This Trick Will Help You Finally Pay Off Your Credit Card Debt

Here's the best way to leverage those flashy 0% APR offers from credit card issuers.

In 2017, one-in-four Americans say they’re thinking about money more than just about anything else. Does that sound like you? One of the best ways to clear some of your head space may be to pay down credit card debt. Less debt means fewer minimum payments, which means an easier time managing your day-to-day cash flow.

That’s not the only benefit of paying off credit card debt early either. With annual percentage rates (APRs) in excess of 15%, credit cards can cost you a big chunk of change in interest. Plus, high credit card balances can do big damage to your credit. (You can see the effect of your current balances by viewing two of your free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

A Big Trick for Paying Off Credit Card Debt

Paying off credit cards takes planning and discipline. But you can also use a few tricks to make the process easier.

One big trick to make paying off credit card debt both easier and faster is using 0% APR balance transfer offers. It’s a simple strategy that can save you hundreds, or even thousands, in interest, not to mention allows you to potentially pay off your debt sooner.

You’ve got to leverage the offer correctly, however. Here are the basic steps to using this strategy.

  1. Apply for a card with a 0% introductory APR offer on balance transfers.
  2. Move some or all of your balance from an interest-bearing card to the card with the 0% APR. (Wondering what card to use? You can view our picks for the best balance transfer cards here.)
  3. Pay down that card as quickly as you can.
  4. If the card still has a balance when the introductory offer is up, consider applying for another 0% introductory APR card, and transfer the balance again. (More on this in a minute.)

That’s the gist of the strategy. It’s a great option for those with credit high enough to qualify for 0% introductory APR offers. Before you dive in, though, read through these additional tips and tricks.

1. Watch the Balance Transfer Fees

First off, it’s essential that you look at and understand balance transfer fees. Most balance transfer deals come with an upfront fee that gets tacked onto your balance once you make the transfer. This is how credit card companies come out on top with balance transfer deals.

Many times, transferring the balance to the 0% interest card will still save you money. But that may not be the case if you’re transferring a relatively small balance or if you’ll pay off the debt quickly either way.

To know whether or not a balance transfer will save you money, you’ll need to calculate your break-even point. First, estimate how many months it will take you to pay off the transferrable balance. Then, figure out how much interest you’d pay in that period of time if you did not transfer the balance. Finally, calculate the total fee you’d pay on the balance transfer.

If the balance transfer fee is more than the interest you’d pay in your current situation, it’s not worth your while.

2. Keep Track of Timing

Because balance transfer deals typically last between six and 18 months, you’ll need to keep careful track of when each introductory offer ends. If you’re running multiple balance transfer offers to pay off a lot of debt, keep a spreadsheet of offer end dates, current APRs, and future APRs once the offer is up.

Have a look at your spreadsheet each month. When a card’s offer period is about to end, decide whether to roll the remaining balance to a new balance transfer deal, or to leave it where it’s at.

Remember, it’s in your best interest to pay your transferred debt off in full by the time the 0% introductory offers expires. While you could potentially move the debt to another balance-transfer credit card, you’ll likely have to pay another fee. Plus, you’ll incur another hard inquiry on your credit report, which could ding your credit score. That’s why the next step is particularly important.

3. Know Your Credit Situation

This debt payoff strategy won’t work for everyone. You’ll likely only qualify for good balance transfer deals if you have good credit in the first place. And it’s difficult to say for sure how this scheme will affect your score.

On one hand, the hard inquiries generated by additional credit card applications will ding your score. But having a higher overall credit limit will improve it. These two may balance one another out over time.

The key is to keep track of your credit score throughout this process. If your score isn’t currently high enough to qualify for a 0% introductory APR deal, you may want to take time to polish up your credit before you apply.

4. Don’t Add New Debt

The number one key to making this strategy work for you is to not add any new debt. If you can’t avoid temptation to spend because you now have more available credit, you’ll just add to your mountain of credit card debt. One option is to shred your cards, even if you don’t close your accounts. This makes it harder to impulse spend on those cards that now have no balance once you’ve completed the transfer.

As long as you keep from adding new debt and follow the steps outlined here, 2017 could be a great year for getting free from debt.

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The post This Trick Will Help You Finally Pay Off Your Credit Card Debt appeared first on Credit.com.

The No. 1 Rule of Balance Transfer Credit Cards

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Having a mountain of debt is both stressful and draining. In order to pay off credit card debt, some people turn to a balance transfer credit card.

While it may seem like a strange idea to move your credit card debt from one credit card to another, doing so can be a good option. This new piece of plastic may come with a 0% APR for a given period of time, so you can focus on paying off your debt without adding interest charges on top of what you already owe.

That being said, if you’re not careful and diligent about paying off this new card, you could end up right back in the same situation you were in before transferring the balance.

But don’t worry; we’re here to help. We’re going to tell you the most important rule to follow with a balance transfer credit card: Make sure you pay off your debt during the interest-free period ends.

Why Is This So Important?

As we mentioned, balance transfer credit cards typically come with a promotional APR period, during which you won’t accrue more interest charges each month. Paying off your card during this time is imperative because, once that promotional period ends, you’ll likely end up with a higher interest rate, which could mean even more debt if you can’t pay the balance.

Because of this, it’s important to remember that just transferring your balance isn’t the answer to getting out of debt — the process actually starts before getting the new plastic.

Considerations to Make Before Getting a Balance Transfer Credit Card

Before you sign up for a new card, you’ll want to look at your budget and see how long you think you’ll need, realistically, to pay off your debt. Once you know that, it’s a good idea to look at all your different card options. (You can read about some of the best balance transfer credit cards in America here.) Some cards offer this benefit for 18 months, while others offer it for 12, so you’ll want to look for a card that will offer the 0% APR timeframe that will work best for you.

As you’re doing your research, make sure you also read the fine print and take note of the terms and any fees — for example, some cards charge a balance transfer fee, while others have different interest rates for the transferred balance and new purchases.

As you continue to work on paying off your debts, it’s a good idea to monitor the effects it’s having on your credit. You can view two of your credit scores for free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

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What Is Credit Card Surfing?

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Twenty years ago, the phrase “surfing the web” became a popular way of describing how millions of Americans were starting to use the Internet by quickly browsing from one website to another. Today, this is pretty much how we all use our computers and even smartphones. Lately, the term “credit card surfing” is becoming a popular way to describe a different kind of behavior.

The Basics of Credit Card Surfing

It can be extremely difficult to pay off credit card debt, and as unsecured debt, your outstanding balances will likely incur a higher interest rate than mortgages, student loans or car loans. To avoid interest payments on their credit cards, some people turn to 0% annual percentage rate (APR) promotional financing offers from credit card issuers. These offers allow them to avoid interest charges by transferring a balance from one piece of plastic to another, typically for as little as six months and as long as 21 months.

With these promotional financing offers so commonly available, some cardholders attempt to take the next step towards avoiding interest charges by “surfing” from one offer to another. When an existing 0% APR balance transfer offer is about to expire, they will apply for a new credit card with another interest-free promotional balance transfer period. Furthermore, some credit card users hope to continue this practice indefinitely.

Reasons to Avoid Credit Card Surfing

Credit card surfing might seem like it could be a sustainable practice, but it has many potential problems. First, those who use 0% APR balance transfers will almost always have to pay a balance transfer fee equal to 3% to 5% of the amount transferred. And while this fee can be worth it to avoid paying a much higher amount in interest charges in the short-term, credit card surfers should never convince themselves that these promotional financing offers allow them to sustain their debts for free forever.

In addition, credit card surfers may be constantly utilizing a large percentage of their available credit limit as they continue to carry debt. Doing so will raise their debt-to-credit ratios, which could lower their credit score. Furthermore, their minimum payments will still be reported to the major credit bureaus, and that amount could impact the size of any new loans they might apply for, such as a mortgage. Each credit card application generally generates a hard inquiry on your credit report, which can ding your credit score, so applying for too many new balance-transfer credit cards in a short-time frame can damage your credit in that way as well.  (To see where you currently stand, you can view two of your credit scores, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com.)

Credit card surfing is also a risky strategy because it presumes that interest-free balance transfer offers will continue to be available in the future, and that the applicant will qualify for them. These offers are common now, but could easily go out of style next year, or become more heavily restricted to those with the best credit scores.

Finally, procrastinating is a questionable idea when it comes to paying off your debt. While you might be able to qualify for a new credit card with a 0% APR offer now, there’s no telling whether circumstances outside of your control such as illness or job loss could hurt your credit in the future, and put these offers beyond your reach. And credit card debt adds up quickly. (You can calculate the lifetime cost of your current debts here.)

The Best Ways to Use Promotional Financing Offers

Credit cards that offer 0% APR financing on balance transfers are a great way to save money on interest charges, but only when used strategically. The best way to leverage these offers is to use them as an incentive to pay off your existing balances sooner, not later. Consider the end of your card’s promotional financing period to be the finish line in your race to eliminate debt. (Keep in mind, too, some cards have caveats that make you liable for retroactive interest if you don’t pay the balance you transferred off in full by the time the offer expires.)

Each payment you make during your promotional financing offer will go 100% towards paying off your principle balance, not interest payments. And if you succeed in paying off your debt before interest is incurred, you can avoid increasing your balance by another 3% to 5% when you transfer it to another credit card.

Surfing can be tremendously fun when it occurs on the Internet or the ocean, but credit card surfing is a risky proposition. By taking a look at the bigger picture when it comes to your credit card debt, you can use an interest-free promotional financing offer to retire your debt, rather than perpetuate it.

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How to Score a Lower Credit Card Interest Rate

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The Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the first-time in nearly seven years this December, citing improvements in the economy. That means anyone with a variable-rate credit card might see their annual percentage rate go up. But you don’t have to weather the storm: Depending on your spending habits and financial health, there may be ways to score a lower APR in 2016. Here’s how.

1. Raise Your Credit Score

A good credit score entitles you to the best terms and conditions on competitive credit cards (and other financing), so getting yours in tip-top shape can help you secure a lower APR. You may want to check your credit to see where you stand and what areas you need to improve. (You can do so by pulling your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and viewing your free credit report summary, updated each month, on Credit.com.) Generally, you can improve your scores by making all your payments on time, keeping debt levels low (below 30%, and ideally 10% of available credit), removing errors and limiting credit inquiries.

2. Call Your Issuer

Once you’re sure your score is sound, you may want to call your issuer to see if they’ll lower your existing rate. Keep in mind they’ll be more apt to do so if you’ve shown you’re a responsible cardholder who uses the card regularly. If your issuer doesn’t agree, you can always try again later. You may find success with a different customer service agent.

3. Comparison Shop

If you’re not getting anywhere with your current issuer — or think it’s time for a new piece of plastic — you can shop around for a new credit card. You could look for a low-interest credit card or a balance transfer credit card, which lets you transfer an existing high-interest debt to a new card with little-to-no interest for a period of time (typically 12 to 18 months). Just be sure to review the terms and conditions carefully — balance transfers typically have fees and there may be caveats, such as retroactive interest if you don’t pay off the balance within the 0% window. You’ll also want to know what you’ll owe in fees and interest on all cards you’re considering. Each credit card application tends to generate a hard inquiry on your credit report, which can ding your score, so it’s best to keep those to a minimum.

More on Credit Cards:

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5 To-Dos Before Transferring Your Credit Card Balances

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If you’re considering transferring big credit card balances to a card with a lower, or even 0% introductory interest rate, good for you. You already know it’s a chance to pay less in interest charges and whittle away at your debt. What you might not know are some of the following tips that can help you find the card that best fits your needs.

1. Check Your Credit Score

First and foremost, check your credit score. Some of the credit cards with the best balance transfer offers are aimed at people with credit scores of 700 or higher. (You can see where your credit stands by viewing your free credit report summary at Credit.com.) Checking your credit is important because you don’t want to apply for cards that you won’t qualify for. When your credit report indicates you’ve been applying for multiple new credit lines in a short period of time, your credit scores can take a dent.

2. Look for the Longest Free Financing Term

Once you know your credit score, you’ll want to find a card with the longest free financing term available so you’ll have as much time as possible to pay down your debt without incurring interest charges. The law requires that cards offering a 0% introductory balance transfer fee do so for at least six months. Some issuers offer the 0% rate for up to 18 months. You can find some of the best balance transfer credit cards here.

3. Check for Balance Transfer Fees

Once you’ve found a card with a good free financing term that you can qualify for, check to see what their balance transfer fee is. Most issuers charge at least a minimum of 3%. Note: Do the math. If you’ll end up paying more by transferring your balance at 3% than you would continuing the payments to your existing credit card, you should skip the offer.

4. Apply for Additional Cards if Needed

Keeping in mind the credit score information above, let’s say you’ve applied for a great card that you qualify for, but the company won’t let you transfer the full amount of your balance. Now is the time you might consider applying for a second balance transfer card for the remaining balance or see if your existing card company will offer you a better rate.

5. Look for Promotional Financing on Purchases

Some cards that feature 0% financing on balance transfers also extend those terms to new purchases. Just be careful not to use it to create more debt. Read all the terms of conditions of each offer carefully, since there may be caveats that make the deal less favorable, like retroactive interest if you don’t pay your balances off in full by the time the low-to-no financing offers expires.

Be sure to check out these tips for avoiding balance transfer credit card mistakes and also keep on top of all statement due dates. A missed payment is one of the quickest ways to damage your credit scores.

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