- As soon as you pay off $1,000 on your high rate credit card, you can re-charge that $1,000 fairly easily. But if on the other hand you had put that $1,000 in an IRA your credit card would still be maxed, but you would have a stable increase in your net worth that you couldn't blow at the mall (at least until you are 59 1/2). The good thing about being maxed on your credit cards is you can't spend any more money with them.
- If you end up declaring bankruptcy in a few years, assets in 401(k) and IRA plans are generally protected from your creditors. (source)
- Growing your assets becomes addictive. As soon as you have some assets growing, making them grow more is a very addictive hobby. I have $4k in my Roth IRA right now which I contributed in the past few months. Over that period of time I have been carrying a $5K credit card debt. Personally speaking, having $4k in my retirement account motivates me to be frugal more than only having $1k in credit card debt would. If I only had $1k on my cc I'd likely go out and "reward" myself for doing such a good job paying it down.
- The most important step in growing your net worth to $1,000,000 is to start investing now. Read Eight Steps to Seven Figures: The Investment Strategies of Everyday Millionaires and How You Can Become Wealthy Too (audio) if you don't believe me.
The best analogy I can give for this is weight loss. If you start a weight loss plan by cutting calories your chances for success are low. But, if you start trying to get into shape by learning a new and fun sport - for me it is skiing - then your chances of then eating right and ending up both fitter and skinnier is much greater. The same with debt reduction. If you only go about the boring, long, monotonous part of financial independence the temptation to splurge to reward yourself for your good behavior and ruin the whole plan is quite high. But if you find something rewarding which also helps you to repay your debt, then I know I at least would have a higher probability of success.
If you were the kind of person who could myopically attack debt day in and day out without a shred of additional motivation, then I think it is highly unlikely that you would have much debt to get out of in the first place.
The first step in winning the battle with debt is understanding yourself. If you know there is a likelihood you will run up the credit card again in a few months, then your first step to financial independence should be to save, not to repay.
UPDATE: After reading Richest Man in Babylon (audio download, auido cd) I wrote this post, and the plan I'm setting forth here is very similar to the get out of debt proposed in the book: Save 1/10 of all you earn, then use 2/10 of all you earn to repay your debts. Live off the rest.