking account or limit your discretionary spending to this account.
Destroy all your cards but one
Put one card away for emergencies
Define what an emergency is for you. Deciding, in advance, what is an emergency and what is not can keep you from reaching for the plastic when the time comes.