Millions of American consumers struggle with high amounts of debt, especially high-interest credit card debt. In fact, credit card debt is among the most common types of debt out there, totaling $860 billion across all households.
If you owe $50,000 in debt, whether it’s due to credit cards, student loans, medical bills, or otherwise, you have options. With proper planning, some persistence, and the right repayment strategy, it’s possible to get rid of that debt for good.
How to Pay Off Large Amounts of Credit Card Debt
If you’re grappling with large amounts of debt, you’re not alone. According to the CNBC, the average consumer owes $90,460 in all consumer debts, including credit cards and student loans.
In 2021, the average American household owed between $5,525 and $8,701 in credit card debt. That same year, the median medical debt was around $2,000 with some households owing upwards of $10,000. Americans also owe an astonishing $1.75 trillion in student loan debt.
As daunting as it may seem, it’s possible to pay off large amounts of debt starting today.
Take Control of Your Financial Situation
Becoming debt-free might seem impossible at first. If you owe $50,000 in debt at an average interest rate of 18%, you’d need to pay $1,469 a month over 48 months to pay it all off. In interest alone, you’d pay $20,500.
However, you can take back control of your financial situation.
Look at your finances objectively. If you have high amounts of credit card debt, you’re probably spending more than you make. So, take a moment to figure out exactly how much money you earn versus how much you spend.
Create a personal budget that’s realistic for your situation and look for areas to cut back on spending. You could end up with an extra couple hundred dollars a month to put towards paying off debt.
Once you get a better handle on your finances, start setting aside a small monthly sum in an emergency fund. That way, you won’t be as tempted to use credit cards for financial emergencies.
Track your progress over time and, if needed, don’t be afraid to ask for help from someone you trust. Even if they can’t help financially, they can keep you accountable as you take control of your finances.
Assess Your Debt
Not all debt is bad debt. For example, student loans could be considered “good” debt if they improve your financial situation over time. Credit card debt, meanwhile, is considered bad debt since it causes financial stress and doesn’t provide any long-term benefits.
Whatever debts you have, assess them carefully. Write down the current balance, interest rate, minimum payment due, and due date for each account.
Organizing your debts like this can give you an idea of which debt to focus on first. It can also make it easier to stay motivated to pay what you owe without feeling overwhelmed.
Track Your Income and Spending
Only about a third of all Americans have a personal budget. However, a budget is essential to keeping track of your income and expenses.
If you don’t have a budget, it’s a good idea to create one. Start by totaling up your monthly income. This includes earnings from your regular job, passive income, alimony, and so on.
Next, write down all of your monthly payments and expenditures. Include any student loans, credit card debt, auto loans, groceries, utility payments, and all other monthly bills. Add it all up and compare it to your income so you know where your money is going.
Along with this, track your total interest charges. This will help you figure out the best debt repayment strategy later on.
You can make this process easier by signing up for a free budgeting app like Mint. Budgeting apps not only keep track of your income and expenses, but they can also help you achieve any savings or debt payoff goals.
Find a Side Hustle
A side hustle or a second job will give your income a boost and help you tackle debt faster. Common side hustles include freelance work like writing or video editing, tutoring, selling crafts on Etsy, and listing a spare room on Airbnb. On Airbnb alone, hosts make an extra $500 a month on average. Even an extra few hundred dollars can shave off months of credit card payments.
If that’s not quite enough, consider getting a roommate to share expenses.
Although it requires some effort, downsizing is a great way to reduce expenses and pay off debt.
Move to a less expensive neighborhood or apartment. Swap to a more fuel-efficient car or one with lower monthly payments. Cancel any subscriptions you don’t need, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Disney+.
Reevaluate your budget to see where else you can cut back. For example, if you go out to eat every week, see if you can cut that back to every other week. Or, if you don’t already have one, make a weekly meal plan to reduce how much you spend at the grocery store.
Look for as many ways you can to cut down your monthly expenses without hurting your quality of life.
Negotiate with Your Credit Card Companies and Other Creditors
At the end of the day, credit card companies and other creditors want to get paid. Some will work with you to make a repayment plan and reduce what you owe just to ensure they get something.
Before you contact your creditors or lenders, do your research. This will give you the best chance of negotiating down your debts.
Depending on the creditor, you might be able to get what’s called a workout agreement. This option will let you lower your interest rate or waive it entirely.
Another option is a hardship agreement, which can sometimes be used in case of a valid emergency. With this, your lender might temporarily reduce your interest rate, waive late fees, or lower your monthly minimum payment for a short period.
Check out this video to learn more about how to negotiate with your creditors:
Late fees can add up and lead to bigger financial problems. If you have multiple accounts or have difficulty keeping up with payments, set up automatic payments. This will save you money and help you take control of your finances, even if you only pay the minimum.
Make sure you have the money in your connected account before any payments are withdrawn. Otherwise, your payment will be declined and you could end up facing overdraft fees from your bank and late fees from your creditor.
Make Extra Payments
It takes time to repay $50,000 in debt, but you can expedite the process with extra payments or by paying more than the minimum due.
If, for example, the minimum monthly payment is $50 on an account, try to pay $75 or $100 instead. Or, if you have the extra money in your budget, make a second or third payment later in the month.
Doing this will decrease how long it takes to pay off your balance. It can also lower your interest charges.
Some lenders charge a prepayment fee for those who pay off their loans early. This isn’t very common with credit card debt, student loans, or medical bills. Still, check with the company to make sure there aren’t any penalties for early repayment.
Choose a Repayment Strategy
Whether you owe $50,000 in debt or $5,000, the right repayment strategy can help.
Debt Snowball Method
The goal of the debt snowball method is to pay off your debts as quickly as possible, starting with the smallest balance. This can be highly motivating for those who like to see consistent progress.
Start by organizing all of your debts in order from the smallest balance to the largest. Don’t worry about interest rates.
Next, pay as much as you can towards the smallest debt, while paying only the minimum amount due on all other debts. Once you’ve paid off the smallest account, move on to the next smallest debt. You should have a little extra money since there’s one less account to pay, so put that towards the current debt.
Continue this process until all debts are repaid.
Debt Avalanche Method
With the debt avalanche method, you focus on paying off the debt with the highest interest rate first. Oftentimes, this is also the debt with the highest balance but not always.
To do this, organize your debts based on interest rate rather than balance. Then, pay as much as you can reasonably afford on the account with the highest interest rate. Meanwhile, only pay the minimums on all other accounts. Once the first account reaches a zero balance, move on to the next highest interest rate and repeat the process.
The debt avalanche method takes more discipline than the debt snowball method, but it can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars in interest. It can also decrease how long it takes you to repay your debts by several months.
Balance Transfer Credit Card
A balance transfer credit card lets you move one high-interest credit card debt to a new account with a much lower APR. These cards sometimes come with a balance transfer fee of around 2% or 3% of the transferred amount.
Many balance transfer cards come with a 0% introductory APR that can last anywhere from 6 to 18 months. You won’t be charged any interest as long as you pay off the full balance during that introductory period. This means you could end up saving hundreds or more in interest payments alone.
On its own, a balance transfer credit card probably won’t cover all $50,000 in credit card bills and other debts. However, it can help with smaller amounts that have high interest rates.
Keep in mind that you’ll probably need a high credit score to qualify for one of these credit cards.
Debt Consolidation Loan
With a debt consolidation loan, you can combine several high-interest debts into a single loan with a fixed monthly payment and a lower interest rate. The lower interest rate and one monthly payment can make it easier to keep track of your debt and give you extra money to cover daily expenses.
As with any line of credit or loan, a debt consolidation loan can be risky. Once you’ve moved your credit card balances to the new loan, it may be tempting to start using those cards again. Make sure you have the discipline to stop using your credit cards or you’ll end up with more debt.
You’ll also need a good credit score to qualify for a debt consolidation loan with ideal interest rates and terms. Otherwise, the loan won’t help you save money.
Refinance Your Private Student Loans
If you have private student loans, you might be able to refinance them for a lower interest rate or monthly payment. This can free up some extra money each month for you to start paying down other debts.
Refinancing your student loans usually means extending your repayment terms, too. This could result in you paying more in interest over the life of those loans. That said, if you need the extra cash for other bills, it can be a good option.
There are two types of personal loans: secured and unsecured.
A secured personal loan requires an asset like a paid-off vehicle or house to be tied to the loan. This means that if you fail to make the monthly payments, the lender can take the asset instead. This option works best for borrowers with poor credit or those who can’t qualify for financing elsewhere.
An unsecured personal loan doesn’t require any collateral. Instead, lenders use factors like the borrower’s credit score, history, debt-to-income ratio, and income to determine their eligibility. In some cases, you might be able to get a cosigner to help increase your approval odds.
Each personal loan comes with its own interest rate, maximum loan amount, and repayment terms. Once you have one, you can use the funds for nearly anything you need, including debt consolidation.
Only get a personal loan if the new interest rate and other terms are better than the high-interest credit card debt you had before. That way, you can cut down on monthly costs and interest fees.
Debt settlement is where you work with a third-party company that attempts to reduce how much you owe by negotiating with your creditors on your behalf. These companies, or debt settlement agencies, are usually for-profit and charge a fee based on how much debt they settle.
Essentially, the debt settlement agency will negotiate your debt down to a lower balance than what you initially owed. During negotiations, you’ll need to make regular deposits into a secured account. If a creditor agrees to settle a debt, the agency will then take over your debt payments, either paying them in a lump sum or in installments until the debt is repaid.
The average consumer who goes this route saves around 30% in all settled debts after fees. However, there are a few downsides to debt settlement.
For one thing, the agency might request that you stop paying your creditors during negotiations. This gives them a better chance of reducing your debts but can also result in late fees or accounts in collections.
For another, creditors and lenders aren’t legally required to settle debts, meaning the process might not work. On the plus side, a legitimate debt settlement company can’t charge you for their services until they’ve successfully settled a debt. This method can also be beneficial if the alternative is bankruptcy.
You can also try settling your debts on your own. If you go this route, contact each creditor and explain your situation to them as politely and honestly as possible. You might need to reach out more than once until you get the result you need. If they agree to settle your debts, get the new terms in writing.
If you’re interested in hiring a third-party debt settlement company, check out our top picks.
Refinance Your Mortgage
Refinancing your mortgage lets you use some of your home’s equity to pay off other, high-interest debts. If you qualify for a lower interest rate through refinancing, you could also save money in the short term.
However, refinancing does usually mean resetting the loan term. Say, for example, you had a 30-year mortgage and already paid off 7 years of it. If you refinance, you could end up having to restart the 30-year cycle.
Take Out a Home Equity Loan or Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC)
A home equity loan, or second mortgage, lets homeowners borrow against the equity in their home. The amount you can borrow is based on the difference between the current market value of the home and the current balance due on the mortgage. Home equity loans have set repayment terms and fixed interest rates and monthly payments.
A home equity line of credit (HELOC) is a revolving line of credit that works similarly to a credit card. You can take out money, but you’ll have to repay it with interest (generally variable). Just like with a home equity loan, the amount you can borrow is based on the equity in your home.
Both options can be used to consolidate or pay off high-interest debt. The downside is that you’re putting your home on the line. So, if you fail to repay what you owe, you could risk losing that asset.
Debt Management Plan (Nonprofit Credit Counseling Agency)
Generally offered by nonprofit credit counseling agencies, a debt management plan (DMP) lets you combine multiple credit card debts into a single plan. This often results in reduced interest rates, meaning you can put more money towards the principal balance instead.
This is how it works.
An agent will contact your creditors and let them know that you’re enrolled in a debt management plan. From there, they will see if they can reduce your monthly payments by lowering your current interest rate or waiving any late fees. Once that’s done, you’ll make payments to the credit counseling agency instead of your creditors.
Some credit counseling agencies charge an initial enrollment fee or a nominal service fee. Still, this debt payoff method can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars in interest. Most DMPs take 3 to 5 years to complete but, in the end, you could be debt-free.
One other downside with DMPs is that any connected credit card accounts will most likely be closed. This means you won’t have access to those lines of credit anymore. It could also affect your credit utilization ratio and credit score. As you pay off debt, though, you can improve your credit and financial health.
If you have a 401(k), you might be able to take out a 401(k) loan for up to 50% of the funds in your account. You can use this money to repay high-interest credit card debts or other consumer debts.
These short-term loans usually have a 12-month repayment period, though some are longer. Since the funds come directly from your retirement account, any interest you pay will end up back in your account. You also won’t be facing any prepayment penalties or a credit check.
The main disadvantage is that you’ll have less money in your retirement account until the loan is repaid. Still, if you repay within the time frame, there should be minimal impact on your retirement savings.
Ultimately, a 401(k) loan is a much cheaper option than most consumer loans, including low-interest personal loans or debt consolidation loans.
Sometimes it’s important to know how much debt is too much for you to overcome. In that instance, bankruptcy could offer the fresh start you need.
People with high amounts of credit card debt or other consumer debts typically file a Chapter 7. With this option, a court trustee will help you sell non-exempt assets to pay off your creditors. Any remaining eligible debt is eliminated. Some debts, such as student loans or tax-related debts, cannot be discharged.
Filing for bankruptcy can destroy your credit and remain on your report for 7 to 10 years. It can also result in the loss of property or assets. As a result, it should be considered a last resort and you should always consult a bankruptcy attorney before deciding how to proceed.
Review Your Credit Report and Learn Your Credit Score
No matter your financial situation, you should review your credit reports and credit score at least once a year. You can get a free copy of your credit report from all three reporting bureaus at annualcreditreport.com. Or you can request it from the bureaus directly.
There are a lot of advantages to having excellent credit. People with bad credit typically pay the highest rates, which in turn can lead to more debt. By regularly checking your reports, fixing any errors you find, and working to boost your score, you can improve your financing options.
There are many ways to learn your credit score for free. If your credit score has suddenly dropped and you’re looking for a quick way to give your credit score a boost, consider signing up for a subscription service. Experian Boost, for example, will take certain payments that aren’t usually reported — like rent or utilities — and use positive payment history to calculate your credit score.
Credit Score Ranges
There are two main scoring models used by lenders today: FICO and VantageScore.
Your FICO score has the following ranges:
- Excellent: 800-850
- Very good: 740-799
- Good: 670-739
- Fair: 580-669
- Poor: 300-579
Your VantageScore has the following ranges:
- Excellent: 781-850
- Good: 661-780
- Fair: 601-660
- Poor: 300-600
An individual’s credit score can change based on a few factors, including:
- The average age of all open accounts
- Payment history
- Credit utilization
- Credit mix
- Negative or derogatory marks (bankruptcy, collections, foreclosures, etc.)
Typically, borrowers with a good credit score can qualify for more financing options with better terms and interest rates.
The Bottom Line
Figuring out how to pay off $50,000 in debt can feel overwhelming at first. But with enough planning, discipline, and a good debt relief strategy, you can regain control over your finances.
Before choosing any specific method, assess your financial situation honestly and make a budget. Then, weigh your options to determine what will work best for you.
This depends. If you have federal student loans, you might qualify for student loan forgiveness in certain cases. For example, if you work for the government or a nonprofit, you could receive student loan forgiveness through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
The average American household has between $5,525 and $8,701 in credit card debt.
You won’t go to jail or be arrested for not paying consumer loans. This is because these debts are considered “civil.” Other debts, like not paying federal taxes or child support, could result in jail time, though. A lender, however, could sue you. If you receive a court mandate and fail to show up, you could be arrested or have your wages garnished.