If thinking about credit card debt puts a terrible feeling in the pit of your stomach, we get it. We all live in a world where the cost of living keeps climbing while minimum wage remains frozen in carbonite. Everybody’s out there trying to find ways to make up the impossible difference. Unsurprisingly, consumer debt is at an all-time high. And a lot of people struggle silently as their money struggles mount.
The good news? Well, there’s not much, but there is this: you are not alone. So many people experience the same confusion, frustration, dread, and shame that you do. Nobody plans to enter a cycle of insurmountable credit card debt. Shit happens, and it happens to all of us.
More good news? You aren’t doomed to stay in credit card debt forever. There’s a path to climb out of the chasm of despair that is consumer debt. Now, this path is no escalator. Depending on how bad your situation is, it’s a steep staircase at best (at worst, bring your crampons). But as two people who climbed that difficult path ourselves, we have a lot of advice and encouragement to give.
If you’re in credit card debt and you don’t want to be, listen to today’s episode. And if you’re good, share this article with a friend who might be struggling. It’s a friendly and compassionate introduction to the basics of getting out of credit card debt.
This week’s question
Today’s question comes to us from longtime listener Che. Che asks…
I’m in credit card debt and I don’t want to be. What the hell do I do?– Listener Che
Although Che asks a simple question, our answer is long and complex, yet accessible for all ages! Except for tiny children because we put swear words evvvvverywhere they’ll fit. Also tiny children probably don’t have credit card debt. The capitalist dystopia needs somewhere to progress.
Watch our answer below, or listen in the podcast player of your choice.
And if you’d prefer to listen without video, you can subscribe in the podcast app of your choice, or listen here…
More information on how to get out of credit card debt
If you’re new to the concept of becoming debt free, we have some great articles expanding on what we talked about today. Here’s a few to get you started.
- The Best Way To Pay off Credit Card Debt: From the Snowball To the Avalanche
- Credit Card Companies HATE Her! Stay Out of Credit Card Debt With This One Weird Trick
- Dafuq Is Interest? And How Does It Work for the Forces of Darkness?
- Kill Your Debt Faster with the Death by a Thousand Cuts Technique
- Share My Horror: The World’s Worst Debt Visualization
And to help inspire you, here’s a few case studies profiling readers who needed a plan to handle some pretty serious debt.
- Case Study: Held Back by Past Financial Mistakes, Fighting Bad Credit and $90K in Debt
- Case Study: Swimming Upstream against Unemployment, Exhaustion, and $2,750 a Month in Unproductive Spending
Finally, today’s episode was brought to you by Mainvest! Mainvest is a platform that connects small investors to small businesses in need of loans to help them grow. Mainvest is a great way to diversify your investments beyond just stocks and bonds. And it’s a great way to direct your money in line with your values. Invest in your local economy and support the underserved communities that matter to you.
Use our promo link below to get started. But, uh, maybe after the whole credit card debt thing blows over…
Episode transcript (click to reveal)
This episode, like all of our episodes, is brought to you by our beloved Patreon donors. This week we wanna thank Liz, Natalie, and Katie. That’s Katie with an I. Get it right. An extra special thanks this week goes to David. David is the first perfect bite of a Michelin starred restaurant meal.
Up until very recently my PSN, my PlayStation username, has been my husband’s full first and last name. That was not my choice, but I finally had to change it because I’ve been playing a ton of Friday the 13th, the video game.
It’s an asymmetrical multiplayer where one person gets to play as Jason and everyone else has to play as the camp counselors trying to escape Jason.
That sounds fun.
It is so much fun. But we had voice chat turned on and we kept getting owned by like, nine year olds.
Oh no, who would use his full name…
Who would like after they had killed us, they would like do a crouch to like kind of, to imply teabagging—
—over our corpse.
The height of humor.
And then would use his full Christian name to insult him and say, “Your full name. You’re a little bitch.” And sorry, let me communicate that more in the spirit that it was given.
[imitating a small child] “You’re a little bitch.”
Theme Song 1:32
If you need some dough
You don’t know where to go
In this patriarchal capitalist hellscape
Well here’s the ‘sitch
We’re gonna help you, sis
Because bitches get riches
Bitches get riches
Bitches get riches
Bitches get riches
And so can you
I’m a big fan of games that do not feel judgmental. Don’t put a label on—don’t ask me to choose easy mode. Okay.
Because what I’m gonna do is insist on normal mode and then just die so many times that I stop playing your stupid game.
Yeah. Don’t ask me to turn on easy mode. Just put it on automatically, because that’s what I need.
And you should know by now. Yeah.
I need game developers to protect my fragile ego from nine year olds.
That’s the beginning.
And the end of it.
A hundred percent.
And I’m Piggy.
And we are the Bitches in Bitches Get Riches.
I was so ready for that. We are the proud parents of flocks of feathered children.
And we are here to brag about their egg-laying abilities and limited intelligence.
It’s true. But our time on this planet is limited.
So let’s get started.
All right. So, today’s letter comes to us from dedicated listener, Shay. Shay asks, I’m in credit card debt and I don’t wanna be. What the hell do I do? Mm.
Kitty & Piggy 03:06
Points for brevity. I love it.
Love it. Guys, if you’re sending in questions, which you can do if you go to bitchesgetriches.com and up at the very top click Ask the Bitches, you can send questions to us. Only Patreon donors get a guaranteed response. We appreciate you guys very much keeping us afloat, helping us pay our assistant a fair living wage. No, uh, please. Brevity, brevity—
—is the soul of wit and we are bereft of it. So help us out. We need to borrow some.
We have no wit, we are at a wit deficit.
No, we have wit we have no brevity.
Oh, you’re right, you’re right. We are at a brevity deficit.
So anyway, let’s give them a 75 minute answer to this very straightforward question.
No, so I think when they say like, I don’t wanna be in credit card debt anymore, I think the simple answer is so pay off your credit cards. But that is probably the most face-punchingly obnoxious way to answer that question because as we all know, credit card debt is intentionally predatory and designed so that you can never get out of it, much like other forms of consumer debt like payday loans.
Or rather, I would even say like less hyperbolically, it’s very, very easy to get into credit card debt. It’s pretty frictionless to get a credit card, to buy things with a credit card, but then repaying it is so many times more difficult. And that is, as you say, a hundred percent intentional. It is by design.
It’s a feature not a bug.
You fell for it, but you know what? You fell for something that is designed from top to bottom to be fallen for. So, I think step one is like—
Oh my God, forgive yourself.
Don’t beat yourself up. Yeah. This is not something that—shame, guilt around credit card debt is absolutely not productive. Hiding credit card debt or ignoring credit card debt, it does not help—not a bit. So please—
Be gentle with yourself.
Start there. Be nice.
Yeah. No, I think that there’s, like, one of the big taboos about talking about money is because, or one of the reasons behind the taboo is because we’ve attached this shame to being in debt and we’ve attached some kind—like some holiness to not having debt or some respectability that comes with being debt free. And I’m sorry like, being debt free, like the only feeling you should feel about that is relief. This is not a source of shame or fear. It’s not something that you should try to hide. Like if you’re in credit card debt, ask for help from random podcasters on the internet to your family, to your friends, to like, if you know someone who is debt free or who recently got out of debt, like talk to them and be like, hey, what are some tips and tricks that you used to get to where you are and just, you know, make it your mission to be not proud, but like loud about it, certainly, you know?
Yeah. I think there is so much power to talking about being of limited financial means. I think that I kind of absorbed that I was breaking some kind of social taboo when I told people things like, I can’t afford it. So like, you know, you inviting me out to go to brunch or something, I’m like, I’m on a budget. I can’t do that.
Can’t afford it.
And there is, I think, there’s a lot of shame and guilt attached to that. And what it leads to is to you not feeling like you have the words to decline or negotiate when it comes to spending money. So like, I’ll use an example that I think is probably something that a lot of people in their twenties and thirties can relate to, which is being invited to be in someone’s wedding party. It’s a lot of fucking money.
Oh, God, weddings are debt building machines.
They want you to buy a dress. They want you to get your makeup and your hair professionally did. They want you to come to a bachelorette party. They want you to participate in a wedding shower and to give a gift at the wedding and to give a gift at the shower. And it just—
—very, very, very easily cycles into you building a ton of debt while not actually improving your quality of life because you’re working to make someone else’s one day special.
Big day better.
We could talk for a long time about weddings.
Yeah. But like, it’s the perfect example, I think because it makes people feel like, but I can’t just explain to someone that it’s not in my budget. Or that I don’t have the money to do it, because then they’re going to hear that I don’t care about you, I don’t wanna spend money on you, I don’t wanna spend time with you. I have other things to do.
It’s really hard to tell somebody who has this, you know, social expectation of you like, I can’t afford that right now. Or I’m trying to pay off my credit card. I can’t.
Yeah. And, but actually in my experience, there is so much power in telling your friends, telling your coworkers, your peers, like, I’m actually working toward a goal of becoming debt free. So when you all, my coworkers, when you all go out to lunch and you buy lunch out, I’m totally gonna come along, but I’m gonna bring a packed lunch, and like, don’t worry about me. I’ll be all set. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but I would even say there’s a lot of power in it, because it’s something that everyone on some level can relate to, but it’s something that a lot of people feel alone in. It’s a very isolating experience to be in debt, even though that’s the norm, for most Americans at least. So I think part of that isolation is what is keeping it hard for people to change their priorities and work through credit card debt.
So start there. Be nice to yourself and then tell everyone.
Be an evangelical about your credit card debt. You can be getting help from these people. You can be getting advice from these people, but you can also like, be spreading your good habit of getting out of debt or, you know, helping somebody else understand that like, it’s not a source of shame. And you should be looking at those numbers and building a better life for yourself by not owing 13% APR. So.
Yeah. And it’s gonna open up a lot of conversations around like, your family giving Christmas gifts that are really expensive. Or your friends inviting you out to eat somewhere that’s really pricey. Like, if people know what your values are and what your priorities are, they’re not gonna put you in a position to test your commitment.
Like I’m not going to invite a friend who I know is working hard to save toward becoming debt free, I’m not gonna invite them out somewhere expensive. I’m gonna say, let’s go get a picnic together, baby.
Yeah. Let’s go get a picnic.
I think we’re dancing around a very common piece of credit card debt advice, which is that if you find yourself in a debt hole, stop digging. And that’s common advice because it’s good, you know, if you find yourself in credit card debt, like stop using your credit card, stop increasing that debt. If you have a problem with emotional impulse spending where you just like, pop that card out. There’s a couple of things you can do to stop using that card. And the analog way is to fill a Ziploc bag with water, place your credit card inside of it, and place it in the freezer. That way—and like, you can’t microwave it to thaw it out. Like you have to sit there and wait for the ice to melt. So it’s a good way to like, stop you from using it, swiping it willy-nilly. The other thing, like we are living in the days of cookies, internet cookies, and data. So just like, erase your credit card information from your devices.
Those are fantastic pieces of advice for people who are like impulse spenders. I think coming to understand why, how did I get here? So it’s really different if you are someone where it’s like, well, my expenses are really high because everyone’s expenses are really high right now. The cost of living has just skyrocketed.
The economy is in shambles. Inflation is out of control.
If you can’t afford basic necessities like rent or food and you’re putting those on a credit card, that’s a fundamentally very different problem than I spend a lot of time on social media where I’m seeing tons and tons of targeted ads and these targeted ads know exactly what I like.
And I have impulse spending problems.
We live in a fucked up capitalist hellscape, as the theme song says, and people get into credit card debt for all sorts of reasons. So, you know, I don’t wanna condescend to anyone by being like, you did this to yourself. This is just a mindset problem that you need to fix—fix your mindset and your outlook, and it’ll all be fine.
Self-flagellation, not the way to go. We’re not here to beat you up. Life happens. So let’s, with that caveat in place, let’s say that this person has $10,000 of credit card debt. How do they get out of it?
That’s a great question. I think the math behind it is deceptively complex because you have to factor in interest rates.
If you take out $10,000 and you pay back minimum payments only, over the lifetime of that loan, depending on the interest, you may end up paying something like $15,000 to $25,000.
For the same thing. So understanding how interest works is really crucial. And if this person has maybe one credit card with 10 grand on it, pretty straightforward, you gotta take care of that.
But a lot of people have a lot of, you know, oh, I have $6,000 on this one and $1000 on this one and $2000 on this one, and 500 bucks on this store card and 500 bucks that I loaned to a friend. And it ends up getting spread out over a lot of different vehicles. There is absolutely a correct order to pay off your credit card debt. And in order to know that, you kind of need to know two things. How much do you owe, in each place in, in each of those vehicles, and what is the interest? Those two questions are going to potentially—it could be that if you paid everything off, making only minimum payments, it might take you 10 years, it might take you 5 years, but if you optimize it based on the size of the loans and the size of the interest rates, you could easily cut those timeframes in half, in a third.
Yeah. And cut the total amount paid in half.
So what we’re kind of dancing around here is a snowfall, a light snowfall. So—
Is it…?! [imitates sleigh bells]
No, it’s not Santa.
It’s an avalanche.
Ah ooh yes.
Oh no, get him outta here. Get him gone!
No, you’re right. You’re right. It’s an avalanche.
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So let’s talk about a hypothetical situation where someone’s got 10 grand in credit card debt. Let’s say that this person has, oh 5 different credit cards that they’ve each got two grand on. And one of those has a 30% interest rate—
And another one has—I know—and then another one has 20% and then another has 19%, and then it kind of goes down from there. So if that was how this person’s debt was structured, what would you recommend for someone like that who’s got a wide variety of credit card debt?
I would recommend they do what’s called the debt avalanche. And that’s basically where you take all of those cards and to all but one of them you pay every month the minimum payment required by the credit card company. But the one with the highest interest rate, you pay not only the minimum, but every dollar you can possibly spare. So you bump up that monthly payment by as much as possible, and that way you get the card with the highest interest rate paid off first, and you can then take that lump sum that you were paying towards that highest interest rate card and you pay it towards the one with the next highest interest rate. Wipe that one out. Next highest interest rate. And the avalanche keeps growing as it goes down, and you’ll pay off those cards faster and faster as time goes on. And that way honestly, it makes me very happy mathematically speaking because you will save the most in interest over time.
Yeah. You may not get like super quick wins if it’s spread out pretty evenly, but mathematically that is almost always the best way to pay off debt.
Love it. Okay. So let me give you a different scenario. Let’s say that our person again has $10,000 in credit card debt. They’ve got $9,500 on a big old credit card with a high interest rate, but they’ve got $500 on maybe a retail store credit card that has a similar, maybe like a medium interest rate.
What would you suggest to someone like them?
So someone like that, I would suggest they get that little tiny store credit card outta the way. Just…
Kitty & Piggy 18:07
If you’re someone maybe who, you got into credit card debt not because you make too little money, but more because you are prone to making impulse purchases, you might be someone who does not feel those like dopamine rewards very easily. I like for those types of people going with the snowball method, the second one that we talked about, because it lets you get a quick win. You went from paying two bills to now just paying one and that feels good.
It may not always like mathematically be exactly the best thing to do, but the difference is small enough that it’s like who cares? You need to do what makes you feel motivated and rewarded for saving this money.
Yeah. Speaking of motivation and rewards. Um, have an accountability partner. I have a very dear friend—I know she’s a listener, so I’m just gonna shout her out. Hey Hannigan! What’s up girl! So Hannigan is one of my favorite human beings. She’s lovely, she’s amazing. And she had a credit card debt problem, and it was really weighing on her. It was like causing her a lot of anxiety. And, you know, she’s friends with me, so the first thing she was just like, hey nerd, how do I get outta this problem? And I was just like, I’m so glad you asked. After we sort of like made a debt plan for her, like laid out all the interest rates and all that, all the numbers, she was like, okay, but like, I am a social person. I can’t do this alone. I can’t do this in the dark. And I was like, why don’t you text me every time you make a payment? She feels—I’m putting words in her mouth, correct me if I’m wrong Hannigan—but she feels supported and encouraged because she knows like, she’s not doing this in a black hole. She’s doing this with the support of a friend. And I think that anyone can use this and like I would say don’t limit yourself to one accountability partner. Like if you have a handful of friends who are all in credit card debt, like start a group text thread for that. Like get in the club together and like celebrate each other’s wins. Like when you cross a milestone, decide that like you’re gonna give yourself a little reward and that reward is gonna be like the three of you getting a six pack and a bowl of popcorn and celebrating together. I think that that’s, that can really keep your head above water.
I love it. I think people often spend money in social situations, but they almost never save money in social situations.
I know! But you know what’s really wild is that like, I think, you know, Jess, one of the reasons that you and I are as close as we are is because we were for years each other’s sounding board and accountability buddy for becoming debt free and then eventually setting a goal of retiring early for each of us.
So yeah, I think that’s kind of like what the core of our advice comes down to. There’s different methods that you can follow to optimize how quickly you pay that money off. If you understand the root of how you got into debt in the first place, that is an extremely valuable way to know how to avoid that situation again in the future.
Yes. Stop getting medical bills. God.
God, how dare you. How very dare you—
How very dare you?
—want medical care?
What do you think this is?
Thank you, I will not require an ambulance. Not today, mon frere.
I will walk on my broken leg to the hospital, thank you very much. This isn’t Canada.
Oh my God.
The dystopia is real.
It really is.
So I think a lot of people are given kind of a false hope that there’s some way out of debt, this magical way out of debt that’s called debt consolidation. And they don’t really understand what it is, but they know that it’s like an option. So I wanna give people like a much clearer understanding of what it is and who it is good for, because it’s probably not you.
Yeah. Sadly. Okay. So when you are in credit card debt, all the credit card companies know, and this is because we are all subject to the credit reporting bureaus, which are!
Um, Experian, …um.
Mm-hmm. That’s one.
Uh…Sheep Shearers Anonymous, and um, Kingfisher 9000.
You’re wrong and you’re wrong. But A for effort. Uh, no, the three credit reporting bureaus are Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. You can’t opt into them. They just, they know your credit history whether you like it or not, and from that they develop your credit score. But that’s a whole nother thing. So the point is, credit card companies can see this data, they can see your credit report, and they are all like, hmm, you look like you’re deeply in credit card debt. Let me send you several offers in the mail that say, have you tried waving a magic wand? I mean consolidating your debt, or like rolling over into a 0% APR credit card, whatever? So what that means is, you are essentially taking your credit card on which you have X amount of debt and Y percentage of interest, and you are selling that to another credit card company. And the goal there is to a lower your interest rate or b lower your monthly payments. There can be some ways that they kind of like incentivize you to do this. One way is by saying like, for the first year, we won’t charge you any interest. Which sounds great. It’s a little bit of relief from the, you know, the total balance growing because of the interest while you pay the minimum monthly payment and try to keep your head above water. But eventually, you know, that interest rate does come back to bite you in the ass.
The problem is that—let’s say you’ve borrowed 10 grand and your repayment window is 10 years. So when you consolidate that debt, that timeframe is reset. And it could even be lengthened, which does mean that in the grand scheme of things, say you’ve got 10 grand spread out over 5 cards and you’ve been paying it for 2 years, so you’ve got 8 years to go make minimum payments to be totally back to debt free. If you consolidate, it’s going right back up to 10 years.
So it does mean like, it’s something you may want to do strategically.
Let’s say you are in grad school right now, and you are earning like no money because you’re mostly a full-time student, maybe making like a little bit of part-time money here and there, but you know that after you graduate, maybe you have a great job in a lucrative industry waiting for you. Great. If you know that, then consolidation might be a good idea for someone like you. But for the average person, I would say, if you can work on the original loans, that’s the way that I would do it. Because you don’t want to lengthen the total amount of time that you are paying because any time you lengthen the timeframe for repayment, it does mean that at the end of the day you’re paying way more money, so you may end up paying $30,000 on that $10,000 debt. And I just don’t want that for you.
If you have no other options, do it. But I don’t want that for you.
I care for you.
And I also realize like, there are other strategic reasons why someone might wanna do that. You know, let’s say you have other more pressing debts. Let’s say, you know, you are paying alimony to an ex and you know you have like 3 more years to go till the kids, you know, till alimony is no longer something you have to pay. Like, that might be a reason why you want to lower your monthly minimum so you can put more money towards that more pressing financial requirement. Or you are a savvy bitch and you’re like, oh, if I move my debt over to this payment plan that has a lower interest rate and/or a lower monthly minimum payment, but I keep paying the amount I’m paying now, I can get through this faster. So you need to kind of like, you need to weigh your options, really look at the numbers and determine like, what works best for your personal situation. There is no one size fits all payoff debt magic wand.
Yeah. Debt consolidation can work for some people in some situations, but in general it is definitely not a magic wand that you can wave to not have debt anymore. That is not how that works. And don’t believe anyone who tells you that.
There is one golden nugget at the center of all financial advice and I think it applies here, and that is make more money.
Mm-hmm. Yeah. Make more money, spend less money is like 100% of personal finance advice distilled into its simplest form. That is it.
We have written hundreds of articles and recorded dozens of podcast episodes to say that one thing. Make more money, spend less money. But I don’t wanna condescend to people who are in credit card debt by saying, all you need to do is make more money and put more of it towards your credit card debt. Like you fucking know. Like if you’re in credit card debt, if you were in financial troubles, you completely understand that more money will equal less problems.
More money sure would help!
More money sure would fucking help! And so like, I don’t wanna be condescending and patronizing in that way. Like, you know it, so like if you can start a side hustle, if you can get a raise at work, or get a higher paying job, like you are already on top of that. So just, you know, good luck. You have our blessing.
Yeah. And especially like during now, which is a period of relatively high inflation, if you haven’t received regular cost of living bumps, no matter how much you love your job, I would highly encourage you to at least keep your options open. Keep yourself open to recruiters and open to other opportunities that may be coming up in your network or in your industry because every little bit helps.
And you have a finite ability to save money at a certain point. Like you need to eat. You need to have a roof over your head.
Yes, you need to spend money on those things.
You need transportation to your job.
But your ability to earn money is theoretically unlimited.
So please, the one thing that I think that a lot of people who are afraid to tackle debt think that like their life has to be that they’re living like a weird monk who is wearing sack cloth and reading the Bible by tallow lit candle for entertainment until they get rid of their debt. And that’s just not how it works. You are not stuck—
I read my bible by a trash can fire, thank you very much.
I love that about you. You may have to be smarter about how you choose to live life in the way that you most want to. You may have to make temporary priorities that don’t feel awesome, but at the end of the day, like you do not have to live a sad joyless life in order to become debt free.
And if that is the situation that you find yourself in, I highly encourage you to look at your income and see if you can change jobs, change industries because everyone deserves a living wage.
And no one should have to go into credit card debt to afford the things that they need to make life fun and interesting and comfortable.
Are you good with that?
I am good with that.
Listeners, if you want us to answer your question, go to BitchesGetRiches.com and click “Ask the Bitches.” After all, this podcast is listener-supported. We are committed to never ever putting our best content behind a paywall. Only our worst content. So if you like what we do and you want us to keep doing it, you can support the podcast by joining our Patreon at patreon.com/bitchesgetriches. And if you need even more Bitches in your life, and who could blame you, you can read our articles or follow us on social media at BitchesGetRiches.com.
Hey, is there anything else they should know?
Yes, I think so. The longer a yawn, the larger an animal’s brain is.
So my dog has a giant brain. Good to know.
Good to know.
Kitty &Piggy 31:18