Ask Money

Make minimum credit card payments

Chris Farrell Jun 9, 2009

Question: I recently gave 2 weeks notice at my job which I recognize is slightly insane in this economy, but I’m confident that it was the right decision. I have enough savings and annual leave to not work at all for at least 6 months, but I’m not expecting that to be the case as I also have some freelance work lined up and on the horizon. Over the last year, I’ve made a significant dent in my credit card debt. My question is: while I’m unemployed, should I continue to pay over and above the minimum balance as I’ve been doing or should I pay only the minimum balance until I have a full time job again? I should say that my budget calculations for not working for 6 months were based on paying only the minimum and on not having any freelance work coming in. Thank you, Antoinette, Brooklyn, NY

Answer: No, you are not insane. Far from it. Despite the economic downturn and all the financial problems we’re living through you still need to weigh the odds and, when it makes sense, take a risk. It seems to me you’ve thought through your job change well. You have a plan and you have savings. For now, I’m comfortable with you keeping financial flexibility by making minimum payments for a couple of months.

Here’s a small trick I picked up from a new book by Gerri Detweiler, Nancy Castleman and Marc Eisenson, Reduce Debt, Reduce Stress: Real Solutions for Solving Your Credit Crisis. (I know you aren’t anywhere near a credit crisis, but I like the tip. I’ll write more about the book another time.) It might be a smart financial move for you. It’s at least worth considering assuming you don’t add to your credit card balance.

The basic idea: You pay the minimum required credit card payment this month. Your minimum payment should go down slightly next month. But you send in last month’s required payment and you continue to do that for the next several months. The financial impact is very slight at first, barely noticeable. Yet applying just a little bit of extra money every month eventually gathers momentum. With this technique you won’t strain your finances, but when you get your next job it will be that much easier to eliminate the credit card debt.

I hope you find the kind of work you’re looking for.

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