Breaking Up With My Credit Card Debt

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Scissors cutting credit card.

It’s you, not me.

When I was in school, I had a relationship with credit cards that rivaled any Taylor Swift song. The infatuation was instant, and like any great love, I felt like I could conquer the world that piece of plastic in my palm.

The relationship was give and take, of course, and eventually the honeymoon period ended and I was over my head nearly $10,000 in consumer debt.

***

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

The first step to ending any toxic relationship is to get out of it, but as with most affairs of the heart (and wallet), this is easier said than done.

I tried not using my cards, but I relapsed frequently. An unexpected expense would come up, and as a student with a limited part-time income, I defaulted to credit to carry me through. This is like texting your ex at a particularly vulnerable moment: It never ends well.

Eventually, I just had to remove the cards from my wallet and shove them in the back of my sock drawer. I found this was sufficient to keep me from using them, but I would encourage you to freeze yours or cut them up if you’re really prone to self-sabotage. (Side note: The same tactics are not recommended for an ex-boyfriend.)

It Takes Time to Heal a Broken Heart

Much like life post-break-up, ending things with your credit addiction is boring and riddled with heartache. I was too broke to go out with my friends. I didn’t get any new clothes or gifts for myself. I spent my Friday nights at home watching episodes of LOST and eating ice cream—the no-name brand, since Haagen Daaz was too rich for my blood.

In the end, it got better. I paid down the balance a little bit at a time, and then gathered momentum, aggressively throwing hundreds of dollars at the bill every time I could. It took nearly two and a half years, but eventually I didn’t owe anything anymore and I was free. I still had student loans (I was still in school), but my bout with consumer debt was over and I had no interest falling back into that toxic love affair again.

You’ll Fall in Love Again With Someone Better for You

The benefit of leaving a relationship behind is it gives you the opportunity to enter a new one. Once I finished paying my credit card debt, I had money to invest.

Instead of feeling like I was caught in a vicious cycle, I felt like I was moving forward in a clear direction. I fell in love with saving money—and it loved me back. Even though we haven’t been together long, I feel this will be a love that stands the test of time.

Have you broken up with credit or another financial habit you felt was no good for you? Let us know how you did it.

(Photo: Colin)

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  1. Glenn Hall February 13, 2013 / 2:07 pm

    I’m with you – do whatever you can to get your credit card balance to as close to zero as possible. I was luckier than you – I didn’t become a credit card addict until I was out of college, so I had a full time job which allowed me to pay down the debt relatively quickly. I had three Master Cards and a Visa, and at its height my total credit card debt was around $8,000 (at 18% interest – YIKES!!!!!). Once all my cards were paid off I cancelled three of them, and only use the remaining one for online purchases. I pay off the balance every month and have not paid a penny in interest since I “woke up”.

    Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in using credit cards to buy things you can’t afford. Remember, they really will have to get paid off some day, so think before you use it.

    I just got a great idea – we should post WARNING labels on credit cards the way we do on cigarettes – using them could be dangerous to your financial health!

  2. Heather February 22, 2014 / 1:51 pm

    Hilariously wise article with some great advice.
    I’m 22 and I’ve never had a credit card. Everyone (friends, family, parents) always tell me to get one! I’ve been thinking about it and weighing my options, but I’m still hesitant and reading articles like this make me feel confident about not getting one.
    They seem like an extra burden and perpetuate the cycle of debt.
    I also see the benefits though, like to have a good credit score and for those emergency moments when maybe there isn’t cash readily available.

    Do you have any extra input for someone like me? Is it best to avoid credit cards at all costs (and bear the persecution), or should I start searching for the “one” credit card to sweep me off my feet?

    Thanks! Loved the article.

    • Ryan Lane February 24, 2014 / 9:41 am

      Thanks for reaching out, Heather! The fact that you’re aware of all this already, including the potential pitfalls, is definitely the first step to ensuring your success with a card.

      For me, I treat a credit card as if it’s cash: I don’t spend the money if I don’t have it. That way, I can be sure of always paying my balance off in full. That may not work for everyone or every situation, but it could make sense for you as you get a feel for using credit and building up your credit history.

      If you want to learn more about why your credit score matters, check out this article over on saltmoney.org: https://www.saltmoney.org/content/media/Article/how-a-low-credit-score-can-cost-you/_/R-101-2256?.

      • Heather February 24, 2014 / 6:45 pm

        Awesome thanks so much for the input! Very helpful

  3. Chris February 23, 2014 / 9:20 am

    Heather,

    Some people manage to go through life without credit cards entirely, but the reality is that it is extraordinarily difficult. Not just because you don’t have as much “extra money,” but because of the positive effect they can have on your credit. I’m an impulsive person, and I have a modest amount of credit card debt myself, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been a useful tool in my financial belt. I have been careless with my own, allowing myself to charge when it wasn’t necessary and when I couldn’t afford to pay something off right away, but you’ll never hear me advise someone to never use credit cards. Because of mine, even with several thousand in unwanted debt, I was able to secure a 3% auto loan and a 675 credit score at the age of 19. My relationship with credit cards is an abusive one, but I don’t blame the credit cards. I’m the one who’s done all the abusing.

    • Ryan Lane February 23, 2014 / 6:07 pm

      Appreciate you sharing your story, Chris!

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