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Online credit card tools can save you time and money

by Peter Andrew

Almost everyone who has a credit card is likely to spend a few minutes each month checking their statement and making sure a payment is made by the due date. If yours is among the 46.1 percent of American households that the Federal Reserve says have credit card debt, then you might save yourself some real money if you spend just a few minutes more managing your plastic. And you don't even have to do much math.

Credit card calculators

There is a wide variety of credit card calculators online that can do the hard work for you. Better yet, they're absolutely free. For example, there are four on the IndexCreditCards.com website that can calculate for you the answers to these questions:

  1. How much interest do I pay when I revolve my credit card balances?
  2. How much could I save with a lower interest credit card?
  3. How much do I need to pay each month to pay off my credit card?
  4. How long will it take to pay off my credit card?

All you have to do is type in a few figures, such as your credit card interest rates and balances, and you can access the information you need to make sensible, informed decisions about how best to go forward.

Controlling or eliminating credit card debt

Even if you're entirely comfortable with your card debt, you may find that getting a grasp on the basic figures could save you from high interest payments. You might, for example, find the information spurs you to apply for a low-interest product, or for one of the many balance transfer credit cards that are currently offering zero-percent introductory rates for extended periods.

But these credit card calculators can be even more valuable if you're starting to worry about the debt levels on your plastic. Many professional counselors say that there are three essential first steps to bringing your finances back under control:

  1. Recognize that you have a problem.
  2. Write down the amount you owe on each card so you have a comprehensive overview of your situation.
  3. Set yourself ambitious but realistic goals for paying down your balances, normally starting with the cards with the highest interest rates. Make minimum payments on the others till the high-cost ones are out the way.

It's with that last step that these calculators can often help most. Because they do the math, it's quick and easy for you to try out different payment models, finding the shortest route to becoming free of card debt.

Turning a wish into reality

Write down the major milestones you set yourself so you can track your progress. You might, for instance, say you plan to have a zero balance on card a by the end of 2013, card b by June 2014, and card c two years today. Of course, you can say all that now, before using a calculator, but your chances of reaching your destination would be slight.

It's only after you've worked out how much you can realistically afford to pay on each card each month that a vague and largely meaningless aspiration can turn into a solid road map.

Credit cards that make paying down easier

If you have Chase credit cards or Discover credit cards, be sure to use the powerful online tools that are available free to customers on those credit card companies' websites.

Discover has three services:

  1. Spend analyser -- a budgeting tool that allows you to identify where your money has been going over a period. You can even view your spending patterns in the form of colorful graphic charts.
  2. Pay-down planner -- which lets you model your payment options, varying the time and the pain involved.
  3. Purchase planner -- which could help you to choose how best to pay for your next major purchase.

Chase has its Blueprint suite of online tools, which does everything that Discover's does, and more. In fact, it's widely regarded as one of the most powerful and highly-recommended budgeting tools available.

Blueprint allows you to integrate your goals into your card account. For example, you can choose always to pay in full each month for everyday items like groceries, gas and/or dining, and your statement will show how much you need to pay to achieve that. Similarly, you can set a pay-down plan to zero your balance by a certain date, and the payment you need to make will appear on your statement each month. Of course, if your circumstances change, you won't be penalized for missing your goals, providing you keep up minimum payments.

Take control of your credit card debt

One of the worst aspects of being in debt is the feeling of helplessness it often brings. Sometimes, the whole mess can appear overwhelming, and it's a common and possibly natural instinct to bury your head in the sand.

All these credit card calculators and tools are designed to empower you. They can help you seize back control of your finances, and move forward with the confidence that comes from having a workable plan. And they can provide you with a realistic prospect of an end to the stress and misery you're currently enduring. All that, and they won't cost you more than a few minutes of your time each month.

Published 10/29/12 (Modified 05/14/14)


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