Tips for Repaying Credit Card Debt After a Long Layoff

young woman on the phone

Have you been laid off or endured a longer-than-anticipated work furlough? And if so, you may have had to reach for the plastic to scrape by. That’s a totally reasonable approach to getting by, but once your income is back in place, you’ll need a plan for paying off your debt. Here are some tips for getting your credit card balance back to zero after a long layoff:

Strike a Balance

In a perfect world, you would be able to pour all your efforts into aggressively repaying your debts (new and old). The reality is that you’ll need to pay off credit card debt while juggling other needs — covering your rent, putting food on the table, restoring your emergency fund, etc. — and that takes a bit of awareness.

To help you juggle your other financial priorities while paying off your credit card balance, jot down all your money goals. Then order them in order of urgency or importance. Last, figure out exactly how much you can reasonably put toward each financial priority.

This is the time to get granular. Get specific and assign an exact dollar amount to each of your money goals. Next, figure out a target date as to when you’d like to hit each financial goal.

Live Lean

You’ll probably have a hard time ramping up on your credit card payments if you’re also undergoing lifestyle inflation. If you’re starting to rake in some money, instead of going back to your old ways of spending, rework your budget.

Figure out how much you’ll need to reasonably get by. Go through your list of expenses, and see where you can cut back. Easy wins include nixing or lowering the cost of recurring costs, such as memberships and subscriptions. Let’s say you can cut back on a streaming subscription service that costs $12 a month. That’s $144 a year back in your wallet.

Big wins include cutting down on the three most significant categories — housing, transportation, and food. If you can slash monthly grocery spending by $50, you’ll have saved $600 a year. Or if you switch car insurance carriers, and save an average of $25 a month on your policy, that will earn you $300 a year.

Find Ways to Make More Money

While unemployment is at a record high, there are ways you can make a bit of extra scratch. For instance, sell some unwanted stuff. Grow herbs and veggies in your garden, and offer contactless pickup.

Or you could see what kind of side hustles might suit you. Don’t feel comfortable doing frontline work? You could take up a work-from-home gig, such as being an online tutor, virtual assistant, or work in computer support. If you’re qualified, you could also potentially do in-home bike repairs and general lawn maintenance. Handy with a needle and thread? Set up an Etsy shop and sell customized face masks.

It’s not easy, and finding the time is a real challenge, but for a lot of people the fastest path to debt repayment and a balanced budget is more income. The key is finding ways to leverage your skills (and resources) to meet a consumer need.

Look for Credit Card Relief Programs

A handful of credit card networks — Chase, Citi, Capital One, Apple, Discover, American Express, and Bank of America, to name a few — have been offering economic relief to cardholders who have been impacted by the coronavirus. Depending on your situation, you might be able to have late fees waived, have your payments paused temporarily, or your monthly payments lowered.

It typically depends on your situation. Reach out to your credit card company to see if you can request financial assistance. If you plan on giving the card issuer a ring, anticipate longer than usual wait times.

Keep Watch on Your Credit

Of course, you’ll want to maintain the best practices to minimize damage to your credit score. While paying off debt, be sure to continue making minimum, on-time payments (presuming you can afford them). Plus, you’ll want to keep watch to ensure that your credit usage remains low. Otherwise, your credit score might take a hit.

There are plenty of ways to check your credit score these days, including some popular money management apps and directly through select credit card issuers. Don’t just pay attention to the score, however. Be sure to review your actual credit reports often. You can access reports from the three major credit reporting bureaus through AnnualCreditReport.com.

Consider a Debt Repayment Plan

If you’re drowning in your debt, consider a debt repayment plan (DMP). Under a DMP,  you make a single payment for all your credit card debt. While it’s not guaranteed, for most consumers a DMP can lower your interest rates, waive late fees, or lower your monthly payments. The downside of a DMP is that you'll likely have to close your credit cards.

Paying off credit cards, while challenging, is certainly doable. The more you know and the greater vigilance you have around your situation, the better. In time, you’ll get that balance down. 

Tagged in Debt strategies, Disaster recovery, Coronavirus

Jackie Lam - author photo

Jackie Lam is an L.A.-based personal finance writer who is passionate about helping creatives with their finances. Her work has appeared in Forbes, Mental Floss, Business Insider, and GOOD. She blogs at heyfreelancer.com.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.
  • Since 2007, the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF) has served as a trusted, neutral source of information for more than eight million homeowners. They are partnered with, and endorsed by, numerous major government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Treasury.

  • The mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD works to strengthen the housing market in order to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; and build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.

  • The Council on Accreditation (COA) is an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. Their mission is to partner with human service organizations worldwide to improve service delivery outcomes by developing, applying, and promoting accreditation standards.

  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.