How Much Credit Card Debt Can You Afford?

Written By Jeff Hindenach
Last updated February 2, 2020

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September 14, 2015

Simple. Thrifty. Living.

Imagine a brand new credit card with a spending limit of $5,000 just arrived in your mailbox. What do you do? If you’re like most, you activate it over the phone and immediately begin racking up credit card debt without ever considering whether the spending limit is reasonable for you. After all, the credit card issuer wouldn’t approve an amount more than you can afford to repay. Would it?

Before accepting your lender’s determination of your credit capacity, consider this easy-to-follow, three-step process to calculate how much credit card debt you can actually afford.

Your spending limit should depend less on your lender’s determination and more on your monthly budget. Take an honest look at your monthly budget and current expenses to determine the payment amount you can easily make every month.

If your budget allows you to afford a monthly credit card payment of, for example, $50, apply the “20 times” rule to calculate your spending limit: Multiply your monthly payment ($50) times 20 to calculate your spending limit ($1,000). Go by this limit instead of your credit card’s maxed-out limit.

The beauty of the 20 times rule is that it ensures your payment will always be more than the minimum payment required, and it will keep the balance of your credit card debt in check. This makes it much easier to reduce or eradicate your debt entirely.

As your income grows and your ability to repay your debt increases, it is easy to increase your spending limit if needed, especially if your payments have been consistent and on time. It’s usually as simple as calling customer service or logging into your online account, answering a few questions about your current finances and getting a higher spending limit.

Remember, accepting a credit card means saddling yourself with potential long-term debt. There’s nothing wrong with having control over the amount you have to repay, but it’s easier to control this when you figure out what that amount is.

If you need help with your credit card debt, a debt relief company can help you consolidate or settle your debt. A company like National Debt Relief can help.

About the Author

Jeff Hindenach

Jeff Hindenach is the co-founder of Simple. Thrifty. Living. He graduated from Bowling Green State University with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism. He has a long history of financial journalism, with a background writing for newspapers such as the San Jose Mercury News and San Francisco Examiner, as well as writing on personal finance for The Huffington Post, New York Times, Business Insider, CNBC, Newsday and The Street. He believes in giving readers the tools they need to get out of debt.

  • When applying the 20 times rule, do you recommend we call the credit company and ask for a reduction in our credit line to meet that number?


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