Best balance transfer credit cards: 0% APR, 24 months

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Looking for a balance transfer credit card to help pay down your debt more quickly? We’re constantly checking for new offers and have selected the best deals from our database of over 3,000 credit cards. This guide will show you the longest offers with the lowest rates, and help you manage the transfer responsibly. It will also help you understand whether you should be considering a transfer at all.

 

1. Best balance transfer deals

No intro fee, 0% intro APR balance transfers

Very few things in life are free. But, if you pay off your debt using a no fee, 0% APR balance transfer, you can crush your credit card debt without paying a dime to the bank. You can find a full list of no fee balance transfers here.

Chase Slate

Longest with $0 Intro balance transfer fee and 0% Intro APR

Chase Slate®

With Chase Slate® you can save with a $0 introductory balance transfer fee, 0% introductory APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, and $0 annual fee. Plus, receive your Monthly FICO® Score for free.

You can get longer transfer periods by paying a fee, so this deal is generally best if you have a balance you know you ‘ll pay in full by the end of the promotional period. And don’t expect a huge credit line with this card, so it may be best for smaller balances you can take care of quickly.

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  • Interest is not deferred during the balance transfer period
  • There are late payment and cash advance fees

Tip: You have only 60 days from account opening to complete your balance transfer and get the introductory rate

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Alliant Credit Union

Good 0% intro period with no intro fee

Alliant Credit Union, 12 months 0% APR, $0 introductory transfer fee

A no fee alternative if you already have a Chase balance or are looking to take care of additional balances is the Alliant Credit Union 12 month, 0% deal. There’s no fee for the transfer, and Alliant is one of the largest credit unions in the United States, so they’re used to handling new members.

Alliant is a credit union anyone can join, with national availability, by making a $10 donation to Foster Care to Success, though you can apply for the card without being a member.

There is a late payment fee of up to $25, and a penalty APR of 24.74% if you make a late payment that lasts until you make 6 on time payments in a row

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  • Interest is not deferred during the balance transfer period
  • The range of the purchase interest rate based on your credit history (9.74% – 21.74%) is more than 10%, which is a wide range. You also don’t know which balance transfer promo APR you get (0% – 5.99%) until you apply.
  • There are late payment and cash advance fees

Tip: Beware that not everyone approved gets the 0% introductory rate. Some people report needing a 720 FICO to get 0%, otherwise you may be approved for a rate as high as 5.99%.

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0% balance transfers with a fee

If you think it will take longer than 15 months to pay off your credit card debt, these credit cards could be right for you. Don’t let the balance transfer fee scare you. It is almost always better to pay the fee than to pay a high interest rate on your existing credit card. You can calculate your savings (including the cost of the fee) at our balance transfer marketplace.

These deals listed below are the longest balance transfers we have in our database. We have listed them by number of months at 0%. Although you need good credit to be approved, don’t be discouraged if one lender rejects you. Each credit card company has their own criteria, and you might still be approved by one of the companies listed below.

79_cardSpherecardbySantander

Longest 0% intro balance transfer card

Santander Sphere, 24 months, 0% APR, 4% fee

If you have a big balance, or know you can’t pay off your balance quickly – go as long as you can with a good balance transfer rate, even if it comes with a fee.

At 24 months this is the longest 0% APR balance transfer card in the market right now, so you have 2 years to get the balance paid down.

There’s a $35 late payment fee and a penalty APR of 30.49% applies if you make a late payment, and will apply to your existing balances until you make 6 straight months of on time payments.

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  • Interest is not deferred during the balance transfer period
  • The range of the purchase interest rate based on your credit history (12.99% – 22.99%) is more than 10%, which is a wide range.
  • There are late payment and cash advance fees.

Tip: You have 90 days after you open the account to complete the balance transfer.

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Decent 0% intro balance transfer period

Discover it® – 18 Month Balance Transfer Offer: 0% for 18 months, 3% balance transfer fee

This is a basic balance transfer deal with an above average term. If you don’t have credit card balances with Discover it’s a good option to free up your accounts with other banks. With this card, you also have the ability to earn cash back, and there is no late fee for your first missed payment and no penalty APR. Hopefully you will not need to take advantage of these features, but they are nice to have.

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  • Interest is waived during the balance transfer period, no foreign transaction fees and no late fee for your first late payment
  • The range of the purchase interest rate based on your credit history (11.74% – 23.74% Standard Variable Purchase APR) is fairly standard
  • There is a cash advance fee

Tip: Complete your balance transfer as quickly as possible for maximum savings.

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Low rate balance transfers

If you think it will take longer than 2 years to pay off your credit card debt, you might want to consider one of these offers. Rather than pay a balance transfer fee and receive a promotional 0% APR, these credit cards offer a low interest rate for much longer.

The longest offer can give you a low rate that only goes up if the prime rate goes up. If you can’t get that offer, there is another good option offering a low rate for three years.

Signal Financial

Longest low rate balance transfer card

Unify Financial Credit Union, As low as 5.49% APR, no expiration, $0 fee

If you need a long time to pay off at a reasonable rate, and have great credit, it’s hard to beat this deal from Unify Financial Credit Union, with a rate as low as 5.49% with no expiration and no fee to transfer. The rate is variable, but it only varies with the Prime Rate, so it won’t fluctuate much more than say a variable rate mortgage.

Just about anyone can join Unify Financial Credit Union. They’ll help you figure out what organization you can join to qualify, and you don’t need to be a member to apply.

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  • Interest is not deferred during the balance transfer period.
  • There are late payment fees.

Tip: If you’re credit’s not great, this probably isn’t for you, as the rate chosen for your account could be as high as 18%.

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SunTrust Prime Rewards

Long low rate balance transfer card

SunTrust Prime Rewards, 3.75% APR for 36 months, 3% fee

If you live in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, D.C., or West Virginia you can apply for this card without a SunTrust bank account.

The deal is you get the prime rate for 3 years with no balance transfer fee. That’s currently 3.75% though your rate will change if the prime rate changes, either up or down, and you have 60 days to complete your transfer. Also beware the prime rate deal isn’t for new purchases, so only use this card for a balance transfer.

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  • Interest is not deferred during the balance transfer period.
  • The range of the purchase interest rate based on your credit history (11.74% – 21.74%) is more than 10%, which is high.
  • There are late payment and cash advance fees.

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For fair credit scores

In order to be approved for the best balance transfer credit cards and offers, you generally need to have good or excellent credit. If your FICO score is above 650, you have a good chance of being approved. If your score is above 700, you have an excellent chance.

However, if your score is less than perfect, you still have options. Your best option might be a personal loan. You can learn more about personal loans for bad credit here.

There are balance transfers available for people with scores below 650. The offer below might be available to people with lower credit scores. There is a transfer fee, and it’s not as long as some of the others available with excellent credit. However, it will still be better than a standard interest rate.

Just remember: one of the biggest factors in your credit score is your amount of debt and credit utilization. If you use this offer to pay down debt aggressively, you should see your score improve over time and you will be able to qualify for even better offers.

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For less than perfect credit

Aspire Credit Union Platinum,
0% APR for 6 months, 0% transfer fee

Balance transfer deals can be hard to come by if your credit isn’t great. But some banks are more open to it than others, and Aspire Credit Union is one of them, saying ‘fair’ or ‘good’ credit is needed for this card. Anyone can join Aspire, but if you’re looking for a longer deal you also might want to check if you’re pre-qualified for deals from other banks, without a hit to your credit score, using the list of options here.

You’ll be able to check with several banks what cards are pre-screened based on your credit profile, and you might be surprised to see some good deals you didn’t think were in your range. That way you can apply with more confidence.

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  • Interest is not deferred during the balance transfer period.
  • The ongoing interest rate isn’t known when you apply.

Tip: Only Aspire’s Platinum MasterCard has this deal. Its Platinum Rewards MasterCard doesn’t have a 0% offer. And if you transfer a balance after 6 months a 2% fee will apply.

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2. Learn more

Checklist before you transfer

Never use a credit card at an ATM

If you use your credit card at an ATM, it will be treated as a cash advance. Most credit cards charge an upfront cash advance fee, which is typically about 5%. There is usually a much higher “cash advance” interest rate, which is typically above 20%. And there is no grace period, so interest starts to accrue right away. A cash advance is expensive, so beware.

Always pay on time.

If you do not make your payment on time, most credit cards will immediately hit you with a steep late fee. Once you are 30 days late, you will likely be reported to the credit bureau. Late payments can have a big, negative impact on your score. Once you are 60 days late, you can end up losing your low balance transfer rate and be charged a high penalty interest rate, which is usually close to 30%. Just automate your payments so you never have to worry about these fees.

Get the transfer done within 60 days

Most balance transfer offers are from the date you open your account, not the date you complete the transfer. It is in your interest to complete the balance transfer right away, so that you can benefit from the low interest rate as soon as possible. With most credit card companies, you will actually lose the promotional balance transfer offer if you do not complete the transfer within 60 or 90 days. Just get it done!

Don’t spend on the card

Your goal with a balance transfer should be to get out of debt. If you start spending on the credit card, there is a real risk that you will end up in more debt. Additionally, you could end up being charged interest on your purchase balances. If your credit card has a 0% balance transfer rate but does not have a 0% promotional rate on purchases, you would end up being charged interest on your purchases right away, until your entire balance (including the balance transfer) is paid in full. In other words, you lose the grace period on your purchases so long as you have a balance transfer in place.

Don’t try to transfer between two cards of the same bank

Credit card companies make balance transfer offers because they want to steal business from their competitors. So, it makes sense that the banks will not let you transfer balances between two credit cards offered by the same bank. If you have an airline credit card or a store credit card, just make sure you know which bank issues the card before you apply for a balance transfer.

3 Steps for Setting up a Balance Transfer

Nick Clements of MagnifyMoney, who once ran a large credit card business, explains how to set up a balance transfer.

Comparison tools

Savings calculator – which card is best?

If you’re still unsure about which cards offer you the best deal for your situation, try our calculator. You get to input the amount of debt you’re trying to get a lower rate on, your current rate, and the monthly payment you can afford. The calculator will show you which cards offer you the most savings on interest payments.

The calculator will show you which cards offer you the most savings
Balance transfer or a loan?

A balance transfer at 0% will get you the absolute lowest rate. But you might feel more comfortable with a single fixed monthly payment, and a single real date your loan will be paid off. A lot of new companies are offering great rates on loans you can pay off over 2, 3, 4, or 5 years. You can see a list here.

And you might find even though their rates aren’t 0%, you could afford the payment and get a plan that takes care of your debt for good at once.

Use our calculator to see how your payments and savings will compare.

Balance Transfer Graph

Questions and Answers

Yes, you can. Most credit card companies will allow you to transfer debt from any credit card, regardless who owns it. Just remember that once the debt is transferred, it becomes your legal liability.

Yes, you can. Most banks will enable store card debt to be transferred. Just make sure the store card is not issued by the same bank as the balance transfer credit card.

As a general rule, if you can pay off your debt in six months or less, it usually doesn’t make sense to do a balance transfer.

Here is a simple test. (This is not 100% accurate mathematically, but it is an easy test). Divide your credit card interest rate by 12. (Imagine a credit card with a 12% interest rate. 12%/12 = 1%). In this example, you are paying about 1% interest per month. If the fee on your balance transfer is 3%, you will break even in month 3, and will be saving money thereafter. You can use that simplified math to get a good guide on whether or not you will be saving money.

And if you want the math done for you, use our tool to calculate how much each balance transfer will save you.

With all balance transfers recommended at MagnifyMoney, you would not be hit with a big, retroactive interest charge. You would be charged the purchase interest rate on the remaining balance on a go-forward basis. (Warning: not all balance transfers waive the interest. But all balance transfers recommended by MagnifyMoney do.)

Many companies offer very good deals in the first year to win new customers. These are often called “switching incentives.” For example, your mobile phone company could offer 50% off its normal rate for the first 12 months. Or your cable company could offer a big discount on the first year if you buy the bundle package. Credit card companies are no different. These companies want your debt, and are willing to give you a big discount in the first year to get you to transfer.

Completing a balance transfer is easy. If you are applying for a new credit card, most credit card companies will just ask you for the account number of the credit card that has the debt. The transfer will then happen automatically. (It will look like the balance transfer credit card made a payment for you). You can also call your credit card company, and complete the transfer easily on the phone.

Automate your payments so that it doesn’t happen! If you do miss a payment, you will be charged a late fee. If you become 60 days late, you could lose your promotional interest rate and could be charge the punitive rate, which is often near 30% with most companies.

No, you can’t. Credit card companies are trying to steal balances from their competitors. So these deals are only good if you bring balances from competitors.

Many credit card issuers will allow you to transfer money to your checking account. Or, they will offer you checks that you can write to yourself or a third party. Check online, because many credit card issuers will let you transfer money directly to your bank account from your credit card. Otherwise, call your issuer and ask what deals they have available for “convenience checks.”

In most cases, you cannot. Once a balance transfer is complete, it is complete.

Yes, it is possible to transfer the same debt multiple times. Just remember, if there is a balance transfer fee you would be charged that fee every time you transfer the debt.

You can call the bank and ask them to increase your credit limit. However, even if the bank does not increase your limit, you should still take advantage of the savings available with the limit you have.

Yes. You decide how much you want to transfer to each credit card.

No. You do not earn rewards with a balance transfer. No cash back, no points and no miles can be earned with a balance transfer.

No, there is no penalty. You can pay off your debt whenever you want without a penalty.

Mathematically, the best balance transfer credit cards are no fee, 0% offers. You literally pay nothing. The best in the market is offered by Chase, which has a 15 month 0% introductory offer with a $0 introductory fee.

However, if your debt is already with Chase, or you think it will take years to pay off your debt, you should consider a longer duration offer or a personal loan. You can find 21 month offers with 3% fees and 24 month offers with 4% fees. Your savings over the two years would likely be substantial, even when you include the cost of the fee.

The post Best balance transfer credit cards: 0% APR, 24 months appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

9 Best 0% APR Credit Card Offers – April 2017

There are a lot of 0% APR credit card deals in your mailbox and online, but most of them slap you with a 3 to 4% fee just to make a transfer, and that can seriously eat into your savings.

At MagnifyMoney we like to find deals no one else is showing, and we’ve searched hundreds of balance transfer credit card offers to find the banks and credit unions that ANYONE CAN JOIN which offer great 0% interest credit card deals AND no balance transfer fees. We’ve hand-picked them here.

If one 0% APR credit card doesn’t give you a big enough credit line you can try another bank or credit union for the rest of your debt. With several no fee options it’s not hard to avoid transfer fees even if you have a large balance to deal with.

1. Chase Slate® – 0% Introductory APR for 15 months, $0 Introductory Balance Transfer FEE

ChaseSlateScreenThis deal is easy to find – Chase is one of the biggest banks and makes this credit card deal well known. Save with a $0 introductory balance transfer fee, 0% introductory APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, and $0 annual fee. Plus, receive your Monthly FICO® Score for free.

You can get this offer if you complete the balance transfer within 60 days of opening the account. So it’s worth a shot to see how big of a credit line you get. If it’s not enough, move on to the other options below.

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2. Barclaycard Ring™ MasterCard® – 0% Introductory APR for 15 months, $0 Introductory Balance Transfer FEE

BarclaycardThis card is available if you have excellent credit. Be aware that you have 45 days to complete this transfer after opening the account.

You can also nominate and vote on charity partners to donate card profits each year and there are no foreign transaction fees if you use the card abroad.

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Tip: The remaining no fee cards on this list are deals for 12 months or less. You might be better off paying a standard 3% balance transfer fee for a longer deal, like 0% for 18 months from the Discover It, one of the better deals with a balance transfer fee of 3%.

3. Alliant Credit Union Credit Cards – 0% APR for 12 months, NO FEE

Alliant is an easy credit union to work with because you don’t have to be a Alliant Visa Platinum Credit Cardsmember to apply and find out if you qualify for the 0% APR deal.

Just choose ‘not a member’ when you apply and if you are approved you’ll then be able to become a member of the credit union to finish opening your account.

Alliant Credit Union

Anyone can become a member of Alliant by making a $10 donation to Foster Care to Success.

If your credit isn’t great, you might not get a 0% rate – rates for transfers are as high as 5.99%, so make sure you double check the rate you receive before opening the account, and they might ask for additional documents like your pay stubs to verify the information on your application.

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4. Edward Jones World MasterCard – 0% APR for 12 months, NO FEE

edwardjonesYou’ll need to go to an Edward Jones branch to open up an account first if you want this deal. Edward Jones is an investment advisory company, so they’ll want to have a conversation about your retirement needs.

But you don’t need to have money in stocks to be a customer of Edward Jones and try to get this card. Just beware that you only have 30 days to complete your transfer to lock in the 0% rate. This deal expires 5/5/2017.

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5. First Tech Choice Rewards – 0% APR for 12 months, NO FEE

firsttechrewardsAnyone can join First Tech Federal Credit Union by becoming a member of the Financial Fitness Association for $8, or the Computer History Museum for $15. You can apply for the card without joining first. This introductory 0% for 12 months on balance transfers with no fee deal is for the First Tech Choice Rewards World MasterCard, and you also get 10,000 points after you spend $2,000 on the card in your first 3 months. The points don’t expire as long as you have the card, and 6,000 points is enough for $50 cash back, while 11,000 points is enough for $100 cash back, which can help you pay down your card.

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6. La Capitol Federal Credit Union – 0% APR for 12 months, NO FEE

La Capitol Federal Credit UnionAnyone can join La Capitol Federal Credit Union by becoming a member of the Louisiana Association for Personal Financial Achievement, which costs $20. Just indicate that’s how you want to be eligible when you apply for the card – no need to join before you apply. And La Capitol accepts members from all across the country, so you don’t have to live in Louisiana to take advantage of this deal on the Prime Plus card.

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7. Quorum Federal Credit Union – 0% APR for 12 months, NO FEE

Quorum Federal Credit UnionQuorum is a New York based credit union anyone can join by joining the Select Savers Club during the application process – just choose ”I would like to join through an association” on the application page. All of Quorum’s credit cards offer the 0% for 12 months with no fee deal.

Just be aware the 12 months starts from when your account opens, not when you make the transfer, so if you wait a month to do the transfer, you’ll only get the zero deal for 11 months.

And the 0% deal isn’t prominent on the Quorum site, you’ll see it buried in the fine print. Look for the sentence “The introductory purchase and balance transfer APR is 0% for 12 months from account opening and applies to ALL Quorum MasterCard credit cards” at the very bottom of their page.

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8. Purdue Federal Credit Union – 0% APR for 12 months, NO FEE

purdue-credit-union-visaThe Purdue Federal Credit Union doesn’t have open membership, but one way to be eligible for credit union membership is to join the Purdue University Alumni Association as a Friend of the University. Anyone can join the association, but it costs $50. The minimum credit line on the Visa Signature card offering 0% is $5,000, so if approved the $50 would be like a transfer fee of 1% or less. The good news is you can apply and get a decision before you become a member of the Alumni Association.

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9. Logix Credit Union Credit Card – 0% APR for 12 months , NO FEE

If you live in AZ, CA, DC, MA, MD, ME, NH, NV, or VA you can join Logix Credit Union and apply for this deal. Some applicants have reported credit lines of $15,000 or more for balance transfers, so if you have excellent credit, good income, but a large amount to pay off (like a home equity line), this could be a good option.

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10. First Tennessee Bank Credit Card – 0% APR for 12 months, NO FEE

If you want to apply online for this deal, you’ll need to live in a state where First Tennessee Bank Credit CardFirst Tennessee has a branch though. Those states are: Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

You need to have an existing First Tennessee account to apply online, but if you don’t have one, you can print out an application and mail it into their office to get a decision. You’ll find a link to the paper application when the online form asks you whether you have an account or not.

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11. Andigo Credit Union – 0% APR for 6 months, NO FEE

You’ll have a choice to apply for the Andigo Visa Platinum, Platinum Rewards, or Platinum Cash Back. The Platinum without rewards has a lower ongoing APR, starting as low as 10.15%, compared to 12.15% for the Platinum Rewards card, so if you’re not sure you’ll pay it all off in 6 months the Platinum without rewards is a better bet.

Anyone can join Andigo by making a donation to Connect Vets for $15, and you can submit an application for the card without being a member yet.

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12. Aspire Credit Union Credit Card – 0% APR for 6 months, NO FEE

You don’t have to be a member to apply and get a decision from Aspire. Once youAspire Credit Union Credit Card do, Aspire is easy to join – just check that you want to join the American Consumer Council (free) while filling out your membership application online.

Make sure you apply for the regular ‘Platinum’ card, and not the ‘Platinum Rewards’ card, which doesn’t offer the introductory deal. Aspire says people with fair credit can apply for its card.

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13. Elements Financial Credit Card – 0% APR for 6 months, NO FEE

Elements Financial Credit CardTo become a member and apply, you’ll just need to join TruDirection, a financial literacy organization. It costs just $5 and you can join as part of the application process.

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14. Justice Federal Credit Union – 0% APR for 6 months, NO FEE

Justice Federal Credit UnionIf you’re not a Department of Justice, Homeland Security, or U.S. court employee (or a few others), you need to join a law enforcement organization to be a member of Justice Federal. One of the eligible associations for membership is the National Native American Law Enforcement Association. It costs $15 to join.

You can apply as a non-member online to get a decision before joining. And Justice is unique in that its Student credit card is also eligible for the 0% no fee deal, so if your credit history is limited and you’re trying to deal with a balance on your very first card, this could be an option.

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15. Xcel Platinum Visa – 0% APR for 6 months, NO FEE

Xcel Platinum Visa credit cardAnyone can join Xcel by becoming a member of the American Consumer Council, and you can apply for the card as a non-member of the credit union, but not everyone who is approved for the card will get the low intro rate. Xcel advises you contact them to get as sense of whether your income, credit history, and employment history will qualify for the intro rate.

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Are these the best deals for you?

If you can pay off your debt within the 0% period, then yes, a no fee 0% balance transfer credit card is your absolute best bet. And if you can’t, you can hope that other 0% deals will be around to switch again.

But if you’re unsure, you might want to consider…

  • A deal that has a longer period before the rate goes up. In that case, a balance transfer fee could be worth it to lock in a 0% rate for longer.
  • Or, a card with a rate a little above 0% that could lock you into a low rate even longer.

The good news is we can figure it out for you.

Our handy, free balance transfer tool lets you input how much debt you have, and how much of a monthly payment you can afford. It will run the numbers to show you which offers will save you the most for the longest period of time.

promo balancetransfer wide

The savings from just one balance transfer can be substantial.

Let’s say you have $5,000 in credit card debt, you’re paying 18% in interest, and can afford to pay $200 a month on it. Here’s what you can save with a 0% deal:

  • 18%: It will take 32 months to pay off, with $1,312 in interest paid.
  • 0% for 12 months: You’ll pay it off in 28 months, with just $502 in interest, saving you $810 in cash. That even assumes your rate goes back up to 18% after 12 months!

But your rate doesn’t have to go up after 12 months. If you pay everything on time and maintain good credit, there’s a great chance you’ll be able to shop around and find another bank willing to offer you 0% interest again, letting you pay it off even faster.

Before you do any balance transfer though, make sure you follow these 6 golden rules of balance transfer success:

  • Never use the card for spending. You are only ready to do a balance transfer once you’ve gotten your budget in order and are no longer spending more than you earn. This card should never be used for new purchases, as it’s possible you’ll get charged a higher rate on those purchases.
  • Have a plan for the end of the promotional period. Make sure you set a reminder on your phone calendar about a month or so before your promotional period ends so you can shop around for a low rate from another bank.
  • Don’t try to transfer debt between two cards of the same bank. It won’t work. Balance transfer deals are meant to ‘steal’ your balance from a competing bank, not lower your rate from the same bank. So if you have a Chase Freedom with a high rate, don’t apply for another Chase card like a Chase Slate and expect you can transfer the balance. Apply for one from another bank.
  • Get that transfer done within 60 days. Otherwise your promotional deal may expire unused.
  • Never use a card at an ATM. You should never use the card for spending, and getting cash is incredibly expensive. Just don’t do it with this or any credit card.
  • Always pay on time. If you pay more than 30 days late your credit will be hurt, your rate may go up, and you may find it harder to find good deals in the future. Only do balance transfers if you’re ready to pay at least the minimum due on time, every time.

The post 9 Best 0% APR Credit Card Offers – April 2017 appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

19 Options to Refinance Student Loans in 2017 – Get Your Lowest Rate

19 Options to Refinance Student Loans - Get Your Lowest Rate

Updated: April 4, 2017

Are you tired of paying a high interest rate on your student loan debt? You may be looking for ways to refinance your student loans at a lower interest rate, but don’t know where to turn. We have created the most complete list of lenders currently willing to refinance student loan debt.

You should always shop around for the best rate. Don’t worry about the impact on your credit score of applying to multiple lenders: so long as you complete all of your applications within 14 days, it will only count as one inquiry on your credit score. You can see the full list of lenders below, but we recommend you start here, and check rates from the top 4 national lenders offering the lowest interest rates. These 4 lenders also allow you to check your rate without impacting your score (using a soft credit pull), and offer the best rates of 2017:

LenderTransparency ScoreMax TermFixed APRVariable APRMax Loan Amount 
SoFiA+

20


Years

3.38% - 6.74%


Fixed Rate*

2.36% - 6.29%


Variable Rate*

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now
earnestA+

20


Years

3.75% - 6.74%


Fixed Rate

2.55% - 6.03%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now
commonbondA+

20


Years

3.37% - 7.74%


Fixed Rate

2.35% - 6.27%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now
lendkeyA+

20


Years

3.25% - 7.26%


Fixed Rate

2.22% - 5.85%


Variable Rate

$125k / $175k


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now

We have also created:

But before you refinance, read on to see if you are ready to refinance your student loans.

Can I Get Approved?

Loan approval rules vary by lender. However, all of the lenders will want:

  • Proof that you can afford your payments. That means you have a job with income that is sufficient to cover your student loans and all of your other expenses.
  • Proof that you are a responsible borrower, with a demonstrated record of on-time payments. For some lenders, that means that they use the traditional FICO, requiring a good score. For other lenders, they may just have some basic rules, like no missed payments, or a certain number of on-time payments required to prove that you are responsible.

If you are in financial difficulty and can’t afford your monthly payments, a refinance is not the solution. Instead, you should look at options to avoid a default on student loan debt.

This is particularly important if you have Federal loans.

Don’t refinance Federal loans unless you are very comfortable with your ability to repay. Think hard about the chances you won’t be able to make payments for a few months. Once you refinance, you may lose flexible Federal payment options that can help you if you genuinely can’t afford the payments you have today. Check the Federal loan repayment estimator to make sure you see all the Federal options you have right now.

If you can afford your monthly payment, but you have been a sloppy payer, then you will likely need to demonstrate responsibility before applying for a refinance.

But, if you can afford your current monthly payment and have been responsible with those payments, then a refinance could be possible and help you pay the debt off sooner.

Is it worth it? 

Like any form of debt, your goal with a student loan should be to pay as low an interest rate as possible. Other than a mortgage, you will likely never have a debt as large as your student loan.

If you are able to reduce the interest rate by re-financing, then you should consider the transaction. However, make sure you include the following in any decision:

Is there an origination fee?

Many lenders have no fee, which is great news. If there is an origination fee, you need to make sure that it is worth paying. If you plan on paying off your loan very quickly, then you may not want to pay a fee. But, if you are going to be paying your loan for a long time, a fee may be worth paying.

Is the interest rate fixed or variable?

Variable interest rates will almost always be lower than fixed interest rates. But there is a reason: you end up taking all of the interest rate risk. We are currently at all-time low interest rates. So, we know that interest rates will go up, we just don’t know when.

This is a judgment call. Just remember, when rates go up, so do your payments. And, in a higher rate environment, you will not be able to refinance to a better option (because all rates will be going up).

We typically recommend fixing the rate as much as possible, unless you know that you can pay off your debt during a short time period. If you think it will take you 20 years to pay off your loan, you don’t want to bet on the next 20 years of interest rates. But, if you think you will pay it off in five years, you may want to take the bet. Some providers with variable rates will cap them, which can help temper some of the risk.

Places to Consider a Refinance

If you go to other sites they may claim to compare several student loan offers in one step. Just beware that they might only show you deals that pay them a referral fee, so you could miss out on lenders ready to give you better terms. Below is what we believe is the most comprehensive list of current student loan refinancing lenders.

You should take the time to shop around. FICO says there is little to no impact on your credit score for rate shopping as many providers as you’d like in a single shopping period (which can be between 14-30 days, depending upon the version of FICO). So set aside a day and apply to as many as you feel comfortable with to get a sense of who is ready to give you the best terms.

Here are more details on the 5 lenders offering the lowest interest rates:

1. SoFi: Variable Rates from 2.565% and Fixed Rates from 3.375% (with AutoPay)*

sofiSoFi (read our full SoFi review) was one of the first lenders to start offering student loan refinancing products. More MagnifyMoney readers have chosen SoFi than any other lender. Although SoFi initially targeted a very select group of universities (it started with Stanford), now almost anyone can apply, including if you graduated from a trade school. The only requirement is that you graduated from a Title IV school. You need to have a degree, a good job and good income in order to  qualify. SoFi wants to be more than just a lender. If you lose your job, SoFi will  help you find a new one. If you need a mortgage for a first home, they are there  to help. And, surprisingly, they also want to get you a date. SoFi is famous for  hosting parties for customers across the country, and creating a dating app to  match borrowers with each other.

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2. Earnest: Variable Rates from 2.75% and Fixed Rates from 3.75% (with AutoPay) 

EarnestEarnest (read our full Earnest review) offers fixed interest rates starting at 3.75% and variable rates starting at 2.75%. Unlike any of the other lenders, you can switch between fixed and variable rates throughout the life of your loan. You can do that one time every six months until the loan is paid off. That means you can take advantage of the low variable interest rates now, and then lock in a higher fixed rate later. You can choose your own monthly payment, based upon what you can afford (to the penny). Earnest also offers bi-weekly payments and “skip a payment” if you run into difficulty.

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3. CommonBond: Variable Rates from 2.56% and Fixed Rates from 3.37% (with AutoPay)

CommonBondCommonBond (read our full CommonBond review) started out lending exclusively to graduate students. They initially targeted doctors with more than $100,000 of debt. Over time, CommonBond has expanded and now offers student loan refinancing options to graduates of almost any university (graduate and undergraduate). In addition (and we think this is pretty cool), CommonBond will fund the education of someone in need in an emerging market for every loan that closes. So not only will you save money, but someone in need will get access to an education.

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4. LendKey: Variable Rates from 2.27% and Fixed Rates from 3.25% (with AutoPay)

lendkeyLendKey (read our full LendKey review) works with community banks and credit unions across the country. Although you apply with LendKey, your loan will be with a community bank. If you like the idea of working with a credit union or community bank, LendKey could be a great option. Over the past year, LendKey has become increasingly competitive on pricing, and frequently has a better rate than some of the more famous marketplace lenders.

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In addition to the Top 4 (ranked by interest rate), there are many more lenders offering to refinance student loans. Below is a listing of all providers we have found so far. This list includes credit unions that may have limited membership. We will continue to update this list as we find more lenders. This list is ordered alphabetically:

  • Alliant Credit Union: Anyone can join this credit union. Interest rates start as low as 3.75% APR. You can borrow up to $100,000 for up to 25 years.
  • Citizens Bank: Variable interest rates range from 2.37% APR – 8.16% APR and fixed rates range from 4.74% – 8.24%. You can borrow for up to 20 years.
  • College Avenue: If you have a medical degree, you can borrow up to $250,000. Otherwise, you can borrow up to $150,000. Fixed rates range from 4.75% – 7.35% APR. Variable rates range from 2.63% – 5.88% APR.
  • Credit Union Student Choice: If you like credit unions and community banks, we recommend that you start with LendKey. However, if you can’t find a good loan from a LendKey partner, this tool could be helpful. Just check to see if you or an immediate family member belong to one of their featured credit union and you can apply to refinance your loan.
  • DRB Student Loan: DRB offers variable rates ranging from 3.89% – 6.54% APR and fixed rates from 4.50% – 7.45% APR.
  • Eastman Credit Union: Credit union membership is restricted (see eligibility here). Fixed rates start at 6.50% and go up to 8% APR.
  • Education Success Loans: This company has a unique pricing structure: your interest rate is fixed and then becomes variable thereafter. You can fix the rate at 4.99% APR for the first year, and it is then becomes variable. The longest you can fix the rate is 10 years at 7.99%, and it is then variable thereafter. Given this pricing, you would probably get a better deal elsewhere.
  • EdVest: This company is the non-profit student loan program of the state of New Hampshire which has become available more broadly. Rates are very competitive, ranging from 3.94% – 7.54% (fixed) and 2.56% – 6.16% APR (variable).
  • First Republic Eagle Gold. The interest rates are great, but this option is not for everyone. Fixed rates range from 2.25% – 4.10% APR. Variable rates range from 2.43% – 4.23%. You need to visit a branch and open a checking account (which has a $3,500 minimum balance to avoid fees). Branches are located in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Newport Beach, San Diego, Portland (Oregon), Boston, Palm Beach (Florida), Greenwich or New York City. Loans must be $60,000 – $300,000. First Republic wants to recruit their future high net worth clients with this product.
  • IHelp: This service will find a community bank. Unfortunately, these community banks don’t have the best interest rates. Fixed rates range from 4.75% to 9% APR (for loans up to 15 years). If you want to get a loan from a community bank or credit union, we recommend trying LendKey instead.
  • Navy Federal Credit Union: This credit union offers limited membership. For men and women who serve, the credit union can offer excellent rates and specialized underwriting. Variable interest rates start at 3.13% and fixed rates start at 4.00%.
  • Purefy: Only fixed interest rates are available, with rates ranging from 3.50% – 7.28% APR. You can borrow up to $150,000 for up to 15 years.
  • RISLA: Just like New Hampshire, the state of Rhode Island wants to help you save. You can get fixed rates starting as low as 3.49%. And you do not need to have lived or studied in Rhode Island to benefit.
  • UW Credit Union: This credit union has limited membership (you can find out who can join here, but you had better be in Wisconsin). You can borrow from $5,000 to $60,000 and rates start as low as 2.49% (variable) and 4.04% APR (fixed).
  • Wells Fargo: As a traditional lender, Wells Fargo will look at credit score and debt burden. They offer both fixed and variable loans, with variable rates starting at 3.99% and fixed rates starting at 6.24%. You would likely get much lower interest rates from some of the new Silicon Valley lenders or the credit unions.

You can also compare all of these loan options in one chart with our comparison tool. It lists the rates, loan amounts, and kinds of loans each lender is willing to refinance. You can also email us with any questions at info@magnifymoney.com.

 

The post 19 Options to Refinance Student Loans in 2017 – Get Your Lowest Rate appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

The Fastest Way to Pay Off $10,000 in Credit Card Debt

Before you read on, click here to download our FREE guide to become debt free forever! 

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Digging out of the debt hole can feel frustrating, intimidating and ultimately impossible. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be any of those things if you learn how to take control.

Paying down debt is not only about finding the right financial tools, but also the right psychological ones. You need to understand why you got into debt in the first place. Perhaps it was a medical emergency or a home repair that needed to be taken care of immediately. Maybe you’d already drained your emergency fund on one piece of bad luck when misfortune struck again. Or maybe you’re struggling with a compulsive shopping problem, so paying down debt will likely result in you accumulating more until the addiction is addressed.

Understanding the why and how of your debt isn’t the only reason psychology plays a role in how you should create your debt attack plan.

You also need to understand what motivates you to succeed. Do you want to pay down your debt in the absolute fastest amount of time possible that will save more money or do you want to take some little wins along the way to keep yourself motivated?

The common terms for these debt repayment strategies are:

  • Debt avalanche: starting with the highest interest rate and working your way down, which saves both time and money.
  • Debt snowball: paying off small debts first to get the warm and fuzzies that will motivate you to keep going.

Whichever version you pick needs to set you up to be successful in your debt repayment strategy. Now it’s time to find the proper tools to help you dump that debt for good.

The first step in crafting a debt repayment strategy is to understand what you’re eligible to use. Your credit score will play a big role in whether or not you’ll qualify for products like balance transfers or competitive personal loan offers.

A credit score of less than 600 will make it difficult for you to qualify for a personal loan and will eliminate you from taking on a balance transfer offer.

If you have a credit score above 600, you have a good chance of qualifying for a personal loan at a much lower interest rate than your credit card debt. With new internet-only personal loan companies, you can shop for loans without hurting your score. Use this tool to see if you can get approved for a loan without hurting your score. Click here to get rates from multiple lenders in just a few minutes, without a credit inquiry hurting your score. For people with the best scores, rates start as low as 4.80%.

If you have a score above 700, you could also qualify for 0% balance transfer offers.

[Click here if you’re looking to rebuild your credit score.]

Not sure what your credit score is? Click here to learn how to find out.

Now let’s talk about the financial tools to add into your debt repayment strategy in order to dig out of the hole.

Let’s say you have $10,000 in credit card debt, and are stuck paying 18% interest on it.

You already know that putting as much spare cash as you can toward paying down your debt is the most important thing to do. But once you’ve done that, so what’s next?

Use your good credit to make banks compete and cut your rates

MagnifyMoney’s Paying Down Debt Guide has easy to follow tips on how to put banks to work for you and get your rates cut.

You could save $1,800 a year in interest and lower your monthly payments based on several of the rates available today. That means you could pay it off almost 20% faster.

Here’s how it works.

Option One: Use a Balance Transfer (or Multiple Balance Transfers)

If you trust yourself to open a new credit card but not spend on it, consider a balance transfer. You may be able to cut your rate with a long 0% intro APR. You need to have a good credit score, and you might not get approved for the full amount that you want to transfer.

Your own bank might not give you a lower rate (or only drop it by a few percent), but there are lots of competing banks that may want to steal the business and give you a better rate.

Our favorite offer is Chase Slate®. You can save with a $0 introductory balance transfer fee, 0% introductory APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers, and $0 annual fee. Plus, receive your Monthly FICO® Score for free.

Chase Slate Credit Card

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If you don’t think Chase is for you, consider Discover, which offers an intro 0% APR for 21 months (with a 3% balance transfer fee). MagnifyMoney keeps the most complete list of the longest and lowest rate deals available right now, including deals with no fees. Just answer a few questions about how your debt and much you can afford to pay, and you’ll get a personal list of the deals that will save you the most.

promo-balancetransfer-halfIt also has six tips to make sure you do a balance transfer safely. If you follow them you’ll save thousands on your debt by beating the banks at their game.

You might be scared of a balance transfer, but there is no faster way to cut your interest payments than taking advantage of the best 0% or low interest deals banks are offering.

Thanks to recent laws, balance transfers aren’t as sneaky as they used to be, and friendlier for helping you cut your debt.

Sometimes the first bank you deal with won’t give you a big enough credit line to handle all your credit card debt. Maybe you’ll get a $5,000 credit line for a 0% deal, but have $10,000 in debt. That’s okay. In that case, apply for the next best balance transfer deal you see. MagnifyMoney’s list of deals makes it easy to sort them.

Banks are okay with you shopping around for more than one deal.

 

Option Two: Personal Loan

If you never want to see another credit card again, you should consider a personal loan. You can get prequalified without hurting your credit score, and find the best deal to pay off your debt faster. With just one application, you can get multiple loan offers with rates as low as 4.77% here.

Personal loan rates are often about 10-20%, but can sometimes be as low as 5-6% if you have very good credit.

Moving from 18% interest on a credit card to 10% on a personal loan is a good deal for you. You’ll also get one set monthly payment, and pay off the whole thing in 3 to 5 years.

Sometimes this may mean a higher monthly payment than you’re used to, but you’re better off putting your cash toward a higher payment with a lower rate.

And you’ll get out of debt months or years faster by leaving more money to pay down the debt itself.

SoFi logo

Apply Now

The post The Fastest Way to Pay Off $10,000 in Credit Card Debt appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Can a Balance Transfer Hurt Your Credit Score?

 

When you are carrying a balance on a high-interest credit card, receiving a 0% balance transfer offer can be enticing. After all, shifting the balance from a high-interest credit card to a no-interest card means saving money on interest and paying down the balance faster.

But how will the balance transfer impact your credit score?

First, you should understand three crucial elements that go into determining your credit score: inquiries, credit utilization, and length of credit history.

  • Inquiries – How many new accounts have you opened lately? Whenever you apply for new debt, the lender performs a “hard inquiry” to determine whether they will approve your application. According to FICO, hard inquiries account for about 10% of your credit score.
  • Credit utilization ratio – How much do you owe? Your credit utilization ratio is calculated based on your total outstanding balances compared to your total credit limit. It is calculated both per card and across all of your credit accounts and makes up about 30% of your credit score.
  • Length of credit history – How long have you been using credit? This factor looks at the age of your oldest account as well as the average length of all of your credit accounts. The longer your history, the higher your score. According to FICO, the length of your credit history accounts for about 15% of your credit score.

How balance transfers can hurt your credit score

Balance transfer applications count as a hard credit inquiry

When you open a new account for a balance transfer, the lender will perform a hard inquiry. One hard inquiry is unlikely to have a large impact on your credit score. If you have excellent credit and haven’t applied for a card in the last six months, one hard inquiry may not impact your score at all. Inquiries could have as much as a ten-point impact, but that would be very rare. The typical impact of one hard inquiry is about five points. However, if you apply for several cards at once, the applications could have a big impact.

Balance transfers lower the average length of your credit history

Opening a new credit account will lower the average age of your credit accounts, which can negatively impact your credit score in the short term.

For example, if you have one 5-year-old credit card, one 3-year-old credit card, and one 10-year-old credit card, the average age of your cards is 6 years.

When you open a new credit card for a balance transfer, you now add a less-than-one-year-old account to your balance. At the most, your average credit age will drop down to 4.75 years.

How balance transfers can improve your credit score

All in all, the benefits of balance transfers can far outweigh the negatives.

You will likely lower your utilization rate

Opening new credit accounts decreases your overall credit utilization ratio, which positively affects your credit score over time. For example, if you have one credit card with a $5,000 limit and a $2,500 balance, your credit utilization ratio is 50%. When you open a second account with a $5,000 limit and transfer the $2,500 balance to the new card while leaving the old account open, your total available credit is $10,000 ($5,000 + $5,000), and your outstanding balance is still just $2,500. You’ve reduced your credit utilization rate to 25%.

What happens if the new account’s limit is just $2,500 and you transfer the full $2,500 balance? You’ve still reduced your overall credit utilization ratio. Now you’re using 33% of your available credit ($2,500 / $7,500). However, the negative is that there are still some points taken away if you max out one card. You didn’t have any maxed out cards before, and now you do. Credit scores are very sensitive to people who max out their credit cards as they’re seen as high risk. Maxing out a new card could reduce your credit score by about 30 points in the short term.

You will be paying off debt faster, improving your score dramatically

Where balance transfers get exciting is that more of your money is going to paying off the balance of your debt as opposed to interest. Ultimately, the best credit score comes from carrying as little debt as possible.

Using our previous example of the $2,500 balance on one card, assume that card had a 21% interest rate and you could afford to pay $220 per month toward paying it off. According to MagnifyMoney’s balance transfer calculator, if you did not take advantage of a balance transfer, the card would be paid off in 13 months, and you would pay $309 in interest. If you transferred that balance, even with a 3% balance transfer fee ($75), you could pay off that balance one month sooner and save $234.

In the end, your goal should be to pay off your debt as quickly as possible. Over the course of a year, as long as you stick to your strategy, you can eliminate that debt in a year, and your score will go up a whole lot faster than it otherwise would.

When to avoid balance transfers

The short-term impact of a balance transfer on your credit score should only concern you if you are planning on applying for a mortgage in the next six to nine months. During this period, every point on your score counts. Just a 0.2% difference in your interest rate can cost a ton of money over the life of your mortgage. In that case, wait until after you get the mortgage to do the balance transfer.

The bottom line

People are so programmed to think about their score that they sometimes lose sight of what they want the high score for. A higher score saves you money and gets you out of debt faster. Don’t focus on short-term fluctuations of 10 to 20 points. Use your good credit score to save money. That’s what it’s there for.

The post Can a Balance Transfer Hurt Your Credit Score? appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

5 Risks of Working with a Debt Settlement or Debt Relief Firm

If you’re deep in debt, you may have looked into getting some outside help to find relief. Frequently, your search for aid will bring you to debt settlement firms.

Debt settlement firms negotiate directly with your creditor to reduce your debt. If they succeed in settling your debt for a lesser amount, you will then be required to make one lump-sum payment, effectively wiping out your obligation.

Using these firms may sound like a lifesaver to someone struggling to pay off many debts at once. But debt settlement firms can actually cause more harm than good to your finances if you aren’t careful.

“Based on all the evidence we’ve seen, it is extremely rare that anyone benefits from using a debt settlement firm,” says Andrew Pizor, a staff attorney with the National Consumer Law Center.

Before you agree to work with a debt settlement firm, it’s important to know the risks:

5 Risks of Working with a Debt Settlement Firm

  1. You will have to stop paying your debts. When you begin working with a debt settlement firm, many firms will encourage you to stop paying your debts and start paying into a third-party bank account. The idea is that you will eventually build up enough money in that account to be ready to make a lump-sum payment when the firm succeeds in convincing your lender or collections agency to settle.

This, of course, means that your accounts are going to become increasingly delinquent. It can take up to 36 months to fully fund a debt settlement firm account, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

While you are not paying your debt, your creditor can send your account to collections or even file a lawsuit against you before the settlement firm gets a chance to negotiate. You could also be responsible for any interest, late fees, and legal fees that have accrued over that time as well.

2. They may not succeed in settling your debt. Once you have saved up enough money to make a lump-sum offer to the creditor, the debt settlement firm will attempt to enter negotiations. What they may not tell you is that some creditors will not work with these firms as a rule. That means it’s possible that after you’ve saved enough money for the payment — meanwhile, allowing your accounts to become severely delinquent and your credit score to tank — you could be left without a resolution at all. To avoid this, call your lender or collections agency directly to ask if they work with debt settlement agencies before you sign up for their services.

3. They’ll take a portion of your debt savings. If the firm is able to successfully negotiate, they will often take a cut of your savings in return. For example, if you owe $10,000 and they are able to negotiate a lump-sum payment of $8,000 with $2,000 of your original debt forgiven, the firm would take a percentage cut of that $2,000.

4. Your credit will tank. It is important to note that debt settlement shows up on your credit report when it is reported to the credit bureaus. It will serve as a red flag to future lenders that in the past, you have not paid your debts in full. This could result in higher interest rates, smaller lines of credit, or even failure to get approved for credit at all.

5. You could face a hefty tax bill. If the amount forgiven is $600 or more, you will most likely have to report it as taxable income. Let’s look back at our earlier example. When that person settled their $10,000 debt for $8,000, the lender effectively forgave $2,000. To the IRS, that forgiven debt could be treated as additional income and you could owe taxes on it.

What to Look for in a Debt Settlement Firm

There are six things you should consider red flags when it comes to debt relief services, according to the FTC:

 

  • The company charges any fees before it settles your debts
  • The company advertises that they are part of a “new government program” to bail out personal credit card debt. There are no such programs.
  • The company guarantees it can make your unsecured (credit card) debt go away
  • The company tells you to stop communicating with your creditors, but doesn’t explain the serious consequences
  • The company tells you it can stop all debt collection calls and lawsuits
  • The company guarantees that your unsecured debts can be paid off for pennies on the dollar

Almost all states have some form of regulation for debt relief services. Some states ban them altogether.

A debt settlement firm may be licensed to operate in your state, but that does not mean they are necessarily the best for your needs. Because state licensing agencies are not federally regulated, quality standards can vary widely from state to state.

What should you look for, then?

A best-case scenario, according to Pizor, is finding a company that only takes a percentage of your debt reduction in exchange for their services. “This setup helps better align their interests with your own,” Pizor says. If you do well, they do well.

How to Avoid Debt Settlement Scams

Most debt settlement firms focus on unsecured consumer debt, like credit card debt. The most common scams in these situations involve telemarketing. You’ll receive a call from a company posing as a debt settlement firm that promises to reduce the amount of debt you owe as long as you pay an upfront free. They may even tell you that you don’t have to pay a fee until later as long as you’re saving money in a third-party account.

The latter sounds legitimate, but in both these situations, the supposed debt settlement firm can easily run with your money. There was a flurry of these telemarketing scams following the 2008 financial crisis, prompting the FTC to add further federal regulations under their Telemarketing Sales Rules.

If you can’t sit down with someone in person, it’s difficult to judge their legitimacy. In these situations, it’s best to just hang up.

Another tactic scammers perpetrate is using a lawyer as a front. This lawyer may be licensed to practice in your state, but will outsource your debt woes to companies across the country, or even the world, that have no legal background.

In order to avoid this scam, make sure you can sit down with the lawyer face to face in their office. Pizor recommends asking probing questions to get a feel for their legitimacy, including, “Who will be working on my case?”

If the lawyer or a paralegal in their office will be doing the work, that is much more acceptable than someone they cannot immediately supervise in person, or someone without a background in law.

Scams also frequently happen in the student loan sector. You’ll often see settlement firms advertising that there is a “new government program” that could help you settle your student loan debt. This is tricky because there are legitimate government programs that can help those with federal student loans defer payments or even forgive their remaining debt, but you should never have to pay anyone a fee in order to access these programs.

In late 2014, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau prosecuted two companies that were preying on those with student loans.

Try Negotiating Your Own Debt Settlement

As long as you’re aware of the effect it may have on your credit, you can negotiate a settlement on your own. Many creditors have a floor for how much they’ll reduce your debt in favor of a lump-sum payment. This floor applies to debt settlement firms and consumers alike. By entering negotiations without a third party, you can save yourself the fees and potential victimization that you would risk by working with a debt settlement firm.

There are two important things to remember before you settle your debt:

  1. You will likely need to provide a lump sump payment right away. It’s unlikely a debt collector or lender will accept installments. Also, having the ability to make a lump sum payment could give you additional bargaining power.
  2. As we mentioned before: If the debt is settled for a lesser amount, you may be taxed on the portion of the original debt that was forgiven.

Consider Paying Your Debt in Full

Debt settlement leaves a scar on your credit report that will take years to fade. If possible, attempt to negotiate a lower interest rate and/or longer terms that may decrease your monthly payment. Just be aware that a longer term may lower your monthly payments but increase the amount of interest you pay over the course of your loan, even if your interest rate goes down or stays the same. However, you’ll more likely be able to afford your payments and possibly save your credit report.

That being said, some debts may have passed their statute of limitations in the state in which they originated. Once that statute of limitations has been passed, it is no longer possible for the lender or collections agency to sue you for those unpaid debts. Furthermore, they may have already fallen off your credit report. However, if you make any further payments, the clock will restart and the debt will be revitalized. Consult a consumer law attorney or a credit counselor before deciding whether to make a payment on an old debt.

 

The post 5 Risks of Working with a Debt Settlement or Debt Relief Firm appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Guide to Credit Counseling: 7 Key Questions to Ask

It’s no secret that financial education is sorely lacking in the U.S. However, this does not mean that you can’t seek financial education from reputable sources. If you have little to no knowledge on the topic of personal finance and are struggling with your finances, then you may consider credit counseling.

Credit counseling can involve a variety of services including educational materials and real-world application to your finances. Credit counselors can help you to set a budget and advise you on how to manage debt and your money in general.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), reputable credit counseling organizations have certified counselors who are trained in consumer credit, money and debt management, and budgeting. Credit counselors will work with you to come up with an individualized plan to address the money issues you are facing.

Seeking credit counseling is typically voluntary but can be required when filing for bankruptcy. In this guide, we’ll answer some key questions you might have about credit counseling and whether it’s right for you.

How Do You Find a Credit Counselor?

Before settling on a credit counseling organization, do your homework to make sure they are not only reputable but will also be the most helpful for your particular financial circumstances. Check with your state’s attorney general and the consumer protection agency present in your state to see if there have been any complaints filed.

When looking for a good credit counseling agency, first ask about what information or educational materials they provide for free. Organizations that charge for information are typically more interested in their bottom line than helping you. Also, ask about the types of services they offer. Limited services can be a red flag. The fewer services they offer, the fewer solutions they may provide you.

You do not want to be pushed into a debt management plan simply because that is their top service. And make sure you understand the organization’s fee system, not only how much services will cost but also how employees are paid. If employees make more based on the number of services you receive, look for another credit counseling organization.

MagnifyMoney has come up with a list of some of the best credit counseling options, which are a great place to start. If you are looking for credit counseling as a pre-bankruptcy measure, the U.S. Trustee Program has a list of approved credit counseling agencies that can provide pre-bankruptcy counseling.

How Much Does Credit Counseling Cost?

Credit counseling can involve both start-up and monthly maintenance costs. The Department of Justice has said that $50 per month is a reasonable fee. Further, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) has suggested that a start-up fee should not exceed $75 and monthly maintenance fees should not be more than $50 per month.

Credit counseling agencies may offer fee waivers or fee reductions, depending on your income levels. Where credit counseling is required, the DOJ requires that if the household income is less than 150% of the poverty line, then the client is entitled to a fee waiver or reduction. While the poverty line varies depending on household size, it ranges from $11,880 for a single person family household to $24,300 for a family of four.

Other regulations, such as when fees can be collected and circumstances that would warrant fee reduction or waiver, may also be set forth by your state.

How Long Does Credit Counseling Last?

While the length of your credit counseling session depends on the complexity of your financial problems, sessions typically last 60 minutes. After the initial session, credit counselors will then follow up to ensure you understand the actions you needed to take and that you have been able to get started on the plan they developed. Another session may be necessary if you see a significant change to your financial situation.

What Do You Accomplish with Credit Counseling?

According to the NFCC, reputable counseling involves three things. First, a review of a client’s current financial situation. You cannot move forward unless you know where you are starting. Second, an analysis of the factors that contributed to the financial situation. You don’t want bad habits to undermine your progress. Lastly, a plan to address the situation without incurring negative amortization of debt. This gives you a place to start in improving your financial situation.

What Is the Difference Between Credit Counseling and Debt Management Programs?

A debt management plan is just one solution a credit counselor may recommend based on your financial situation. Having a debt management plan is not the same as credit counseling.

A debt management plan involves the credit counseling organization acting as an intermediary between you and your creditors. Each month you will deposit an agreed upon amount of money to your credit counseling agency, which will, in turn, apply it to your debts. The credit counseling agency works with your creditors to determine how the amount will be applied each month as well as negotiates interest rates and any fee waivers. It’s important to call your creditors directly to check whether they are open to negotiating interest rates or offering waivers for fees. In some cases, a credit counseling firm may promise to negotiate those things for you but be stonewalled when they discover a creditor isn’t even open to the discussion.

Before agreeing to a debt management plan, make sure you understand any fees associated with the debt management plan and any choices you might be giving up. For example, some debt management plans may have you agree to give up opening up new lines of credit for a specified period of time. Remember that a debt management plan is just one of many solutions a credit counselor may advise you to consider.

How Does Credit Counseling Impact Your Credit Score?

Not directly. While the fact you are in credit counseling may show up on a credit report, that fact does not affect your score. The actions you take as a result of credit counseling can impact your score. For example, if you don’t choose a reputable credit counseling agency, the agency may submit the payment on your behalf late to your creditors, which can damage your credit score. So even though you submitted your payment on time to the credit counseling agency, it is possible that the credit counseling agency will issue a late payment on your behalf. This is why it is important to make sure you use a reputable credit counseling agency.

Who Should Consider Credit Counseling and When?

While credit counseling is sometimes required, like in instances of bankruptcy, you always have an ability to seek credit counseling. Bankruptcy attorney Julie Franklin, based in Boston, Mass., explains, “For bankruptcy purposes, there are two course requirements — a debtor must complete the first credit counseling course prior to filing and obtain a certificate that is filed with the court in their initial bankruptcy petition documents. Post bankruptcy filing, the debtor is required to take a second course, and upon completion, the certificate that is issued must be filed with the court in order for the debtor to obtain an order of discharge.”

Anyone struggling with personal finance should consider credit counseling as a viable option so long as they use a reputable credit counseling agency. Franklin also notes that “the first credit counseling course is a tool for debtors as it compels the individual taking the course to closely examine the household assets, income, liabilities, and spending habits to determine if there’s a way to ‘save’ the debtor from having to file bankruptcy.” If you are considering bankruptcy, you will have to attend some credit counseling anyway, but it could also help you to avoid filing for bankruptcy.

Voluntary credit counseling might not help if you are already being sued to have a debt collected. However, you may be able to negotiate terms with the debt collector that result in a withdrawal of the suit if you agree to enroll in credit counseling and possibly a debt management program. Not all creditors will agree to such terms, but it is possible.

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Research Proves This is The Best Method to Pay Down Debt

If you’re struggling to pay off several debts at once, a group of researchers may have found the best strategy for success.

In the study, which was highlighted in the Harvard Business Review in December, researchers found people who concentrated on paying off just one of several debts before moving on to the others repaid their debt 15% faster than people who consolidated their debts and tackled them all at once.

The researchers, who hailed from Boston University, University of Alberta, University of Manitoba, and Georgetown University, collected anonymous data from more than 6,000 HelloWallet users over 36 months. HelloWallet is an online financial program that allows employees to make financial goals and track their spending and debt payments.

By analyzing the methods HelloWallet users used to pay off their debt — focusing on one small debt at a time or paying all debts at once — the researchers could tell which method worked best.

“Our research suggests that people are more motivated to get out of debt not only by concentrating on one account but also by beginning with the smallest,” Boston University professor Remi Trudel, co-author of the report, told the HBR.

If this strategy sounds familiar, it should. It’s exactly how the popular “debt snowball” strategy works. In this method, the key lies in building momentum early on by achieving small “wins,” paying off tiny debts first and working your way up to larger debts.

When you pay off your first  $200 account balance, you’re more likely to be excited to tackle the credit card with $500 on it, then the card with a $1,500 balance, and so on. Likewise, by focusing on smaller debts, consumers are doing the crucial work of building good financial habits at an early stage. Once those habits become ingrained in their financial picture, they are more likely to keep them up, even as they take on larger debts.

If anything, Havard’s research simply supports why the snowball method is so popular — it really works.

Of course, if you are a fan of the other popular debt payoff methods like the debt avalanche or debt consolidation, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on a path to failure. If you have the option to consolidate all of your debts into one single loan at a lower rate (for example, by taking advantage of a balance transfer), math is on your side. By consolidating your debts at a lower interest rate, you will spend less money on interest over time.

However, if your high interest debts also happen to be the largest of your debt balances, you run the risk of getting discouraged early on and losing momentum because it will take so much more time to pay them off. If you are not confident that you’ll be motivated to pay off one large debt balance, you might be better off — as the Harvard study shows — working on your smallest debt first, even if it means paying more interest in the long run.

If you’re still interested in exploring different debt paydown methods, here’s a quick recap of the debt snowball vs. debt avalanche.

The snowball

When you snowball debt, you order all of your debts by balance and prioritize paying off the account with the lowest amount first. The method was made popular by Dave Ramsey and is the approach many use when tackling debt. The hope is that paying off lower balance loans will motivate you to pay off the remainder of the debt.

The avalanche

Mathematicians would likely argue in favor of the debt avalanche method. The avalanche approach has you order your debt by interest rate in order of the balance. Then, you prioritize paying off the account balance with the highest interest rate and attack the rest of your debt that way. The argument for this method is that it saves you money in the long run since you can avoid paying the most interest and will likely address the principal of your debt faster.

If your account with the highest interest rate is also your highest or one of your highest accounts by amount, the “avalanche” could have the opposite effect of the snowball method. It can be difficult to stay motivated if you don’t feel as if you are making much progress, and you could be discouraged early on.

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The Best Way to Deal with Law School Debt

Statue of justice legal law lawyer

The burden of six-figure debt is the new norm for law school graduates. According to the American Bar Association, the average public law school graduate carries $88,000 in debt, and private law school graduates carry a crushing $127,000 in debt. If you’re a JD struggling to figure out how to start whittling down your debt, here’s what to do:

Step One: Take a Look at the Big Picture

You can’t develop your debt payoff strategy until you understand your financial big picture. Gaining a clear financial picture doesn’t have to be difficult. You can start by reading the free e-book, Richer in 7 Hours, which walks you through how to calculate your net worth, how to eliminate debt, and more. The key is finding out how much you spend and how much money you are bringing in. From there, you can figure out how much you can afford to put toward your loans over time. The book will help you understand your finances so you can create a strategy to eliminate your law school debt.

Step Two: Know Your Options

Once you’ve created a clear picture of your finances, you’ll need to understand the things you can do to manage and eliminate your debt.

For Federal Student Loan Debt

The federal government offers a variety of programs that help you manage your federal student loan debt. These options don’t apply to any of your private loans. If you have federal loans, you may qualify for income-driven repayment plans, loan consolidation, interest-free loan deferment, loan forbearance, repayment assistance, or Public Service Loan Forgiveness. These programs won’t lead you to rapid debt freedom, but they may alleviate some of the burden.

Income-Driven Repayment Plans

The federal government offers four income-based repayment programs:

  • Pay As You Earn (PAYE)
  • Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE)
  • Income-Based Repayment (IBR)
  • Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR)

We’ve outlined the major differences between the programs below.

 

Plan Definition of Discretionary Income Repayment Amount Maximum Repayment Period
PAYE Discretionary Income=

Your Income -1.5* (Poverty Guideline* for your family size and state)

10% of discretionary income up to the amount required by the standard 10-year repayment plan 20 years
REPAYE Discretionary Income=

Your Income -1.5* (Poverty Guideline* for your family size and state)

10% of discretionary income 25 years
IBR Discretionary Income=

Your Income -1.5* (Poverty Guideline* for your family size and state)

10% of discretionary income (15% if you borrowed prior to July 1, 2014) up to the amount required by the standard 10-year repayment plan 20 years (25 years if you borrowed prior to July 1, 2014)
ICR Discretionary Income= Your Income- (Poverty Guideline* for your family size and state) 20% of discretionary income up to the amount you pay for fixed payments on a 12-year plan 25 years

*You can look up the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Poverty Guidelines on their website.

 

Under income-driven repayment plans, you will need to “recertify” your income and family size every year to determine your payments. That just means picking up the phone to call your lender and asking to re-enroll in the program. These programs can be helpful as you grow your income, or if you’re seeking Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

Loan Consolidation

If income-driven repayment programs won’t save you any money based on your salary, but you have a high level of debt relative to your income, consider federal loan consolidation. Federal loan consolidations group your loans into a single loan with a single interest rate, and they extend the amount of time you have to pay. Consolidated loans over $60,000 have 30-year payment periods.

If you choose to consolidate your federal loans, you will still be eligible for income-driven repayment programs if you qualify in the future. Direct consolidation loans are eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness as well.

Your new interest rate will be determined by taking the weighted average of the interest rates on all the loans you wish to consolidate. In some cases, a consolidation will result in a longer payoff period, and dragging out the length of the loan could result in your paying more in interest.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) offers relief to those working for the government or eligible nonprofits. In order to be eligible, you will need your loans to be on an income-driven repayment plan or 10-year standard payment plan and make 120 payments (10 years’ worth of service) before the remaining amount is forgiven. The 120 student loan payments do not have to be consecutive.

If your loans are in a grace period, deferment, forbearance, or default, or you are currently in school, you cannot make a payment toward the 120-payment limit. Only federal loans qualify for PSLF, so do not refinance through a private lender if you’re pursuing loan forgiveness.

If you qualify for PSLF, you will not owe taxes on the amount forgiven after 120 payments.

Deferment

During loan deferment, you do not have to make payments on your loans, but you must apply and qualify for loan deferment before you can cease payments. Qualifying situations include being in school (including an approved fellowship), up to three years of unemployment, up to three years of economic hardship, and during active military duty (and the 13 months following active military duty).

If you have subsidized loans including Direct Subsidized Loans, Federal Perkins Loans, or Subsidized Federal Stafford Loans, the government will usually pay interest during deferment.

But if you have other federal loans, interest accrues during deferment, but you do not have to pay interest on the loans during deferment. Instead, the interest will be “capitalized” or added onto your principal loan balance when you resume repayment.

Forbearance

If you do not qualify for loan deferment, you may qualify for loan forbearance. You can request forbearance for illness or financial hardship, but your lender doesn’t have to grant it. On the other hand, your lender must grant forbearance under certain qualifying circumstances. Qualifying situations include when you work in a service position where you’ve received a national service award, work in a low-income school, or are activated as a member of the National Guard, among many situations.

During forbearance, you do not have to make loan payments, but interest continues to accrue. You can either make interest-only payments, or you can allow the interest to be added to your loan balance when the forbearance period ends.

For Private Student Loan Debt

Private student loans don’t come with all the same programs as federal loans, so there are no forgiveness or income-driven repayment options available. Instead, try implementing some of the following strategies. Your best option may be to refinance your private loans at a lower interest rate. But before you go that route, consider these tips:

Loan Repayment Assistance Programs

Many schools want to encourage their alumni to work in public service, and they offer modest assistance to some qualifying individuals. Loan repayment assistance programs can differ from school to school, but you may find valuable help if you choose to go into public service.

Seek Out a Signing Bonus

Some firms will offer to assist you with student loans if you commit to a multiyear contract with them. If you have multiple offers, consider negotiating for a student loan repayment bonus. New lawyers reported repayment bonuses of $2,500-$75,000 when they signed multiyear contracts.

Become a Technical Expert

Lawyers with a science, medical, or engineering background may receive offers to pay off all their student loans if they choose to become patent attorneys or work in the U.S. Patent Office. Lawyers with technical expertise remain rare, so firms and the government compete over these types of lawyers.

Implement an Aggressive Payment Plan

You could take the scrappy way out by just getting aggressive with your payments. You can do this by attacking one loan at a time with the maximum amount you can afford and paying the minimum on your other loans. You can calculate the interest you’ll save and how quickly you can pay off your debt using the Snowball vs. Avalanche Calculator.

Before you start paying down your debts, be sure that you’ve got an emergency fund in place, and that you’re taking advantage of any employer matching on your 401(k) plan.

Do Not Pay Off Private Loans with Credit Cards

Purposely putting your debt on credit cards for the purpose of bankruptcy is fraud, and it could lead to jail time. If you’re facing default on your private loans, do not pay them with credit cards that you think can be bankruptible. Additionally, law school loans that have been transferred to your credit cards cannot be discharged in bankruptcy court.

For Federal and/or Private Loans

Refinance at a Lower Rate

If you’re interested in saving money on interest, the best thing you can do is refinance your student loans at a lower rate. But don’t refinance unless you feel confident that you will not need to use the flexible repayment options for federal loans as outlined above. Once a federal loan is refinanced through a private lender, it will no longer be eligible for programs like forgiveness, income-driven repayment, forbearance, or deferment. Private loans do not qualify for any of the loan repayment help outlined above.

Refinance your loans with a company that can offer you the lowest rates or the most flexible terms. You can use the Compare & Save tool to help you learn about your refinancing options.

Step Three: Implement Your Strategy

Now that you understand your financial picture, and you know your options, you can implement a plan that will help you manage or eliminate your law school debt. Taking the right actions will help you deal with your law school debt.

The post The Best Way to Deal with Law School Debt appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

How This California Couple Paid Off $100,000 of Debt in 2 Years

Illustration by Kelsey Wroten
Illustration by Kelsey Wroten

When 31-year-old Priscilla Jones completed her MFA in film in 2011, she was left with a total of $96,000 of student loan debt from both her undergraduate and graduate studies. (She requested that we change her name for privacy reasons). Over the next three years, thanks to compounding interest charges, the original amount ballooned to $118,000. On her current payment plan, it would take another 15 years to pay off all her debt.

Rather than dragging the process out, she and her husband (we’ll call him Nathan), decided to aggressively pay down her debt. Over the next 22 months, they paid off $100,000 of the original loan balance — all while raising a young child in Los Angeles.

Here’s how they did it:

Making a pact

While Nathan, 41, was fully aware of Priscilla’s debt load when they got married in 2011, it wasn’t until 2014 — on Valentine’s Day, to be exact — when the couple opened the hood on Priscilla’s student loans to uncover what was lurking underneath.

“For the first few years of our marriage, we just couldn’t afford to buckle down to pay them off, so we didn’t really take a close look,” says Nathan.

The catalyst for examining Priscilla’s loans? In less than two months, one of the largest loans Priscilla carried — a total of $88,000 — would come out of forbearance. The additional loan payment would triple their monthly bill from $300 to $900. Two weeks later, they decided to dump their savings accounts, putting $24,000 toward her largest debt.

And then they made a pact: They would do everything they could to pay off the loans within three years.

Working overtime

On top of working a full-time job in operations at a tech startup, Priscilla took side jobs, working an additional 20 to 30 hours a week. She kept $600 a month from her salary for personal spending and used the rest to pay off her student loans. She and Nathan made sure to keep $5,000 to $10,000 in an emergency fund at all times.

Bonuses and promotions

They lived off of Nathan’s salary in management at a tech startup, and Nathan’s work bonuses went straight toward paying off the debt. When Nathan started his current job in 2012, he earned $53,000, including bonuses. His company soon saw tremendous growth. As a result, Nathan quickly ascended the ranks, and his income spiked dramatically. The couple’s combined salary in 2014 was $170k and $160k in 2015, and every penny they could pinch went toward their debt load.

“We think of ourselves as being very fortunate,” says Nathan. “But even if my income hadn’t grown as it did, we would’ve used the same mindset and tactics to pay off our loans. Instead of it taking three years, it would’ve taken 10.”

Never ‘act your wage’

Although they were in a high income bracket, no one would have guessed as much by looking at their spending habits. They lived as frugally as possible to focus on paying off the student loans. They stayed in the two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in Venice that Nathan had locked down at a low rate during the recession. They drove two beat-up cars that were paid off in full and had good gas mileage.

“We really had to examine our needs versus wants,” says Priscilla. While they’ve never been big spenders, and value community and experiences, they had to put some of their wants on hold. For instance, Nathan, who loves to invest, contributed just the minimum toward his employer’s 401(k) to qualify for the full matching contribution. Priscilla curbed any frivolous spending on clothes. They also put off getting new carpet and furniture, both of which needed desperately to be replaced.

They shopped at the Dollar Store, didn’t buy clothes that required dry cleaning, and refrained from traveling for pleasure. They paid as many bills as they could on their credit cards, which were paid in full each month. Any reward points they racked up went toward gift cards for restaurants and movies. A rare dinner out would be at El Pollo Loco or In-N-Out Burger.

“We turned it into a game, and had fun with it,” explains Priscilla. For instance, the couple placed a chalkboard in their kitchen and wrote on it the outstanding debt amounts and interest rates, along with specific dates for hitting their goals.

The ‘avalanche’ method

To prioritize which debts would be paid off first, they decided to use the ‘debt avalanche’ method. They aggressively knocked off the loan with the highest interest rate first, then worked their way down. They would challenge each other to save as much as they could toward paying off the loan. “Working together to pay off debt helped us bond,” adds Nathan.

“To stay motivated, we would obsessively calculate how much interest we were paying each day,” says Priscilla. “At one point we were paying $37 a day in interest alone.”

Taking time to celebrate

When they reached a debt payoff total of $100,000 in February 2015, they decided to ease up on their loan repayments. To celebrate, they rented a limo and had a night out on the town. They also finally were able to give their apartment a facelift. “We no longer have to move furniture around to hide the holes in the carpet anymore,” Priscilla says.

In September of this year, the couple made their final loan repayment and are completely debt- free.

They say that it’s essential to maintain perspective when paying off student debt.
“Remember, you’re not dying,” Nathan says. “Just focus on paying it off, and your debt will get crushed.”

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