Debt is a bit like fire. It can be a useful tool, but handle it badly and you’ll get burnt. Sadly, in January, many people’s fingers are tingling under the flame.

Don’t wait to deal with it – costs simply add up and the situation festers. The first step is not to borrow any more, which involves careful budgeting. However, just as important is how you deal with the existing debt.

So here are my ten January credit card debt-busters:

1. Shift credit card debts to TWO-year 0%

If you have costly existing credit cards and a decent credit score, get a new balance transfer card. Quite simply, this pays off the debts on your old card(s), so you owe it the money instead, but at a cheaper rate.

As the rate is lower, more of your repayments go towards clearing the debt, rather than just servicing the interest.

The three cards I’d pick right now are Barclaycard, which offers the longest 0% deal – two years with a one-off 3.2% fee of the amount transferred. If you can pay off much quicker, the lowest-fee deal is 1% with NatWest, but you only get 13 months interest free. In between the two is Lloyds at 21 months 0%, but with a relatively decent 1.5% fee.

Do note, these card firms offer many different cards. So be careful to get the right one. Offers change daily, for updated best buys go to

2. Lock in card debts at 5.9% FOR LIFE

If you need longer to repay, or are uncertain about how quickly you can repay, consider the MBNA Rate for Life card for safety.

For a one-off fee of 1.5%, new cardholders can shift debts at 5.9% until ALL the shifted debt is repaid. This is a corking deal to provide long-term low rates for people who don’t want to repeatedly shift cards.

3. Poor credit scorers 0% balance transfers

It's oft said banks are firms that lend you an umbrella when the sun’s shining, but take it back when it rains. Most balance transfer deals require you to have a decent credit score.

However, currently one card's easier to get, even for those who’ve been rejected in the past. The Capital One Balance+ card offers 0% on shifted debt until July, for a one-off 3% fee. You still must pass a credit score, yet unusually, it doesn't auto-exclude those with past CCJs/defaults. After July, it's a HUGE 34.9% rep APR, so do plan to repay what you borrow by then.

If you won't be able to do that, compare this 34.9% rate to your existing cards. If Capital One's a lot higher, leave room to ‘balance transfer’ back any debt not cleared – even just at the standard interest rate – in order to save. Full help on how to use this at

4. You don't need new cards to cut your interest

If you doubt you'll get accepted for new plastic with a cheap rate, or want to use existing credit more efficiently, there is another way. Some cards let cardholders with room on their credit limit shift other debts to them cheaply. Barclaycard, for example, offer 6.9% for life with a one-off fee of 3%.

Find out which cards allow it, list down the rates and available credit limits, then move all your existing debts to where they're cheapest. Even more powerfully, do this in conjunction with a new 0% deal. See for full help.

5. The balance transfer golden rules

If you are applying, it's crucial to follow the three golden rules: a) Repay at least the set monthly minimum, or you can lose special rates.

b) Always plan to fully repay 0% cards before the 0% ends, or rates rocket.

c) Don't spend on these cards. That isn't usually at the same cheap rate.

6. Debit cards can be just as dangerous as credit

Many proudly boast they don’t use credit cards, only debit. Yet if you’re overdrawn, it's crucial to consider that a debt too – often with higher interest costs and hideous bank charges for exceeding your limit.

To deal with them, you could switch to the Halifax Reward Bank account, which currently offers new customers a 12-month 0% overdraft. Yet after that ends, it charges a hideous £1-£3 a day if you’re overdrawn, so it’d be worth switching again.

Alternatively, a few cards, mainly from the MBNA stable (be very careful) offer 0% money transfers. This is where for a fee of around 4%, they pay money into your bank account, and you owe the card the cash instead. Done carefully and budgeted for correctly, this can slash costs – but novices beware.

7. Beware minimum repayments – it can take 27 years to repay

Credit card repayments are set as a percentage of what you owe, which means often they only just cover your interest, leaving the debt hardly touched.

Borrow £3,000 at 18% and repaying just the minimum can take around 27 years to clear, costing £4,000. If you can't afford to pay more, fix at today’s minimum and keep paying that amount even when the debt drops – that could take 20 years off.

8. Repay the card with the HIGHEST APR first

If you've multiple debts, focus all spare cash on repaying the highest APR one first – and just the minimums on all others. This way you clear the fastest-growing debt first. Once clear, shift to the next highest APR, and so on.

9. Always repay by direct debit

Miss or make repayments late and you risk losing any 0% deals, a fine and a credit score hit. Avoid that by setting up a direct debit to cover at least the monthly minimum – but pay more on top manually.

10. You've a RIGHT to reject APR rises

If your credit card firm tries to increase your standard APR rate, you've a right to reject this, provided you agree not to borrow more. Don’t be fobbed off. These solutions are for cutting debt costs. If you can't meet minimum payments, have non-mortgage debts bigger than a year's salary or have sleepless nights, you're likely to be in debt crisis. If so, ignore all the above. Instead, get free, one-on-one debt counselling help from Citizens Advice, Stepchange or National Debtline.

If you're struggling emotionally too, consider Christians Against Poverty. And don't worry, they're there to help, not judge. The most common comment I hear after is: "I finally got a good night's sleep."