Less Flaking, More Snowflaking Will Help Pay Down Debt
If you're in debt as we head into summer, it's time to start thinking about snowflakes.
The idea of "snowflaking" is to make small debt payments, often on a credit card balance, more than once a month.
These snowflakes become part of your debt snowball, a technique by which you pay the minimum monthly payments on all debts except one that you focus on. As you pay off that debt, apply all the money you were paying on it to your next debt, which pays off that one faster, and so on. It creates a snowball effect, as if a snowball was gaining speed and rolling downhill.
The benefit of using snowflakes and a snowball is becoming debt-free quicker and paying far less interest. You'll even be motivated and help your credit score. This is one time when "throwing money at the problem" works.
Here's how to use snowflakes, also called micropayments, and why those in debt should consider it:
—Call your card company: Most allow you to make many payments in a month for free. Call the phone number on the back of the card and ask about your issuer's policy. "The majority of the major issuers will allow you to do this," said Bill Hardekopf, founder of credit card comparison site LowCards.com.
—Use regular snowflakes: Set up additional automatic payments to your credit card company. For example, if you get paychecks weekly or biweekly, make payment on the payday. One painless strategy is to pay half your usual amount biweekly. This amounts to 13 monthly payments in a year, instead of 12. "And all of that extra payment goes to pay off the balance. It doesn't go to interest," Hardekopf said. "So, your balance will come down faster."
—Use irregular snowflakes: Hardcore snowflakers make many small payments in a month. If you skip a $9.46 lunch out at work, ship that amount to your credit card company. Work two hours of overtime or get a tax refund? Slap it against the debt. The point is to immediately make a payment with extra money or cash you saved.
Besides erasing debt quicker, snowflaking makes sense for other reasons.
—You'll save on interest: Most credit card companies assess interest daily on unpaid balances. So paying early saves weeks of interest charges. Month after month, savings add up. And the quicker you get rid of the debt, the less interest you pay.
—You'll gain motivation: Making more payments forces you to think about your debts more often and gives you a more frequent thrill from seeing balances dwindle. If you want more motivation, focus the extra payments on debts smallest to largest. That allows you to pay off a few quickly, which can be a big emotional boost, like losing a few pounds in the first week of a diet. If you're more the mathematical type, pay off debts from highest interest rate to lowest.
"If you feel, 'Hey, I'm cutting into this,' you can gain momentum psychologically," Hardekopf said. "You might think, 'I'll skip going to dinner this week and take that 20 bucks and tack it onto my credit card payment.' "
—You'll improve your credit score: For those who carry balances, paying off debt quicker improves their credit score quicker. You might avoid late payments because you're more focused on the debt. Multiple payments can also help those who don't carry balances. Your credit scores are partly calculated on how much of your available credit you're using at any time. If you use $4,500 of a $5,000 available limit, you're penalized by credit-scoring models regardless of whether you pay the balance at month's end. By making multiple payments, you reduce your credit-usage ratio, which accounts for 30 percent of your FICO score.
(c) 2010, The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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