If you carry a credit card balance, it can tend to snowball each month. You charge more to the card and the interest piles up.

It’s a problem for four out of 10 Americans. And it’s only getting worse as people become more comfortable charging to their cards.

The average U.S. household held $5,883 in credit card debt last year, up from $5,557 in 2013, according to finance site NerdWallet.

What can you do about it? One way is to improve your credit score, because lower scores usually result in higher rates. That isn't easy to do and can take time, but simple steps, such as paying your bills on time and not opening too many new credit accounts at once, can help. 

Another is to apply for a balance transfer card, which can offer you anywhere from 12 to 21 months to pay down your debt without having to pay interest.

But a third strategy is one that may be less obvious: Give up your rewards credit card.

“A card with more benefits might also have more costs,” says Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com. Not enough people understand this, he says. 

Cash-back cards, for instance, usually carry an Annual Percentage Rate (APR) of 18.83 percent, higher than the industry’s overall APR of 18.2 percent, according to August data from NerdWallet.

If you don’t pay off your rewards credit card every month, the interest you pay on the balance quickly reduces any rewards your card may offer. It may, in fact, completely wipe them out. 


Our Credit Card Adviser Comparison Tool will help you choose cash-back credit cards customized for your spending habits.

Here’s how to decide whether you should give up your rewards credit card:

Weigh rewards against interest rate. Because some rewards cards may carry higher rates, see whether your interest payments exceed any rewards you get. It’s worth noting that cash back and gas rewards cards generally have higher rates than the average credit card APR, according to August data from NerdWallet. Private-label cards from retailers such as Macy’s also tend to have higher APRs than average, CreditCards.com has found.

Look for rewards cards with lower rates. NerdWallet found that airline rewards cards typically charged an APR of 16.87 percent in August, which was the most favorable rate among rewards cards. Other cards with below-average APRs include business cards (15.3 percent APR) and hotel cards (17.85 percent).

Boost your credit score before applying. Because your credit score influences the rate you’ll be charged, improve your score before applying for a new card. The benefit? You’ll be locked into a lower rate. Consumers with excellent credit scores receive a typical APR of 17.57 percent, compared with 22.16 percent for those with a poor score, NerdWallet found.

Call your credit card issuer and ask for a lower rate. Most consumers aren’t aware that a simple call can lead to a fairly high rate of success, says CreditCards.com's Schulz. His company found that 78 percent of consumers who called were successful in receiving a lower rate, although only 1 out of 5 consumers are making that call.