carrying debtUpdated: Jan. 16, 2018

Although having credit cards can be a great way to establish your creditworthiness, which helps you get credit for things like buying a car, taking out a personal loan or even renting a new apartment, having too many can get you into trouble if you aren’t using them responsibly and wind up carrying debt. If you’ve found yourself in credit card debt, for whatever reason, we’ve got a few tips to help you boost your credit scores while you pay it down.

Make on-time payments

The first and most important step to paying down your debt is to always make sure you’re making on-time payments. This can not only prevent racking up any added fees, but it may help increase your credit scores since your payment history is the largest factor in your credit scores — accounting for 35% of your scores. It’s important to note that your payment history includes a number of accounts, including your credit card bills and your other regular bills as well, such as your monthly utility bills and your cell phone bill, which get often reported to the credit bureaus. Even being late a few times on your bills can have a negative effect on your credit reports and credit scores, as credit lenders typically report to the major credit bureaus once every month. If you’re making on-time payments and still find yourself struggling to get out of debt, whether it’s due to high interest or because you have too many balances to manage, it’s wise to do what you can to do to pay it down faster, which bring us to our next point.

Concentrate on one balance at a time

When you’re carrying debt, it’s good to assess the sources of your debt — whether it’s just credit cards or you have other outstanding debt (e.g., your behind on your cable bill). If you want to see the balances drop quickly, start with the lowest balance first and pay as much as you can budget for each month. You’ll want to make sure you’re still making at least the minimum payments on all your other bills, considering how much weight payment history holds in calculating your credit scores, but aim to always pay more than the minimum on your lowest balance. This method, often referred to as the snowball effect, will help you pay off that debt completely more quickly, as you’re staying motivated by the progress, then you can move on to the next lowest balance and work on paying that one off. Although paying off the balance with the highest interest is the most effective way to pay off debt, as it helps you save more money, it may not keep you as motivated — it could feel like you’re throwing away money and seeing little result because your balances don’t go down as quickly as you’d like them to. If you prefer to concentrate on high-interest debt first, you should definitely do it, as there’s really no wrong way to pay down debt. That said, you should know that the snowball method of paying debt may have more impact on your credit scores. That’s because paying off a balance entirely can help increase your credit scores by lowering your credit utilization ratio, which makes up 30% of your credit score — the second largest factor behind payment history.

Consider a balance transfer

If you’re barely making the minimum payments on your credit card bills because the interest rates are so high that you simply can’t afford it, then you might want to consider a balance transfer credit card. These cards offer long periods of 0% intro APR on balance transfers (generally ranging from 12 months to 21 months), which can help you focus on make your payments on time without worrying about paying interest, too. Not only will you be able to make payments without interest with a balance transfer credit card, but if you’re juggling multiple credit card payments, transferring those balances to one card helps consolidate your payments into one lump sum, making it easier for to pay your bill on time each month, which will all contribute toward boosting your credit scores.

It’s important to note that most of these cards do charge a balance transfer fee, which is usually 3% to 5% of the amount you are transferring, but that amount is often much lower than what you would continue to pay in interest on your current credit card(s). That said, there are a few balance transfer cards out there, including the BankAmericard Credit Card and Chase Slate (both are detailed below), that charge a $0 intro balance transfer fee, and some that are even made for those with less-than-perfect credit. Below, we outline some of our top picks for balance transfer credit cards.

Best balance transfer credit cards

Best for no balance transfer fee: BankAmericard Credit Card

carrying debtIf you’re looking to complete a balance transfer but would like to avoid paying a balance transfer fee, the BankAmericard Credit Card is for you. That’s because this card features a 15-month 0% intro APR balance transfers made within the first 60 days, and it charges a $0 intro balance transfer fee for transfers made in the same 60-day period (transfers made after that will be subject to a minimum balance transfer fee of 3% or $10, whichever is greater). The BankAmericard Credit Card also expends its 15-month 0% intro APR to purchases, and cardholders will enjoy no annual fee and no penalty APR, meaning your APR won’t change if you’re ever late on a payment. Plus, access to your TransUnion FICO credit scores for free will help you track your progress as you work to pay down your debt and boost your scores. It should be noted that this credit card requires good to excellent credit for approval (typically considered to be credit scores of 700 or higher).

Runner up: Chase Slate

carrying debtSimilar the BankAmericard Credit Card we just mentioned, Chase Slate is also a great option for those looking to avoid paying a balance transfer fee, as it charges no balance transfer fee if you complete the transfer in the first 60 days (after that, it’s a 5% or $5 fee, whichever is greater). This card offers a 15-month 0% intro APR on both purchases and balance transfers, and you’ll also enjoy no annual fee and no penalty APR. Chase Slate also provides free monthly Experian FICO credit scores, online tracking and payment planning tools and purchase protection that protects against theft or damage for up to 120 days ($500 maximum per claim). Good to excellent credit is required for this card.

Best for longest 0% intro APR: Citi Diamond Preferred Card – 21 Month Balance Transfer Offer

carrying debtThe Citi Diamond Preferred Card – 21 Month Balance Transfer Offer (a NextAdvisor advertiser) offers the longest 0% intro APR period of any card we’ve seen. Cardholders will enjoy 21 months of 0% intro APR on balance transfers made within the first 4 months (with a $5 or 3% balance transfer fee, whichever is greater) — that’s nearly 2 years of no interest so you can focus on paying down your debt! Adding to this card’s perks are no annual fee and a 12-month 0% intro APR on purchases. It also has some flexibility in the way you pay your bill, as it allows you to set your own payment due date which can help you better align your paycheck with your bill. Rounding out this credit card is free monthly Equifax FICO credit scores. It also requires good to excellent credit for approval.

Best for less-than-perfect credit: Discover it – 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer

carrying debt If you have less-than-perfect credit, Discover it – 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer is for you, as it requires average to excellent credit for approval (typically considered credit scores around 670 or higher). This card combines an 18-month 0% intro APR period on balance transfers (note that there’s a 3% balance transfer fee) and a 6-month 0% intro APR on purchases with cash back rewards, making it a card you’ll want to keep in your wallet after you pay down your transferred balance. Cardholders will earn 5% cash back on purchases in rotating categories every quarter you activate (up to the quarterly maximum, currently $1,500, then 1% after that) and unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. These 5% categories can range from wholesale clubs to gas stations to Amazon.com to ground transportation to home improvement stores and more, which means you can earn cash back on a variety of purchases. As we noted, you’ll need to sign up for the 5% categories every quarter, but Discover makes this easy with automatic email reminders. Plus, with Discover’s Cashback Match feature, Discover will match all of the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year. For example, let’s say you’ve earned $250 in cash back rewards over the first 12 months; Discover will match that and give you another $250, for a grand total of $500 back! You’ll also enjoy no annual fee with this balance transfer card, plus a plethora of great Discover cardmember perks like identity theft protection and shopping deals.

Boosting your credit scores and getting on top of your finances when you’re carrying debt is hard, but you can do it with some diligence and planning. Looking for more ways to stay on top of your finances? Follow our personal finance blog to learn more.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This content was accurate at the time of this post, but card terms and conditions may change at any time. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.