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How to tackle overwhelming credit card debt

Melody Hahm
Senior Writer

Welcome to Fix My Finances, Yahoo Finance’s new personal finance series. Each episode, we take a look at one viewer’s financial state of the union and offer advice, insight and information on a variety of issues, including how to save more, spend less and pay off lingering debt.

On this episode we meet 33-year-old Becca Adams. She’s married with two kids and needs help managing her family’s new, increased income.

Becca and her husband, Jake, have been married for 11 years and live just north of San Antonio, Texas, with their two children and “lots of pets.” Becca works at a craft beer company and Jake works in IT after recently getting his bachelor’s degree last year.

Now that the Adamses are a two-income household, Becca is struggling to figure out how to manage the second income coming in – and how to best use it to pay off their debts.

The family’s primary hurdle is their credit card debt. They’ve racked up $30,000 across six different cards. Most of it is lingering from building their own home a year ago.

Becca has tried to avoid interest by putting her family’s big purchases on promotional 0% introductory interest rate cards. The way these cards work: once those promos are up (typically six to 21 months after opening the account), they’ll transfer the balance to another 0% APR promo card. Even if they plan to move their balance to another 0% intro interest rate card, the balance transfer is not free. The fee is usually around 3%. That means if they have $10,000 on the card, it will cost $300 to move it to a new one. What a complete waste of money!

Becca can handle her debt in 3 ways:

  1. Identify which cards no longer have the introductory 0% APR. Instead of transferring the balance, pay it off. From here on out, make full monthly payments on time.
  2. If she can’t pay off her cards by the time the 0% offer expires, she should be doubling down on the monthly payments to make sure it’s paid off before the high interest rate kicks in.
  3. Becca should pick her four favorite cards then close the others once they’re paid off. If she’s not using them, there’s no point in keeping them.

Saving for college

In addition to grappling with credit card debt, Becca is motivated to save for her kids’ futures. Her children are 5 and 9, and though she has some money in a traditional savings account, she hasn’t outlined an actual college savings plan.  

Becca should open a 529 plan: these college savings plans are investment accounts offered by states that provide tax-deferred growth (as long as the money is used to pay for educational expenses like tuition and room and board). Earnings in a 529 plan grow federal tax-free and won’t be taxed when the money is taken out to pay for college.

If she doesn’t know exactly how or how much to invest, she should pick the age-based option for each child. It doesn’t hurt to ask family members, like grandparents, to contribute, too.

Watch the video to learn more about how Becca and her family can fix their finances.

Want to be a part of this new series? We are looking for people in their 20s and 30s who need a money makeover.  Apply here.