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How To Pay Off Your Credit Card Debt In 2016 Without Ruining Your Social Life

Close up of stack of credit cards
Close up of stack of credit cards

Did you go a little crazy in the holiday season? Whether it was splashing out on Christmas presents, stocking up at the Boxing Day sales (a sale means you're saving money, right?) or just embracing the silly season in general -- chances are your credit card might be looking a bit worse for wear.

Now the year is officially in full swing, it might be time to look at getting your finances in order, and the best place to start is with your credit card.

"As a financial planner, what I see time and time again -- and probably the biggest mistake I see -- is people cultivating bad relationships with their credit card," 2015 FPA Financial Planner AFP of the Year, John Molnar, told The Huffington Post Australia.

"It's very easy for people to overspend. It's so easy to swipe your credit card, it almost doesn’t feel like you are spending real money sometimes.

"What I find really dangerous is when people have more than one credit card -- that’s crazy. You should never have more than one. Some people have several and that can get out of control. That’s how you can spiral down into some serious debt."

Whoops. Too late. What if you've already done the spiralling and now you need to get back in the black?

"Before you do anything, that kind of debt can become a very stressful situation," Molnar said. "People try and hide it from family or loved ones as they’re embarrassed.

"My advice would definitely be to take responsibility, own up, and tackle the problem together. Support is the key to success. Don’t just do it all on your own because it makes it feel 10 times worse. That’s where I would start. By owning up.

"The next thing I would do is to cut up your credit card. Get a pair of scissors out, because it’s starting to spiral out of control.

"If you have multiple credit cards, look at trying to pay off the card that has the highest interest first and work your way down from there. You can pay the minimum repayments on the others while you focus on getting the highest interest rate card back in control.

"If none of that works -- and we're getting into serious territory here -- the option you have left is to try to consolidate your loans. The more common practice is to transfer your credit card to a new credit card that gives you a low or no interest rate for a period of time, usually six months.

"What I normally say to everyone considering this is 'be very cautious.' If you transfer your balance to one of these no interest cards, it can make an impact on your credit rating -- so it could crop up again if you want to get a home loan or similar later down the track."

For those who clocked the term 'minimum repayments' before -- stop rubbing your hands with glee. Molnar only recommends employing that strategy in the event you have multiple cards and are actively focusing on paying off one of them.

"Minimum repayments are never going to pay your card off," Molnar said. "The way they work out -- it's usually only about two percent of the card balance. That's not going to get you anywhere.

"If you only have one card, make sure you are doing more than the minimum. That's the only way you are going to get ahead."

In debt? It might be time to get out the scissors.

In terms of how to manage your credit card before you get into strife -- Molnar says it's all about forging good habits.

"When it comes to credit cards, it's 10 percent knowledge and 90 percent habit. You have to have good habits in place to avoid your spending from spiralling about of control," Molnar said.

"My advice would be to work out a cashflow budget. It doesn't have to be a spreadsheet or an app or anything like that.

"The simple rule -- and I personally follow this -- is the 50/30/20 rule. The way it works is, whatever your income is, 50 percent should go towards fixed costs -- so that's your regular bills, your groceries. Then 30 percent should go towards fun -- basically that's the money you get to spend on yourself.

"Finally, 20 percent should go to financial. That's to save money to buy a house or put money into super and that kind of thing.

If you try to stick to that, hopefully, your credit card spiralling out of control shouldn’t happen."

Molnar also suggests using cash for any 'big buys' as a way to avoid your credit card bill getting out of hand.

"Any big purchases I make, I use actual cash instead of using my credit card," Molnar said. "For me, handing over proper money seems more real than swiping a card, and it helps with impulse buying."

"I'd also sit on a purchase for a day or two if I can. And -- this is a good one -- always leave your credit card at home on a night out."

As for the very worst thing you could do if trying to pay off your cards?

"The absolute worst thing -- if it starts to get out of control -- is to neglect it all," Molnar said. "To not pay any attention and hope the problem goes away. I actually see it quite bit.

"People don’t know how to deal with it, so they just ignore it. That is a recipe for disaster."

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