Get More From Your Credit Cards This Holiday

If you haven't started thinking about the holidays yet, they're right around the corner! That means it's time to start making plans and strategizing ways to save money. A rewards credit card is an excellent tool for spending, getting benefits, and boosting your budget during the holidays.

To discuss tips for getting get more from your credit cards, I interviewed Kristy Olinger, a Credit Card Product Manager at Citizens. She's spent decades working in the credit card industry and knows a lot about consumer behavior, often-overlooked card benefits, and ways to use cards safely. She also co-hosts her own podcast, The Opposite of Small Talk

8 Ways to Make the Holidays Less Expensive and More Memorable

Kristy and I had a great conversation about how to kick off the holiday season with wise shopping strategies and what to do if you regularly end up with a debt hangover in January. Here are a few of the topics we cover on this Money Girl podcast interview:

  • Holiday planning tips that help you stay out of debt.
  • How to use credit card rewards to stretch your holiday budget further.
  • What is an extended card warranty and when to use it.
  • The importance of reviewing your cards' benefit guides.
  • Why it's critical to use a credit card instead of a debit card online.
  • How using a card in a digital wallet gives you more cyber protection.
  • Which credit card is best for different types of purchases.
  • When to use a balance transfer credit card to manage debt.

Listen to the interview using the embedded audio player or on Apple PodcastsSoundCloudStitcher, and Spotify.

What questions do you have about using credit cards wisely, paying off debt, or building excellent credit? Leave a voicemail for Laura by calling 302-364-0308. Follow her on Instagram and sign up for her weekly newsletter at LauraDAdams.com.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

How to Get Debt Consolidation Loans When You Have Bad Credit

Debt consolidation is one of the most effective ways to effectively manage debt. It can greatly improve your debt-to-income ratio and help you get back on your feet. You will have more money in your pocket and less debt to worry about, and while your options are a little more limited if you have bad credit, you can still get a consolidation loan.

In this guide, we’ll look at the ways that a debt consolidation loan will impact your credit score, while also showing you the best ways to consolidate credit card payments and find a credit card consolidation plan that suits your needs.

What is a Debt Consolidation Loan and How Does it Work?

A debt consolidation loan can help you to manage credit card debt and other unsecured debts by consolidating them into one, manageable monthly payment. You get a large loan and use this to clear all your current debts, swapping several high-interest debts for one low-interest loan.

You’ll consolidate multiple payments into a single monthly payment, and, in most cases, this will be much less than what you’re paying right now.

The problem is, creditors aren’t in the business of helping you during your time of need. They’re there to make money, and in exchange for your reduced monthly payment, you’ll get a loan that extends your debt by several years. So, while you may pay a few hundred dollars less per month, you could pay several thousand dollars more over the lifetime of the loan.

Why Consider Debt Consolidation for Bad Credit?

You can use a debt consolidation loan to consolidate credit card debt, clear your obligations, reduce the risk of penalties and fees, and ultimately improve your credit score. What’s more, you may still be accepted for a debt consolidation loan even if you have a poor credit score and a credit report with several derogatory marks.

It’s an option that was tailormade for borrowers with lots of unsecured debt, and it stands to reason that anyone with a lot of debt will have a reduced credit score. Of course, it still helps if you have a high credit score as that will increase your chances of getting a low-interest debt consolidation loan, but even with bad credit, you can get a loan that will reduce your monthly payment.

How Does Debt Consolidation Affect Your Credit Score?

A debt consolidation loan can impact your credit score in a number of ways, all of which will depend on what option you choose:

  • A balance transfer can reduce your score temporarily due to the maxed-out credit card and a new account.
  • If you use a consolidation loan to clear credit card balances, you will diversify your credit report, which can benefit up to 10% of your credit score.
  • If you continue to use your credit cards after clearing them, your credit utilization will drop, and your credit score will suffer.
  • A new consolidation loan account will reduce your credit score because it’s a new account and because the average age of your accounts has decreased.
  • Debt management will reduce your credit utilization score by requiring you to cancel credit cards. This accounts for 30% of your total credit score. 

The good news is that all of these are minor, and the short-term reductions should offset in the long-term. After all, you’re clearing multiple debts, and that can only be a good thing. 

A debt consolidation loan will not impact your score in the same way as debt settlement or bankruptcy.

Alternatives to a Debt Consolidation Loan 

A debt consolidation loan isn’t your only option for escaping debt. There are numerous options for bad credit and good credit, all of which work in a similar way to a debt consolidation loan.

These may be preferable to working with a consolidation loan company, especially if you have a lot of unpaid credit card balances or you’re suffering from financial hardship.

How Does a Debt Management Program Work?

Debt management is provided by credit unions and credit counseling agencies and offered to individuals suffering financial hardship and struggling to repay their debts. A debt management plan typically lasts three to five years and works with unsecured debt only, which includes medical debt, private student loans, and credit cards, but not mortgages or car loans.

A debt management plan ties you to a credit counseling agency, which acts as the middleman between you and your creditors. The agency will help to find a monthly payment you can afford and then negotiate with your creditors. You make your monthly payment through the debt management program and they distribute this to your creditors.

Debt management specialists are experts in negotiation and know how to get creditors to bend to their ways. They understand that lenders just want their money and are keen to avoid defaults and collections, so they remind them that failing to negotiate may increase the risk of such outcomes.

Debt management programs are not free. You will be charged a small up-front fee in addition to a monthly fee. However, the amount of time and money they save you is often worth the small charge.

The only real downsides to a debt management plan is that you’ll be required to cancel most of your credit cards, which will impact your credit score, and if you miss a single payment then creditors will revert to previous terms and your progression will be lost.

A Balance Transfer

You don’t need a debt consolidation loan to consolidate your debt. You can also use something known as a balance transfer credit card. 

A balance transfer allows you to consolidate credit card debt onto a single card. These cards offer you 0% interest for up to 18 months and allow you to transfer multiple credit card balances.

As an example, let’s assume that you have the following credit card balances:

  • Card 1 = $5,000
  • Card 2 = $2,000
  • Card 3 = $3,000
  • Card 4 = $5,000

That gives you a total credit card balance of $15,000. If we assume an APR of 20% and a minimum payment of $500, you will repay over $20,000 in 42 months, with close to $6,000 covering interest alone.

If you use a balance transfer credit card, you will be charged an initial balance transfer rate of between 3% and 5%, after which you will not be required to pay any interest for up to 18 months. Continue making those same monthly payments, and you’ll repay $9,000 before that introductory period ends, which means your debt will be reduced to just $6,000 and can be cleared in 14 months with less than $800 in total interest.

This is a fantastic option if you have a strong credit score, otherwise, you may struggle to find a credit limit high enough to cover your debts. However, it’s worth noting that:

  • Your credit score may take an initial hit due to the new account and maxed-out credit card.
  • The interest rate may be higher, so it’s important to clear as much of the balance as you can before the introductory period ends.
  • You may be charged high penalty fees for late payments.
  • You can’t move credit card debt from cards owned by the same provider.

What About Debt Settlement?

Debt settlement works in a similar way to debt management, in that other companies work on your behalf to negotiate with your creditors. However, this is pretty much where the similarities end.

A debt settlement specialist will request several things from you:

  • You pay a fee (charged upon settlement).
  • You move money to a secure third-party account.
  • You stop meeting your monthly payments.

They ask you to stop making payments for two reasons. Firstly, it will ensure you have more money to move to the third-party account, which is what they use to negotiate with creditors. They will offer those creditors a lump sum payment in exchange for discharging the debt, potentially saving as much as 90%, on top of which they will charge their fee. 

Secondly, the more payments you miss, the more unlikely it is that your account will be settled in full, at which point the lender will be more inclined to accept a sizable settlement.

Debt settlement is not without its issues. It can reduce your credit score, increase the risk of litigation and take several years to complete. However, it’s the cheapest way to clear your debts without resorting to bankruptcy.

You can do debt settlement yourself by contacting your creditors and negotiating reduced sums, but you will need to have a large sum of cash prepared to pay these settlements and you’ll also need a lot of patience and persistence. There are also companies like National Debt Relief that can help, as well a huge number of lesser-known but equally reputable options. 

Who is Eligible for a Personal Loan for Debt Consolidation?

In theory, you can use a personal loan as a debt consolidation loan. In other words, instead of working with a debt consolidation company and allowing them to set the rates and find suitable terms, you just apply for a personal loan, use it to pay off your debts, and then focus your attention on repaying that loan.

This can work very well if you’re using it to repay credit card debt. The average credit card APR in the US is 16% to 20%, while the average personal loan rate is closer to 6%. A personal loan acquired for this purpose will give you more control over the total interest and repayment term. 

However, while you may pay less over the term, it’s unlikely that you’ll reduce your monthly payments. A debt consolidation loan is designed to provide an extended-term so that the monthly payment will be reduced, and unless you choose a loan with a long term, you won’t get the same benefits.

The biggest issue, however, is that you need a very good credit score to get a loan that is big enough to cover your debts and has interest that is low enough to make it a viable option. This is easier said than done, and if you’re drowning in debt there’s a good chance your credit score will not be high enough to make this feasible. 

Is it Time for Bankruptcy?

If you have mounting credit card debt, personal loan debt, and private student loans, and you’re struggling to make the repayments or clear more than the minimum amount, you may want to consider bankruptcy.

It should always be seen as the last resort, as it can have a seriously negative impact on your credit score and make it difficult to get a home loan, car loan, or low-interest credit card for many years. However, if you’re not confident that debt settlement will work for you and believe you’re too far gone for debt management and consolidation, speak with a credit counselor and discuss whether bankruptcy is the right option.

You can learn more about this process in our guides to Filing for Bankruptcy and Rebuilding your Credit After Bankruptcy.

Debt Consolidation for Bad Credit Homeowners

If you own your home, you have a few more options for debt consolidation. When you use your home as collateral against a loan it’s known as a secured debt. It means the lender can repossess your home if you fail to meet the repayments. This also eliminates some of the risks associated with lending, which means they offer more favorable interest rates and terms.

Home Equity Loan and HELOC

An equity loan is a large personal loan secured against the value tied-up in your home. You can acquire an equity loan when you own a large share of your property, in which case you’re using that share as collateral.

Interest rates are very favorable, and you can receive a consolidation loan that clears all your debts and leaves only a small monthly payment and easily manageable debt in their place.

A home equity line of credit (HELOC), works in much the same way, only this time you’re given a line of credit similar to what you’d get with a credit card. You can use this credit to repay your debts, after which you just need to focus on repaying the HELOC.

An equity loan and a HELOC provide the lowest possible interest rates of any debt consolidation loan. However, failure to meet your monthly payments will damage your credit score and place your home at risk.

Cash-Out Refinancing for Consolidation

Cash-Out refinancing replaces your current mortgage with a new, larger mortgage. The difference between these two home loans is then released to you as a cash sum, allowing you to clear your debts in one fell swoop. 

Cash-Out refinancing is often used to fund a child’s college education or a new business, but it’s becoming increasingly common as a form of debt consolidation, helping American homeowners to clear credit card debt and other unsecured debts.

Reverse Mortgages

Reverse mortgages work in a similar way to home equity loans, but with a few key differences. Firstly, they are only offered to homeowners aged 62 or older. Secondly, there is no monthly payment and no other recurring obligations.

A reverse mortgage is only repaid when you sell the home or die. There are also some obligations with regards to maintaining the home and living in it full time, but you don’t need to pay any fees and can use the money gained from this mortgage to clear your debts.

Summary: Consider Your Options

A debt consolidation loan is a great option if you’re struggling with debt. You can try a debt management plan if you have bad credit, a balance transfer if you have great credit, and debt consolidation companies if you’re somewhere in the middle.

But as discussed already, these are not the only options. The debt relief industry is vast and caters for every type and size of debt. Do your research, take your time, and make sure you understand the pros and cons of each option before you decide.

How to Get Debt Consolidation Loans When You Have Bad Credit is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

Does Paying the Minimum Hurt Your Credit Score

Credit card bills can be confusing. If everything was straightforward and clear, credit card debt wouldn’t be such a big issue. But it’s not clear, and debt is a massive issue for millions of consumers. 

One of the most confusing aspects is the minimum payment, with few consumers understanding how this works, how much damage (if any) it does to their credit score, and why it’s important to pay more than the minimum.

We’ll address all of those things and more in this guide, looking at how minimum credit card payments can impact your FICO score and your credit report.

What is a Credit Card Minimum Payment?

The minimum payment is the lowest amount you need to pay during any given month. It’s often fixed as a fraction of your total balance and includes fees and interest.  

If you fail to make this minimum payment, you may be hit with late fees and if you still haven’t paid after 30 days, your creditor will report your activity to the major credit bureaus and your credit score will take a hit.

When this happens, you could lose up to 100 points and gain a derogatory mark that remains on your credit report for up to 7 years. Making minimum payments will not result in a derogatory mark, but it can indirectly affect your credit score and we’ll discuss that a little later.

Firstly, it’s important to understand why you’re being asked to pay a minimum amount and how you can avoid it.

How Much is a Minimum Credit Card Payment?

Prior to 2004, monthly payments could be as low as 2% of the balance. This caused all kinds of problems as most of your monthly payment is interest and will, therefore, inflate every month so that every time you reduce the balance it grows back. 

Regulators forced a change when they realized that some users were being locked into a cycle of credit card debt, one that could see them repaying thousands more than the balance and taking many years to repay in full.

These days, a minimum payment must be at least 1% of the balance plus all interest and fees that have accumulated during that month, ensuring the balance decreases by at least 1% if only the minimum payment is met.

Do I Need to Make the Minimum Payment?

If you have a rolling balance, you need to make the minimum monthly payment to avoid derogatory marks. If you fail to do so and keep missing those payments, your account will eventually default and cause all kinds of issues.

However, you can avoid the minimum payment by clearing your balance in full.

Let’s assume that you have a brand-new credit card and you spend $2,000 in the first billing cycle. In the next cycle, you will be required to pay this balance in full. However, you will also be offered a minimum payment, which will likely be anywhere from $30 to $100. If this is all that you pay, the issuer will start charging you interest on your balance and your problems will begin.

If you spend $2,000 in the next billing cycle, you have just doubled your debt (minus whatever principal the minimum payment cleared) and your problems.

This is a cycle that many consumers get locked into. They do what they can to pay off their balance in full, but then they have a difficult month and that minimum payment begins to look very tempting. They convince themselves that one month won’t hurt and they’ll repay the balance in full next month, but by that point they’ve spent more, it has grown more, and they just don’t have the funds.

To avoid falling into this trap, try the following tips:

  • Only Spend What You Have: A credit card should be used to spend money you have now or will have in the future. Don’t spend in the hope you’ll somehow come into some money before the billing period ends and the credit card balance rolls over.
  • Get an Introductory Interest Rate: Many credit card issuers offer a 0% intro APR for a fixed period of time, allowing you to accumulate debt without interest. This can help if you need to make some essential purchases, but it’s important not to abuse this as you’ll still need to clear the full balance before the intro period ends.
  • Use a Balance Transfer: If you’re in too deep and the intro rate is coming to an end, consider a balance transfer credit card. These cards allow you to move your full balance from one card (or cards) to another, taking advantage of yet another 0% APR and essentially extending the one you have.
  • Pay the Minimum: If you can’t pay the balance in full, make sure you at least pay the minimum. A missed payment or late payment can incur fees and may hurt your credit score. 

Why Pay More Than the Minimum?

You may have heard experts recommending that you pay more than the minimum every month, but why? If you’re locked into a cycle of credit card debt, it can seem counterproductive. After all, if you have a debt of $10,000 that’s costing you $400 a month, what’s the point of taking an extra $100 out of your budget?

Your interest and fees are covered by your minimum payment and account for a sizeable percentage of that minimum payment. By adding just 50% more, you could be doubling and even tripling the amount of the principal that you repay every month.

What’s more, your interest accumulates every single day and this interest compounds. Imagine, for instance, that you have a balance of $10,000 today and with interest, this grows to $10,040. The next day, the interest will be calculated based on that $10,040 figure, which means it could grow to $10,081, which will then become the new balance for the next day. 

This continues every single day, and the larger your balance is, the more interest will compound and the greater the amount will be due over the term. By paying more than your minimum payment when you can, you’re reducing the balance and slowing things down.

Does Paying the Minimum Hurt My Credit Score?

Paying the minimum amount every month ensures you are doing the bare minimum to avoid hurting your credit history or accumulating fees. However, it can indirectly reduce your score via your credit utilization ratio.

Your credit utilization ratio is a score that compares the credit limit of all available credit cards to the total debt on those cards. It accounts for 30% of your credit score and is, therefore, a very important aspect of the credit scoring process.

The more credit card debt you accumulate, the lower your credit utilization rate will be and the more your score will be impacted. If you only pay the minimum, this rate will become stagnant and may take years to improve. By increasing the payment amount, however, you can bring that ratio down and improve your credit score.

You can calculate your credit utilization score by adding together the total amount of credit limits and debts and then comparing the latter to the former. A combined credit limit of $10,000 and a balance of $5,000, for instance, would equate to a 50% ratio, which is on the high side.

Can Credit Card Fees Hurt My Credit Score?

As with interest charges, credit card fees will not directly reduce your score but may have an indirect effect. Cash advance fees, for instance, can be substantial, with many credit card companies (including Capital One) charging 3% with a $10 minimum charge. This means that every time you withdraw cash, you’re paying at least $10, even if you’re only withdrawing $10.

What many consumers don’t realize is that these fees are also charged every time you buy casino chips or pay for some other form of gambling, and every time you purchase money orders and other cash products. 

Along with foreign transaction fees and penalty fees, these can increase your balance and your minimum payment, making it harder to make on time payments and thus increasing the risk of a late payment.

Does Paying the Minimum Hurt Your Credit Score is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

Credit Card Balance Transfers

Credit card balances are crippling households across the United States, giving them insurmountable debts that just keep on growing and never seem to go away. But there is some good news, as this problem has spawned a multitude of debt relief options, one of which is a credit card balance transfer.

Balance transfers are a similar and widely available option for all debtors to clear their credit card balances, reduce their interest rate, and potentially save thousands of dollars.

How Credit Card Balance Transfers Work

A balance transfer credit card allows you to transfer a balance from one or more cards to another, reducing credit card debt and all its obligations. These cards are offered by most credit card companies and come with a 0% APR on balance transfers for the first 6, 12 or 18 months.

Consumers can use this balance transfer offer to reduce interest payments, and if they continue to pay the same sum every month, all of it will go towards the principal. Without interest to eat into their monthly payment, the balance will clear quickly and cheaply.

There are a few downsides to transferring a balance, including late fees, a transfer fee and, in some cases, an annual fee.

What Happens When You Transfer a Balance on Credit Cards?

When you transfer a balance, your new lender repays your credit card debt and moves the funds onto a new card. You may incur a transfer fee and pay an annual fee, which can increase the total debt, but transferring a balance in this way allows you to take advantage of a 0% introductory APR. While this introductory period lasts, you won’t pay any interest on your debt and can focus on clearing your credit card debt step by step.

Why are Balance Transfers Beneficial?

A little later, we’ll discuss some alternatives to a balance transfer offer, all of which can help you clear your debt. However, the majority of these methods will increase your debt in the short term, prolong the time it takes to repay it or reduce your credit score

A balance transfer credit card does none of these things. As soon as you accept the transfer offer, you’ll have a 0% introductory APR that you can use to eliminate your debt. The balance transfer may increase your debt liabilities slightly by adding a transfer fee and an annual fee, but generally speaking, this is one of the best ways to clear your debt.

To understand why this is the case, you need to know how credit card interest works. If you have a debt of $20,000 with a variable APR rate of 20% and a minimum monthly payment of $500, you’ll repay the debt in 67 months at a cost of over $13,000 in interest.

If you move that debt to a card with a balance transfer offer of 0% APR for 12 months, and you continue to meet the $500 minimum payment, you’ll repay $5,000 and reduce the debt to $15,000. From that point on, you’ll have a smaller balance to clear, less interest to worry about, and can clear the debt completely in just a few more years.

Of course, the transfer fee will increase your balance somewhat, but this fee is minimal when compared to the money you can save. The same applies to the annual fee that these cards charge and, in many cases, you can find cards that don’t charge an annual fee at all. 

You can even find no-fee balance transfer cards, although these are rare. The BankAmericard credit card once provided a no fee transfer offer to all applicants, in addition to a $0 annual fee. However, they changed their rules in 2018 and made the card much less appealing to the average user.

Pros and Cons of Credit Card Balance Transfers

From credit score and credit limit issues to a high variable APR, late fees, and cash advance fees, there are numerous issues with these cards. However, there are just as many pros as there are cons, including the fact that they can be one of the cheapest and fastest ways to clear debt.

Pro: 0% Introductory APR

The 0% APR on balance transfers is the best thing about these credit cards and the reason they are so beneficial. However, many cards also offer 0% APR on purchases. This means that if you continue to use your card after the transfer has taken place, you won’t be charged any interest on the new credit.

With most cards, the 0% APR on purchases runs for the same length of time as the balance transfer offer. This ensures that all credit you accumulate upon opening the account will be subject to the same benefits. Of course, accumulating additional credit is not wise as it will prolong the time it takes you to repay the debt.

Pro: Can Still Get Cash Rewards

While cash rewards are rare on balance transfer cards, some of the better cards still offer them. Discover It is a great example of this. You can earn cash back every time you spend, even after initiating a balance transfer. The cash rewards scheme is one of the best in the industry and there is also a 0% APR on balance transfers during an introductory period that lasts up to 18 months.

Pro: High Credit Limit

A balance transfer card may offer you a high credit limit, one that is large enough to cover your credit card debt. You will need a good credit score to get this rate, of course, but once you do your credit card debt will clear, you can repay it, and then you’ll have a card with a high credit limit and no balance.

Throw a rewards scheme into the mix (as with the Discover It rewards card) and you’ll have turned a dire situation into a great one.

Con: Will Reduce Credit Score

A new account opening won’t impact your credit score as heavily as you may have been led to believe. In fact, the impact of a new credit card or loan is minimal at best and any effects usually disappear after just a few months. However, a balance transfer card is a different story and there are a few ways it can impact your score.

Firstly, it could reduce your credit utilization ratio. This is the amount of credit you have compared to the amount of debt you have. If you have four credit cards each with a credit limit of $20,000 and a debt of $10,000 then your score will be 50%. If you close all of these and swap them for a single card where your credit limit matches your debt, your score will be 100%.

Your credit utilization ratio points for 30% of your total FICO score and can, therefore, do some serious damage to your credit score.

Secondly, although FICO has yet to disclose specifics, a maxed-out credit card can also reduce your score. By its very nature, a balance transfer card will be maxed out or close to being maxed out, as it’s a card opened with the sole purpose of covering this debt.

Finally, if you close multiple accounts and open a new one, your account age will decrease, thus reduce your credit score further.

Con: Transfer Free

The transfer fee is a small issue, but one worth mentioning, nonetheless. This is often charged at between 3% and 5% of the total balance, but there are also minimum amounts of between $5 and $10, and you will pay the greater of the two.

This can sound like a lot. After all, for a balance transfer of $10,000, 5% will be $500. However, when you consider how much you can save over the course of the introductory period, that fee begins to look nominal.

There may also be an annual fee to consider, but if your score is high enough and you choose one of the cards listed in this guide, you can avoid this fee.

Con: Late Fees and Other Penalties

In truth, all credit cards will charge you a fee if you’re late and you will also be charged a fee every time you make a cash advance. However, the fees may be higher with balance transfer cards, especially if those cards offer generous benefits and rewards elsewhere. It’s a balancing act for the provider—an advantage here means a disadvantage there.

Con: High APR on Purchases

While many balance transfer cards offer a 0% APR on purchases for a fixed period, this rate may increase when the introductory period ends. The resulting variable APR will often be a lot larger than what you were paying before the transfer, with many credit cards charging over 25% or more on purchases.

Which Credit Cards are Best for Clearing Credit Card Debt?

Many credit card issuers have some kind of balance transfer card, but it’s worth remembering that credit card companies aren’t interested in offering these cards to current customers. You’ll need to find a new provider and if you have multiple cards with multiple providers, that can be tricky. 

Run some comparisons, check the offers against your financial situation, and pay close attention to late fees, APR on purchases, cash rewards, and the length of the 0% introductory APR rate. 

You’ll also need to find a card with a credit limit high enough to cover your current debt, and one that accepts customers with your credit score. This can be tricky, but if you shop around, you should find something. If not, focus on increasing your credit score before seeking to apply again.

Here are a few options to help you begin your search for the most suitable balance transfer card:

Discover It

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 18 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 3% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 6 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 24.49% Variable APR
  • Rewards: Yes

Chase Freedom Unlimited

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 15 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 5% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 15 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 25.24% Variable APR
  • Rewards: Yes

Citi Simplicity

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 21 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 5% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 12 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 26.24% Variable APR
  • Rewards: No

Bank of America Cash Rewards

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 15 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 3% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 15 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 25.49% Variable APR
  • Rewards: No

Capital One Quicksilver

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 15 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 3% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 15 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 25.49% Variable APR
  • Rewards: No

Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 15 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 3% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 15 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 25.49% Variable APR
  • Rewards: No

Capital One SavorOne

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 15 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 3% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 15 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 25.49% Variable APR
  • Rewards: Yes

How to Clear Debt with a Balance Transfer Card

From the point of the account opening to the point that the introductory period ends, you need to focus on clearing as much of the balance as possible. Don’t concern yourself with a variable APR rate, annual fee or other issues and avoid additional APR on purchases by not using the card. Just put all extra cash you have towards the debt and reduce it one step at a time.

Here are a few tips to help you clear debt after you transfer a balance:

Meet the Monthly Payment

First things first, always meet your minimum payment obligations. The 0% APR on balance transfers protects you against additional interest, but it doesn’t eliminate your repayments altogether. If you fail to meet these payments, you could find yourself in some serious hot water and may negate the balance transfer offer.

Increase Payment Frequency

It may be easier for you to repay $250 every two weeks as opposed to $500 every month. This will also allow you to use any extra funds when you have them, thus preventing you from wasting cash on luxury purchases and ensuring it goes towards your debt.

Earn More

Ask for a pay rise, take on a part-time job, work as a freelancer—do whatever it takes to earn extra cash during this period. If you commit everything you have for just 12 to 18 months you can get your troublesome debt cleared and start looking forward to a future without debt and complications, one where you have more money and more freedom.

Sell Up

It has never been easier to sell your unwanted belongings. Many apps can help you with this and you can also sell on big platforms like Facebook, eBay, and Amazon. 

Sell clothes, electronics, books, games, music—anything you no longer need that could earn you a few extra dollars. It all goes towards your debt and can help you to clear it while your introductory APR is active.

Don’t Take out a Personal Loan

While you might be tempted to use a loan to cover your debt, this is never a good idea. You should avoid using low-interest debt to replace high-interest debt, even if the latter is currently under a 0% introductory APR. 

It’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of swapping one debt for another, and it’s a cycle that ultimately leads to some high fees and even higher interest rates.

Focus on the Bigger Picture

Debt exists because we focus too much on the short-term. Rather than dismissing the idea of buying a brand-new computer we can’t afford, we fool ourselves into believing we can deal with it later and then pay for it with a credit card. This attitude can lead to persistent debt and trap you in an inescapable cycle and it’s one you need to shed if you’re going to transfer a balance.

Instead of focusing on the short term, take a look at the bigger picture. If you can’t afford it now, you probably can’t afford it later; if you can’t repay $10,000 worth of debt this year, you probably can’t handle $20,000 next year.

Alternatives to Credit Card Balance Transfers

If you have the cash and the commitment to pay your credit card debt, a balance transfer card is perfect. However, if you have a low credit score and use the card just to accumulate additional debt and buy yourself more time, it will do more harm than good. In that case, debt relief may be the better option.

These programs are designed to help you pay your debt through any means possible. There are several options available and all these are offered by specialist companies and providers, including banks and credit unions. As with balance transfer cards, however, you should do your research in advance and consider your options carefully before making a decision.

Pay More Than the Minimum

It’s an obvious and perhaps even redundant solution, but it’s one that needs to be mentioned, nonetheless. We live in a credit hungry society, one built on impulsive purchases and a buy-now-care-later attitude. A balance transfer card, in many ways, is part of this, as it’s a quick and easy solution to a long and difficult problem. And like all quick patches, it can burst at the seams if the problem isn’t controlled.

The best option, therefore, is to try and clear your debts without creating any new accounts. Do everything you can to increase your minimum payment every month. This will ensure that you pay more of the principal, with the minimum payment covering your interest obligations and everything else going towards the actual balance.

Only when this fails, when you genuinely can’t cover more than the minimum, should you look into opening a new card.

Debt Consolidation

Balance transfers are actually a form of debt consolidation, but ones that are specifically tailored to credit card debt. If you have multiple types of debt, including medical bills, student loans, and personal loans, you can use a consolidation loan to clear it.

This loan will pay off all of your debts and then give you a new one with a new provider. The provider will reduce your monthly payment and may even reduce your interest rate, allowing you to pay less and to feel like you’re getting a good deal. However, this is at the expense of a greatly increased loan term, which means you will pay considerably more over the duration of the loan.

As with everything else, a debt consolidation loan is dependent on you having a good credit score and the better your financial situation is, the better the loan rates will be.

Debt Management

Debt management can help if you don’t have the credit history required for debt consolidation. Debt management plans are provided by companies that work with your creditors to repay your debts in a way that suits you and them. You pay the debt management company, they pass your money on, and in return, they request that you abide by many strict terms and conditions, including not using your credit cards.

Many debt management programs will actually request that you close all but one of your credit cards and only use that one card in emergencies. This can greatly reduce your credit score by impacting your credit utilization ratio. What’s more, if you miss any payments your creditors may renege on their promises and revert back to the original monthly payments.

Debt Settlement

The more extreme and cheaper option of the three, but also the riskiest. Debt settlement works well with sizeable credit card debt and is even more effective if you have a history of missed payments, defaults or collections. A debt specialist may request that you stop making payments on your accounts and instead put your money into a secured account run by a third-party provider.

They will then contact your creditors and negotiate a settlement amount. This process can take several years as they’re not always successful on the first attempt but the longer they wait, the more desperate your creditors will become and the more likely they will be to accept a settlement.

Debt settlement is one of the few options that allows you to pay all your debt for much less than the original balance. However, it can harm your credit score while these debts are being repaid and this may impact your chances of getting a mortgage or a car loan for a few years.

Credit Card Balance Transfers is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

What is a Payday Loan?

A payday loan is a short-term loan with a high annual percentage rate. Also known as cash advance and check advance loans, payday loans are designed to cover you until payday and there are very few issues if you repay the loan in full before the payment date. Fail to do so, however, and you could be hit with severe penalties.

Lenders may ask the borrower to write a postdated check for the date of their next paycheck, only to hit them with rollover fees if that check bounces or they request an extension. It’s this rollover that causes so many issues for borrowers and it’s the reason there have been some huge changes in this industry over the last decade or so. 

How Do Payday Loans Work?

Payday lending seems like a simple, easy, and problem free process, but that’s what the payday lender relies on. 

The idea is quite simple. Imagine, for instance, that your car suddenly breaks down, payday is 10 days away, and you don’t have a single cent to your name. The mechanic quotes you $300 for the fix, and because you’re already drowning in debt and have already sold everything valuable, your only option is payday lending.

The payday lender offers you the $300 for a small fee. They remind you that if you repay this small short-term cash sum on payday, you won’t incur many fees or any real issues. But a lot can happen in 10 days. 

More bills can land in your mailbox, more expenses can arrive out of nowhere, and before you know it, all of your paycheck has been allocated for other expenses. The payday lender offers to rollover your loan for another month (another “payday”) and because you don’t have much choice, you agree.

But in doing so, you’ve just been hit with more high fees, more compounding interest, and a sum that just seems to keep on growing. By the time your next payday arrives, you’re only able to afford a small repayment, and from that moment on you’re locked into a debt that doesn’t seem to go anywhere.

Predatory Practices

Payday loans have been criticized for being predatory and it’s easy to see why. Banks and credit unions profit more from high-income individuals as they borrow and invest more money. A single high-income consumer can be worth more than a dozen consumers straddling the poverty line.

Payday lenders, however, target their services at low-income individuals. They offer small-dollar loans and seem to profit the most when payment dates are missed and interest rates compound, something that is infinitely more probable with low-income consumers.

Low-income consumers are also more likely to need a small cash boost every now and then and less likely to have the collateral needed for a low-interest title loan. According to official statistics, during the heyday of payday loans, most lenders were divorced renters struggling to make ends meet.

Nearly a tenth of consumers earning less than $15.000 have used payday loans, compared to fewer than 1% for those earning more than $100,000. Close to 70% of all payday loans are used for recurring expenses, such as utility bills and other debts, while 16% are used for emergency purchases.

Pros and Cons of Taking Out a Payday Loan

Regardless of what the lender or the commercial tells you, all forms of credit carry risk, and payday loans are no exception. In fact, it is one of the riskiest forms of credit available, dragging you into a cycle of debt that you may struggle to escape from. Issues aside, however, there are some benefits to these loans, and we need to look at the cons as well as the pros.

Pros: You Don’t Need Good Credit

Payday loans don’t require impeccable credit scores and many lenders won’t even check an applicant’s credit report. They can afford to do this because they charge high interest and fees, and this allows them to offset many of the costs associated with the increased liability and risk.

If you’re struggling to cover your bills and have just been hit with an unexpected expense, this can be a godsend—it’s a last resort option that could buy you some time until payday.

Pros: It’s Quick

Payday loans give you money when you need it, something that many other loans and credit offers simply can’t provide. If you need money right now, a payday lender can help; whereas another lender may require a few days to transfer that money or provide you with a suitable line of credit.

Some lenders provide 24/7 access to money, with online applications offering instant decisions and promising a money transfer within 24 hours.

Pro: They Require Very Little

A payday loan lender has a very short list of criteria for its applicants to meet. A traditional lender may request your Social Security Number, proof of ID, and a credit check, but the average payday lender will ask for none of these things.

Generally, you will be asked to prove that you are in employment, have a bank account, and are at least 18 years old—that’s it. You may also be required to submit proof that you are a US citizen.

Cons: High Risk of Defaulting

A study by the Center for Responsible Lending found that nearly half of all payday loans go into default within just 2 years. That’s a staggering statistic when you consider that the average default rate for personal loans and credit cards is between 1% and 4%.

It proves the point that many payday lender critics have been making for years: Payday loans are predatory and high-risk. The average credit or loan account is only provided after the applicant has undergone a strict underwriting process. The lender takes its time to check that the applicant is suitable, looking at their credit history, credit score, and more, and only giving them the credit/loan when they are confident it will be repaid.

This may seem like an unnecessary and frustrating process, but as the above statistics prove, it’s not just for the benefit of the lender as it also protects the consumer from a disastrous default.

Con: High Fees

High interest rates aren’t the only reason payday lenders are considered predatory. Like all lenders, they charge fees for late payments. But unlike other lenders, these fees are astronomical and if you’re late by several weeks or months, those fees can be worth more than the initial balance.

A few years ago, a survey on payday lending discovered that the average borrower had accumulated $458 worth of fees, even though the median loan was nearly half that amount.

Cons: There are Better Options

If you have a respectable credit history or any kind of collateral, there are better options available. A bank or credit union can provide you with small short-term loans you can repay over many months without accumulating astronomical sums of interest. 

The interest rates are much lower, the fees are more manageable, and unless your credit score is really poor, you should be offered more favorable terms than what you can get from a payday lender.

Even a credit card can offer you better terms. Generally speaking, a credit card has some of the highest interest rates of any unsecured debt, but it can’t compare to a payday loan. It also has very little impact on your credit score and many credit card providers offer 0% on purchases for the first-few months.

What’s more, if things go wrong with a credit card, you have more options than you have with a payday loan, including a balance transfer credit card or a debt settlement program.

Why Do Payday Loans Charge So Much Interest?

If we were to take a cynical view, we could say that payday loans charge a lot simply because the lender can get away with charging a lot. After all, a payday loan lender targets the lowest-income individuals, the ones who need money the most and find themselves in desperate situations.

However, this doesn’t paint a complete picture. In actual fact, it all comes down to risk and reward. A lender increases its interest rate when an applicant is at a greater risk of default. 

The reason you can get low rates when you have a great credit score and high rates when you don’t, is because the former group is more likely to pay on time and in full, whereas the latter group is more likely to default.

Lending is all about balancing the probabilities, and because a short-term loan is at serious risk of defaulting, the costs are very high.

Payday Loans and Your Credit Score

Your credit will only be affected if the lender reports to the credit bureaus. This is something that many consumers overlook, incorrectly assuming that every payment will result in a positive report and every missed payment in a negative one. 

If the lender doesn’t report to the main credit bureaus, there will be no changes to your report and the account will not even show. This is how many payday lenders operate. They rarely run credit checks, so your report won’t be hit with an inquiry, and they tend not to report on-time payments.

However, it’s a different story if you miss those payments. A lender can report missed payments and defaults and may also sell your account to a debt collector, at which point your credit score will take a hit.

If you’re concerned about how an application will impact your credit score, speak with the lender or read the terms and conditions before applying. And remember to always meet your payments on time to avoid any negative marks on your credit report and, more importantly, to ensure you’re not hit with additional fees.

Payday Loans vs Personal Loans

A personal loan is generally a much better option than a payday loan. These loans are designed to help you cover emergency expenses, pay for home improvements, launch businesses, and, in the case of debt consolidation loans, to clear your debt. 

The interest rates are around 6% to 10% for lenders with respectable credit scores, and while they often charge an origination fee and late fees, they are generally much cheaper options. You can repay the loan at a time that suits you and tailor the payments to fit your monthly expenses, ensuring that they don’t leave you short at the end of the month.

You can get a personal loan from a bank or a credit union; whenever you need the money, just compare, apply, and then wait for it to hit your account. The money paid by these loans is generally much higher than that offered by payday loans and you can stretch it out over a few years if needed.

What is an Unsecured Loan?

Personal and payday loans are both classed as unsecured loans, as the lender doesn’t secure them against money or assets. Secured loans are typically secured against your home (mortgage, home equity loan) or your car (auto loan, title loan). They can also be secured against a cash deposit, as is the case with secured credit cards.

Although this may seem like a negative, considering a lender can repossess your asset if you fail to meet the payment terms, it actually provides many positives. For instance, a secured loan gives the lender more recourse if anything goes wrong, which means the underwriters don’t need to account for a lot of risk. As a result, the lender is more likely to offer you a low interest rate. 

Where cash advance loans and other small loans are concerned, there is generally no option for securing the loan. The lender won’t be interested, and neither should you—what’s the point of securing a $30,000 car against a $1,000 loan!?

New Payday Loan Regulations

Payday lenders are subject to very strict rules and regulations and this industry has undergone some serious changes in recent years. In some states, limits are imposed to prevent high interest rates; in others, payday lenders are banned from operating altogether. 

The golden age of payday lending has passed, there’s no doubt about that. In fact, many lenders left the US markets and took their business to countries like the UK, only for the UK authorities to impose many of the same restrictions after a few years of pandemonium. In the US, the industry thrived during the end of the 2000s and the beginning of the 2010s, but it has since been losing ground and the practice is illegal or highly restricted in many states.

Are Payday Loans Still Legal?

Payday loans are legal in 27 states, but many states have imposed strict rules and regulations governing everything from loan amounts to fees. The states where payday lenders are not allowed to operate are:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Georgia
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Pennsylvania
  • Vermont
  • West Virginia

It is still possible to apply for personal loans and title loans in these states, but high-interest, cash advance loans are out of the question, for the time being at least.

Debt Rollover Rules for Payday Lenders

One of the things that regulations cover is something known as Debt Rollover, whereby a consumer rolls their debt over into the next billing period, accruing fees and continuing to pay interest. The more rollovers there are, the greater the risk and the higher the detriment to the borrower.

Debt rollovers are at fault for many of the issues concerning payday loans. They create a cycle of persistent debt, as the borrower is forced to acquire additional debt to repay the payday loan debt. 

In the following states, payday loans are legal but restricted to between 0 and 1 rollovers:

  • Alabama
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Washington D.C.
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Other states tend to limit debt rollovers to 2, but there are some notable exceptions. In South Dakota and Delaware, as many as 4 are allowed, while the state of Missouri allows for 6. However, the borrower must reduce the principal of the loan by at least 5% during each successive rollover.

Are These Changes for the Best?

If you’re a payday lender, the aforementioned rules and regulations are definitely not a good thing. Payday lenders rely on persistent debt. They make money from the poorest percentage of the population as they are the ones most likely to get trapped in that cycle.

For responsible borrowers, however, they turn something potentially disastrous into something that could serve a purpose. Payday loans still carry a huge risk, especially if there is any chance that you won’t repay the loan in time, but the limits imposed on interest rates and rollovers reduces the astronomical costs.

In that sense, they are definitely for the best, but there are still risks and potential pitfalls, so be sure to keep these in mind before you apply for any short-term loans.

What is a Payday Loan? is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

Can you earn rewards with a balance transfer credit card?

Credit card rewards can be a helpful and lucrative benefit. You can earn cash back or frequent flyer miles or points that are redeemable for travel or other perks.

If you are carrying a balance on a card – or if you have trouble paying your bills on time – you really shouldn’t be shopping around for a rewards credit card because any rewards that you earn will be meager compared to the money you spend on interest charges or late fees. Instead, focus on paying off your balance and on lowering that monthly payment by finding a balance transfer card with a 0% introductory APR.

There are cards that offer both low-interest balance transfers and rewards. But you shouldn’t let the promise of rewards be the deciding factor in choosing a card.

Can you earn rewards for a balance transfer?

Before you choose a balance transfer rewards card, you should know you do not earn rewards on the amount of a balance transfer. You earn rewards only on new spending. And if you’re carrying a balance, you’ll pay interest immediately on any new spending.

Let’s look at some examples. If you look at the best balance transfer credit cards, you’ll notice a wide variety of cards from different issuers. The cards on this list tend to have lower interest rates than other cards – as well as introductory balance transfer APRs of 0% for 12 to 18 months.

Some of the best balance transfer cards also happen to have rewards programs:

  • The Citi® Double Cash Card offers a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers for the first 18 months (followed by a variable APR of 13.99% to 23.99%). You can also earn 1% cash back when you spend and another 1% when you pay off your purchases. But the card does not offer an introductory APR on purchases.
  • The Chase Slate Edge℠* offers a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers for the first 12 months (followed by a variable APR of 14.99% to 23.74%). Other notable features of the card include an annual 2% reduction in your APR if you pay your balance on time and spend at least $1,000 in the first year after opening the card, and a $100 bonus when you spend $500 in the first six months.
  • The Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card offers a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers and purchases for the first 15 billing cycles (then a variable APR of 13.99% to 23.99%). This card also allows you to earn 3% cash back on one of the following categories: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drugstores or home improvement – it’s your choice. It also offers 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and 1% back on everything else. Note that you’ll earn bonus cash back on up to a combined $2,500 in spending in the 3% and 2% categories each quarter.
  • The Wells Fargo Active Cash℠ card offers a 0% introductory APR on qualifying balance transfers for the first 15 months from account opening (then a variable APR of 14.99% to 24.99%). Additional card benefits include a $200 cash rewards bonus when you spend $1,000 in the first three months and a flat rate 2% cash rewards on purchases.

Should you get a balance transfer credit card without rewards?

If you are dead-set on earning rewards, you might want to separate the cards that have balances from those that have rewards. In other words, don’t try to earn rewards with cards on which you carry balances, because you will pay interest on those charges.

Instead, if you qualify for a rewards-earning card, don’t carry a balance on it. Rather, carry the balance on a card with low or introductory 0% interest.

And there are some good non-rewards-earning options among balance transfer cards. For instance, the Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card offers 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 21 months and a 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months (then a variable APR of 13.74% to 23.74%). Balance transfers must be completed within 4 months of account opening. It also provides cardholders with VIP access to ticket sales, preferred seating and other perks through Citi Entertainment.

Should you get a balance transfer credit card with rewards?

If you like any of the aforementioned balance transfer cards that offer rewards, by all means, apply for it. But you may want to consider holding off on making any new purchases on the new card until you’ve paid off your transferred balance. So, if you want one of these cards and want to earn rewards now, don’t transfer a balance to it.

Bottom line

It’s better to focus on paying down your debt than worry about rewards. But if you absolutely must have a rewards card, make it one that you’re not paying interest for the privilege of earning rewards.

*All information about the Chase Slate Edge has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

Source: creditcards.com

The Shame of Debt

Money doesn’t make you happy. That’s how the saying goes, and you can’t deny that there’s some truth to it. However, while having lots of money won’t make you happy, having very little is more likely to make you stressed and depressed.

The less you have, the more likely you are to stress over the smallest of things, and if debt is forcing that poverty on you, hanging a dark cloud of uncertainty over your head, that stress and that depression will increase.

Psychological Cost of Debt

Debt has a massive psychological cost and a lot of that boils down to shame. Debt stress and debt shame are more common than ever in the United States, as debtors seek to hide their troubles from their families and loved ones. There is an unmistakable link between debt and an increased suicide risk.

A student conducted several years ago looked at the finances of people who had committed suicide and found they were significantly more likely to have massive debts (student loan debt, credit card debt). Similar studies have been conducted on mental health, noting that people are more likely to suffer from debilitating depression, stress, and anxiety when they have problems with debt.

And it’s easy to see why. Not only do many debtors choose to keep their problems to themselves, feeling an immense shame that stops them from telling even their closest friends and family, but debt can also lead to anxieties about debt collectors, foreclosures, repossessions, bankruptcy, and more. 

How to Overcome the Shame of Debt

To improve your mental health, you need to fight debt stress and shame. That’s easier said than done, but there are a few things that you can do:

Understand Where the Shame Comes From

The first step is to understand why you feel the way that you feel. This might not fix your debt shame, but it will help you to understand it more.

There is no single, overriding cause of debt shame. Some debtors feel shame because they see themselves as the breadwinner, the provider, and if they have debt it means they have failed. Others feel shame because they come from frugal backgrounds and have been wasteful or because their debt is the result of a drug, alcohol or gambling problem.

Whatever the reason, you need to find it, address it, and fix it. Get help for that gambling or drug addiction, get advice from that frugal family.

Admit Your Fault

Debt doesn’t mean that you’re a bad or useless person. It doesn’t mean that you don’t care about your family. It’s not a character flaw tied to your personality, it’s a behavioral issue tied to impulsivity and even mental health issues. It’s still your fault, but it’s easily fixed and doesn’t make you a bad person.

Understanding this can help you to get rid of that shame and deal with your stress and mental health issues.

Improve Your Financial Knowledge

Researchers have found a direct correlation between debt and financial knowledge; the more you have of the former, the less likely you are to be competent in the latter.

Fortunately, it has never been easier to educate yourself. Take a look at the many guides here on Pocket your Dollars, spanning everything from pay off strategies for credit card debt to money-making ideas, recommendations for loans and credit cards, and more.

Get Credit Counseling

Credit counseling exists for a reason and can help you in your time of need. They’re not mental health counselors, they can’t prescribe you medication and they can’t help with your insomnia and anxiety. However, they have worked with countless debtors, many of which have anxiety and depression, and they understand what it’s like to be in your shoes.

They can help you to assess and manage your debts before advising on the right course of action. A financial therapist can also provide assistance with any relationship issues, counseling you on who you should tell, how you should tell them, and what sort of reaction to expect.

The problem that many debtors have is that they think they know everything. They won’t speak to a counsellor because they’re convinced they know what the counsellor will say. But let’s be honest, if you’re struggling with debt, there’s a good chance you’re not a financial wizard and even if you are, it always helps to speak with an expert, voicing your concerns out loud and bouncing some ideas around.

Stop Spending

We spend when we’re depressed, get depressed because we’re in debt and are in debt because we spend too much. It’s a cycle that’s keeping your favorite retailer in profit and doing untold damage to your finances. To get out of debt, you need to accept that this cycle exists and that the only way to escape is to stop that spending immediately.

Anything that isn’t an absolute necessity can be left for another day, preferably one when you actually have money to spend. Limit your spending to clothes, food, rent, utility bills, medical bills, and everything else that allows you to continue living comfortably from day to day, but give the alcohol, cigarettes, vacations, and other luxuries a miss.

How to Take Control of Your Debt

The best way to avoid the shame and stress of debt is to get rid of it. Studies on debtors have found that at least 9 out of 10 believe they will be much happier if they didn’t have debt. These beliefs have been confirmed by individuals who successfully pay off debt, claiming = they are much happier than they ever were.

There are many ways you can pay off debt and we’ll look at a few of these options below, but generally speaking, you need to:

  • Assess your financial situation
  • Check your credit report and credit score
  • Get help from a credit counselor or financial therapist
  • If your debt-to-income ratio is low, budget better and pay off more with a debt payoff strategy
  • If your debt-to-income ratio is high, try debt relief
  • Create an emergency fund to prevent future issues

Best Ways to Get out of Debt

There is no debt shame if there is no debt. As discussed above, debt is not something you should be ashamed of, but it’s also not something you should cling onto. It can cause you a great deal of stress, placing strain on your relationships and generally making life very difficult for you.

So, while it’s important to face the truth of the situation and dispel those feelings of shame, it’s just as important to fight your debt and get your head above water. Here are a few debt relief options and debt payoff strategies that can help. For more information, including expensive guides and recommendations on each of these options, take a look at the relevant sections on Pocket Your Dollars.

Snowball and Avalanche Methods

The debt snowball and debt avalanche methods are two of the most popular debt payoff strategies, and ones that we have discussed at great length before (see debt snowball vs debt avalanche). They can make the process more systematic, which, in turn, may provide you with the support and the structure you need to get your debts in order. 

In both cases, you need to make a list of all your debts, covering things such as Balance, Monthly Payment, and Interest Rate. For debt snowball, sort the list by balance and go from the smallest to the largest. For debt avalanche, focus on the debts that have the highest interest rate and get those out of the way first. With both methods, you need to keep meeting your monthly payment obligations, before putting any extra money you have towards your chosen debt.

Debt avalanche provides the most practical benefits as it clears the problematic debts first, thus reducing the total interest. Debt snowball provides more of a psychological boost, giving you motivation as you steadily clear your debts.

Major Sacrifices

The biggest issue with any debt payoff strategy is that it isn’t easy to get the extra money you need to make those additional payments and clear your debts early. However, many debtors are trapped in a cycle of debt not because they can’t scrape the cents together no matter how hard they try, but because they struggle to budget properly and make the necessary sacrifices.

The average American debtor spends thousands of dollars every year on uneaten groceries, lottery tickets, and media subscriptions. They drop hundreds of dollars on luxuries they don’t really need and spend over $3,500 a year eating out. If debt is dragging you down then it’s imperative that you clear it, which means making some sacrifices and getting your priorities in check.

If you genuinely can’t spare a dime and don’t waste money on unnecessary expenses, then look into some of the options below.

Debt Settlement

Debt settlement is tailor-made for unsecured debt and works especially well for clearing credit card debt, as well as private students. Debt settlement companies often request that you stop meeting your monthly payment obligations, which puts the accounts into doubt and means your creditors are more likely to accept a settlement.

This settlement will clear the entirety of the debt for a fraction of the price, often around 50%. This means that a credit card debt of $10,000 would be cleared for $5,000, providing you with some big savings even after the settlement fees have been taken into account.

Debt Consolidation

A consolidation loan is a large loan that pays off all of your debt at a reduced interest rate and for a reduced monthly payment. The loan is often extended by several years, which means you pay more in the long-term, but the reduced monthly payments alleviate some of the burden and make the debt more manageable.

Debt Management

Debt management provides debtors with a debt repayment strategy, with all funds funneled through the debt management plan and then distributed to creditors. This service is often provided by credit counseling agencies and credit unions, who begin the process by negotiating with creditors and then assuming control of all debts.

These companies often ask that the debtors cancel all but one credit card, which can reduce the debtor’s credit score by impacting their credit utilization ratio.

Balance Transfer

A balance transfer credit card lets you move all your credit card balances onto a single card, one that offers a 0% APR for the first 6, 12 or 18 months, allowing you to pay down debt without interest, thus reducing compounded interest and clearing the debt quickly.

This method works with all credit card debt and you can typically move between 1 and 5 balances onto a new credit card, providing that card isn’t offered by the same company.

The Shame of Debt is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

How Does Credit Counseling Work and Is It Right for You?

A couple sits in bed with a laptop looking at credit counseling options together.

Debt can get complicated, especially if you have a lot of it. Credit counselors are trained professionals who help individuals and families work to get a handle on their debt so they can lay a stronger financial foundation for the future. How does credit counseling work? Find out more below so you can make a decision about whether this is a tool you want to use.

A couple sits in bed with a laptop looking at credit counseling options together.

In This Piece

  • What is credit counseling?
  • How does credit counseling work?
  • How much does credit counseling cost?
  • The pros of credit counseling
  • The cons of credit counseling
  • Does credit counseling hurt your credit?
  • Who is credit counseling right for?
  • Alternatives to credit counseling

What Is Credit Counseling?

Credit counseling is often promoted as the best option for consumers who are having trouble managing debt. In fact, the Credit CARD Act requires credit card issuers to publish, on card statements, a toll-free number for consumers to get credit counseling help.

Credit counseling is exactly what it sounds like: A trained and experienced financial counselor works with you to understand your debts and assets. They then help you work out a plan to deal with your debts or offer advice about what other options might be available to you.

This isn’t a magic potion that dissolves your debt or improves your credit, though. Credit counseling requires you to be an active participant in the process. The counselor might help you create a budget, for example, but then you have to be willing to tighten your belt and follow the budget to make it work.

It’s also important to do your research to make sure you are working with a legitimate, certified credit counselor. Credit counseling is unlikely to help you if your credit counselor isn’t trained.

How Does Credit Counseling Work?

The exact process can differ somewhat depending on what organization provides the credit counseling and what your situation is. Here’s a look at some common steps that you might be a part of when you seek credit counseling:

  • You schedule an appointment with the credit counselor. This may occur in person or via video conference or phone depending on your preferences and the policies of the organization. 

>> Learn how to choose a credit counselor

  • The credit counselor reviews your situation. Be prepared for this fact-finding meeting by gathering information beforehand. Copies of check stubs showing your income, a list of all your monthly expenses, and copies of all your bills for at least a month may be necessary. The credit counselor will want to know the balance on all your debt accounts as well as the interest rate you’re paying.
  • The credit counseling firm checks your credit. They run a soft credit check, so it won’t hurt your credit. This is to help ensure that all outstanding items are being looked at and help the counselor understand if you’re dealing with collections.
  • The credit counselor helps you create a plan. This might include options such as budgeting, debt settlement, consolidation loans, or debt management programs.
  • Once you agree to a plan, it’s often up to you to put it into action. Depending on what the recommendation was, you might work with other professionals to make that happen. 

How Much Does Credit Counseling Cost?

If you go through a nonprofit credit counseling service, the counseling itself is usually free. Even for-profit debt management companies often provide a free consultation to help you understand what your options are. If you work with your credit counselor to set up a debt management plan (DMP), you will make a monthly payment to your credit counselor who will pay your creditors on your behalf. These plans may come with a small fee as well.

Working with a debt settlement company is different and typically does come with some fees, though. A debt settlement company helps you negotiate payment arrangements with creditors that are satisfactory for both you and the companies you owe.

The Pros of Credit Counseling

  • You work with experienced professionals. Professional credit counselors are well-versed in personal financial management and may know about and understand options you don’t. This could help you find the best solution for you.
  • You get third-party eyes on your situation. Sometimes, you’re so caught up in the problem and the emotions and stress of it, it’s hard to make the most logical choices. Credit counselors aren’t caught up in your stress and can help you see the big picture and move forward logically.
  • You can get advice for free. If you work with an organization that provides free credit counseling or a free initial consult, you can get some peace of mind knowing what your options are without having to pay for it.

The Cons of Credit Counseling

  • Credit counseling isn’t a magic solution. If you don’t have enough money to cover your debts or you’re going to have to tighten the belt a good bit to do so, credit counseling doesn’t change that. You may still have a lot of work to do going forward.
  • You may have to pay for services. Not all credit counseling is free, and this can add to your debt expenses. In some cases, the fees might be high enough that they make it harder to pay off your debt. Make sure you read the fine print and understand exactly what you’re paying for and how much.
  • You have to watch out for scams. Choose a good credit counselor by reading reviews and working with organizations that are established. Consider looking for a credit counseling partner that’s accredited by a national organization such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. If you enter into a debt management agreement, you may want to track your credit to ensure payments are being made in a timely manner.

Does Credit Counseling Hurt Your Credit?

Whether or not you sought credit counseling isn’t something that shows up on your credit report. So the act of credit counseling itself does not hurt your credit history or score.

However, some of the actions that are recommended by credit counselors might temporarily hurt your score. Settling debt, closing accounts, or adding new loans or balance transfer accounts that help you consolidate existing debt can all impact your credit score. In some cases, it might be that you’re taking a short-term hit to your score to help improve your financial standing in the long run— but this is always something to consider carefully.

Who Is Credit Counseling Right for?

Whether or not credit counseling is right for you is a personal decision. However, the best candidates for this option tend to be people with a lot of revolving or unsecured debt who do have the income to be able to cover their debts. They just need help creating a plan and getting finances in order to be able to do so.

Alternatives to Credit Counseling

Credit counseling isn’t the only way to get a handle on your debt. Here are some other options to consider.

  • Debt settlement. This occurs when you negotiate with a creditor to pay a lower amount than you actually owe. The creditor considers the debt paid off, but it shows up as “settled” on your credit report.
  • Balance transfers. You may be able to transfer high-interest credit card debt to a card with lower interest or even a 0% balance transfer This could help you pay your debt off faster.

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  • Consolidation loans. A consolidation loan occurs when you take out one loan and use the funds to pay off existing debt. Then, you only have to deal with making one payment, which might help you manage the debt better.
  • Bankruptcy is a last-resort option that may be necessary if you simply don’t have the income to pay all your obligations.
  • Credit repair. If what you really need help with is removing inaccuracies from your credit report, you might consider signing up for credit repair services. 

Does credit counseling work? It depends on your situation and how willing you are to stick with what the credit counselor recommends. You also need to be sure you’re working with a reputable organization. Consider signing up for the Credit Report Card to keep an eye on your credit as you go through any type of debt management process. 

The post How Does Credit Counseling Work and Is It Right for You? appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com