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Last Updated on: 15th September 2023, 07:32 pm
Carrying high credit card balances can be a huge burden for many small businesses. Credit card debt comes with high interest rates, meaning those balances can quickly snowball out of control. But paying off those large credit card bills likely won’t happen overnight. So business owners face an important question: Should I prioritize paying off my company’s credit card debt as fast as possible? Or continue making minimum payments while directing cash towards other business needs?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Paying off credit card debt versus other uses of cash depends on your business’s specific situation. However, ignoring high-interest credit card debt is rarely wise. Here’s a look at how businesses should weigh paying off credit card balances versus other financial priorities.
The Downsides of Carrying Credit Card Debt
Credit card debt can seriously drag down a small business’s financial health and stability in several ways:
- High interest rates – Credit cards typically charge much higher interest rates than alternatives like business loans or lines of credit. Rates of 15% or more are common.
- It never goes away – Unlike with term loans, the balance doesn’t decline over time. Interest keeps accumulating on the full balance every month.
- Penalties and fees – Missed payments or going over your credit limit results in additional fees being tacked on.
- Hurt cash flow – Money spent on interest and minimum payments isn’t available for other business expenses or opportunities.
- Tough to get other financing – Lenders view high credit card balances as a red flag, making it harder to qualify for loans or new credit cards.
- Credit score damage – High credit utilization causes personal and business credit scores to decline, leading to worse loan terms.
In short, credit card debt makes it very tough for a business to improve its financial footing over time. Paying it off can be a crucial step towards freeing up cash flow and operating on a more sustainable financial basis.
How Aggressively Should Your Business Pay Off Debt?
Most financial experts agree that paying off high-interest credit card debt should be a priority for small businesses. But opinions differ on just how aggressive your pay-down strategy should be. It depends on factors like:
- How much cash you have available – Paying off debt faster ties up more working capital.
- Your other expenses and investment needs – You may need to devote funds to things like new equipment or inventory.
- Your access to new financing if needed – Good credit and revenue make borrowing easier.
- Whether you might sell the business – Debt can hurt valuation.
Here are two ends of the spectrum:
Snowball method – Putting all extra funds towards paying off your smallest credit card balance first, then rolling payments towards the next largest balance. This allows you to pay off cards quickly and build momentum.
Minimum payments – Only making the required minimum payment on each card for now and using excess cash for other priorities. But minimum payments cause balances to linger.
As a compromise, many businesses strive to pay off their credit card balances in full within a set timeframe – like 12, 18 or 24 months. This aggressive but achievable debt reduction plan frees up cash flow in a reasonable timeframe while still allowing you to invest in growth.
Other Ways to Pay Off Debt Faster
In addition to dedicating as much cash as feasible towards credit card balances each month, here are some other tips that can help expedite payoff:
Lower interest rates – Call your credit card companies and request a lower ongoing APR. They often oblige for good customers.
0% balance transfer offer – Transfer balances to a card offering 0% interest for 12-18 months to avoid interest during the payoff period.
Consolidation loan – If cash flow is very tight, a consolidation loan at a lower interest rate can reduce payments.
Sell unused assets – Turn unused equipment, furniture or other assets into cash for paying debt.
Renegotiate vendor terms – See if any suppliers will give you more time to pay invoices. This preserves cash for debt payments.
Offer discounts – Encourage customers to pay invoices faster by offering small discounts for quick payment.
The faster you can pay off those high-interest credit cards, the better for getting your business’s finances on solid ground.
When Paying Minimums on Debt May Make Sense
Although aggressively paying off credit card debt is usually prudent, there are certain situations where temporarily making minimum payments could be a reasonable course:
- You need cash for an emergency business expense – Like replacing essential equipment that broke.
- You have a short-term expansion opportunity – Such as buying inventory for a big new client project.
- You expect to close an equity investment round soon – The influx of capital from investors will allow you to pay off debt.
- You anticipate selling the business within 6-12 months – Debt won’t impact the sale price as much.
- The debt has a very low or 0% promotional interest rate – No urgency to pay it off faster.
- Paying it off would leave you without any cash cushion – A few months of minimum payments may be necessary to rebuild reserves.
The key is having a plan in place to begin paying off credit card balances more aggressively once you get past the short-term need to devote cash elsewhere. Don’t let minimum payments become the permanent solution.
Balancing Debt Payments With Other Financial Needs
For most small businesses, paying off debt won’t be the only financial priority. You may also need to reserve cash for purposes like:
- Funding payroll and operating expenses to keep the doors open.
- Purchasing inventory and supplies so you can meet customer demand.
- Expanding your workforce to support growth.
- Opening a new location or expanding facilities.
- Upgrading technology, equipment, and other assets.
- Launching a new product line or service offering.
- Marketing and advertising to attract new customers.
The key is finding the right balance between directing cash towards debt reduction versus these other business needs.
For example, if new manufacturing equipment will allow you to double production and meet much higher demand, buying it with a loan may be better in the long run than paying off credit cards. Likewise, hiring a few more staff to handle a surge in orders could boost profits more than eliminating debt.
So weigh how much each extra dollar allocated towards paying off debt helps your business’s overall financial picture versus other uses of that cash. There are rarely easy answers, but striking the right balance is key.
When Debt Payoff May Not Be the Right Move
While tackling credit card debt should take priority in most small business situations, there are some cases where continuing minimum payments could be the wisest financial move:
Extremely high-interest debt – Payday loans or merchant cash advances with APRs above 50%. The balance grows too fast to pay off.
Debt with reasonable terms – Low-rate debt like a government small business loan. No urgency to pay it off early.
Business has high failure risk – Paying off debt may be futile if the business is likely to close soon anyway.
Expansion is far more profitable – Growth opportunities like opening a new location must take precedence.
Personal financial issues – You may need to pay off urgent personal debts before business debt.
Retirement is around the corner – Retaining savings may make more sense than paying off business debt you’ll walk away from.
While still not ideal, continuing minimum payments on business credit card debt could be the most prudent option in scenarios like these. The key is having a clear, logical reason why paying off debt faster isn’t the best use of cash right now. Don’t let fear or lack of a plan be the excuse.
Handling credit card debt is a complex balancing act for many small business owners. Paying it off liberates cash flow but can conflict with other capital needs. Consider your business’s financial situation holistically when deciding how to prioritize debt payoff versus other obligations and opportunities.
Just don’t lose sight of the end goal – becoming debt-free. Carrying ongoing credit card balances makes it very hard to achieve true financial stability and optimize profits over the long-term. With a sound pay-down plan in place, you can eliminate debt while still investing in growth.