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Getting Out of Debt

How to Kick Holiday Debt

To pay down your plastic, stay focused -- and use these tips to make the task easier.

If a dark cloud of credit-card debt from overly exuberant holiday shopping is still hanging over your head, now is a good time to clear the atmosphere.

1. Make a list. Write down what you owe. A budgeting Web site, such as or, can make it easier. Next, gauge how far in the hole you are by determining how long it will take to pay off the bills. For help, use our What Will It Take to Pay Off My Balance? calculator.

2. Make a plan. See whether you can consolidate your balances on one 0% or low-rate card -- just make sure you know when the introductory-rate period ends so that you can pay it off by then. Also check what the transfer fee is. Credit-card issuers used to charge 3% to move a balance, but some have raised the rate to 4% or 5%. For deals, go to (It’s worth a call to your credit-card company to find out whether it will lower your existing rate, too.)

Can’t get a lower rate? Pay as much as you can on your highest-rate card while making minimum payments on the lower-rate ones. If you have a high-rate and lower-rate balance on the same card, under the new credit-card law your payments (over the minimum) will be applied to the higher-rate balance. That goes for both old and new balances when the law takes effect on February 22.


If you haven’t already, automate your savings. Have your bank transfer, say, 5% or 10% of each paycheck from your checking account to your savings account. That way, if you overdo it again next year, you’ll have a buffer.

3. Stay focused. As with any behavioral shift, attitude is everything. “Have the discipline to say to yourself, Hey look, let’s pay this off,” says Rick Staszak, a financial planner at the Financial Network Investment Corp. in Pittsburgh.

If you need help, see a credit counselor (visit the National Federation for Credit Counseling’s site, A counselor will help you set up a budget and may also create a debt-repayment plan. The first session should be free or cost less than $20.