There are dozens of free online credit card payoff calculators that can calculate how long it will take you to pay off your credit card based on your total balance and the card’s current interest rate. But, these calculators aren’t always accurate. If you’re looking to use a payoff calculator, read this first.
Written by Natasha Wiebusch, J.D..
Updated August 12, 2021
Few Americans are debt-free. According to Debt.org, American households have an average of $5,315 of credit card debt. However, millions of Americans have more than that and they’re looking for help paying off their debts. There are dozens of free online credit card payoff calculators that can calculate how long it will take you to pay off your credit card based on your total balance and the card’s current interest rate. But, these calculators aren’t always accurate. If you’re looking to use a payoff calculator, read this first.
Your Interest Rates May Be Subject to Change
Credit card payoff calculators are a great tool to help you determine what payments you’ll have to make every month. But, payment calculators don’t account for your credit card’s changing interest rate. In fact, most credit cards have variable interest rates, meaning the credit card company has the right to change the interest rate. This is important to know because they may increase the interest rate, which will increase the amount of money you’ll have to pay in order to pay off your credit card debt.
How to find out if your credit card has a variable interest rate
You can find out if your credit card has a variable interest rate by looking at your credit card statement. You can also find this information on your credit card agreement, which you can request from your credit card company. You can also search for your agreement on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) credit card agreement database.
Your credit card agreement will also show you the highest interest rate the credit card company can charge. This rate is usually used only when you miss payments for a certain amount of time or if your credit score drops significantly.
Make Sure You Know Your Minimum Payments
If you’re confused about how credit card companies calculate minimum monthly payments, you’re not alone. Many people wonder the same thing. Different credit card companies use different formulas to determine what your minimum monthly payment amount will be. Generally, there are two methods credit card companies use to calculate minimum credit card payments:
1. Percentage of Your Total Statement Balance
The first method credit card issuers use to calculate a minimum monthly payment is a flat percentage of the total statement balance. To calculate the total statement balance, they add up all your transactions from the most recent billing cycle to your existing balance, plus interest and fees. Then, they charge a flat percentage of that balance as your required minimum monthly payment.
Example 1: Assume your total statement balance is $5,330, and your credit card company’s minimum monthly payment is 3% of your total balance.
Minimum Monthly Payment: $5,330 x .03 = $159.90
2. Lower Percentage Plus Interest and Fees
Other credit card companies calculate minimum monthly payments by adding a smaller percentage of your current balance plus interest and a fee for that statement period. These three amounts make up your minimum monthly payment for that month.
Example 2: Assume your total statement balance is $5,330. If your credit card company’s minimum monthly payment is 1% of that balance plus $61 in interest charges accrued during that month and a standard $25 fee.
1% of $5,330: $5,330 x .01 = $53.30
Minimum Monthly Payment: $53.30+ $61 + $25 = $139.30
Since credit card companies usually use one of the above methods, your minimum payment will usually increase when your outstanding balance increases and decrease as you pay off debt. Typically, the lowest minimum payment credit card companies will offer is $25 or $35.
As you can see, minimum payments will vary depending on the method the credit card company uses to calculate minimum payments. Because of this, the assumptions used by debt payoff calculators may not accurately reflect your actual credit card minimum payments.
No matter what debt repayment strategy you use, you’ll want to make sure you can make all your minimum payments on time to avoid late fees. Missed payments on your credit card debt and other debt, like student loans or other personal loans, can hurt your credit score. Having a good credit score is important, as it can impact your ability to secure other loans from other lenders in the future.
Watch Out for Fees
Credit card fees are additional charges your credit card company imposes based on the credit card agreement. Common fees include late fees, annual fees, and returned payment fees. If you get hit with credit card fees, it adds to your debt and can slow down your time to repayment. Although some fees are standard, you can avoid others, like late fees and returned payment fees.
Preventing Late Fees
Credit card companies calculate your payment deadline down to the hour. So, to prevent late fees, make sure you know the exact time your payment is due on your due date, including the time zone. For example, if your payment is due at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on your due date and you live on the West Coast, then your deadline to make a payment is 2:00 pm Pacific Standard Time.
Preventing Returned Payment Fees
Returned payment fees are fees charged when you make a payment on your credit card, but you don’t have enough money in your checking account to cover the payment. To prevent return payment fees, double-check that you have enough money in your checking account before making a payment. If the amount of money you have in your checking account is very close to the amount you’re paying toward your credit card, make sure that it’s not so close that you go below the required minimum balance in your checking account. Your bank can charge you a fee if you do.
Help Is Available to Pay Off Debt
Credit card debt can hurt your credit score, and it can be overwhelming to think about paying it off. Don’t be discouraged if your credit card repayment calculator says you’ll be stuck in debt for many years. Calculators will provide you with a basic estimate of how long it will take you to pay off your debt, but it doesn’t account for the other steps you can take. In fact, you have multiple options for help if you are faced with an unmanageable amount of credit card debt.
Credit Counseling and Debt Management Plans
First, you can contact a nonprofit credit counseling agency. Through an agency, you can speak with a credit counselor, who helps you manage your debts and get on the right path toward overall debt reduction. Credit counselors can provide expert personal financial advice and educational information related to your debt. They can also help you apply for a balance transfer credit card, which is a credit card that usually has zero interest for the first year to help consumers pay off existing debt.
Another thing a credit counselor can do is provide you with a debt management plan. Debt management plans allow you to lump your unsecured debts into a single payment, which will help you save money by providing you with a lower interest rate. These plans, which function very similarly to debt consolidation loans, generally allow you to pay your debts within 3–5 years.
Filing for Bankruptcy
Filing for bankruptcy sounds like a scary thing to do, but for many consumers with unmanageable debt, bankruptcy is a good option. Through bankruptcy, you’ll be able to either discharge much of your unsecured debt, or you’ll have the opportunity to create a more manageable repayment plan.
We understand that dealing with credit card debt can feel overwhelming. But there are ways to pay it back, and you’re not alone. While online credit card payoff calculators can be helpful, they often don’t account for changing interest rates and fees or how your minimum payment is calculated. Credit counselors can help you with a debt management plan. But if the total amount of credit card debt is just too much for you to pay back in your lifetime, there’s no shame in exploring other options, including bankruptcy.