Featured, Pay Down My Debt

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

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The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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.

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Life Events, Pay Down My Debt

What Happens to Loans When We Die?

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The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

You may not have to pay loans after you pass away, but that doesn’t mean they disappear into thin air. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer as to what happens to your loans when you die, but there are many factors that can affect them. Where you live, the types of loans you have, as well as who applied for them can determine what happens.

While it’s not fun to think about your eventual demise, it’s necessary to know if your debt could be passed onto another person.

Gathering Up Loans

When you pass on, your executor will notify creditors, hopefully as soon as possible. Whatever known creditors you have, the executor will notify them and forward a copy of your death certificate and request that they update their files. He or she will also notify the three major credit reporting agencies to notify them that you are no longer alive, which will help prevent identity theft. As well, the executor will then get a copy of your credit report to figure out what debts are outstanding.

When that is completed, the executor will go through probate, which means that your estate goes through a process of paying off bills and dividing what’s left to the state or whoever you named in your will.

When Someone May Be Responsible for Paying Back Your Loans

Simply put, your loans are the responsibility of your estate, which means everything that you owned up until your death. Whoever is responsible for dealing with your estate (usually your executor) will use those assets to pay off your debts. This could involve selling off property to get money to pay it off or writing checks to do so. The rest of it then will distributed according to the wishes in your will. If there isn’t enough money to pay off the debtors, then they’re usually out of luck.

However, this isn’t always the case. If you co-signed a loan or have joint accounts (like credit cards), then the account holders may be fully responsible to pay off the whole debt, no matter who incurred it.

If you live in a community property state, then your spouse could be responsible for paying off your loans. If you have property in Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, or Wisconsin, your spouse may have to pay back half of any community property from a marriage. This doesn’t include any loans you have that came before the marriage. However, Alaska only holds a spouse responsible if they enter into a community property agreement. All states have different rules, so it’s best to check what will apply to your situation.

There is also the “filial responsibility” law that could hold your adult children responsible for paying back loans that are related to medical or long-term care. The same works in reverse. Currently, there are around 30 states that enforce this law, including Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Some enforce this law pretty strictly, so it’s best to check with your state to see what could happen.

For more details on the different types of loans, read on to find out about what could happen to each when you pass on.

Credit Card Debt

If the credit card debt was yours and yours alone, then your estate is responsible for paying off the debt. Depending on which state you live in, creditors may only have a limited time to file a claim after you have died. If your estate goes through probate, then the executor will look at your assets and debts and determine which bills should be paid first, according to the law.

If there isn’t money left when it comes time to pay off your credit cards, those companies unfortunately have to call it a loss. Credit card companies cannot legally force family, friends, or heirs to pay back your debt unless you live in a community property state. In that case, your surviving spouse may be liable.

However, if the credit card is joint, the other account holder is responsible for it. That means if a family member or business partner signed the card application as a joint account owner, then he or she will need to help pay back the loan along with your estate. However, if your partner is just an authorized user (meaning he or she didn’t sign the application), then they’re not held responsible.

Mortgages and Home Equity Loans

There are several options for dealing with an outstanding mortgage after you have passed away. Due to the complexity of these options, it may be worth speaking with a local estate attorney.

If you are the sole owner and your mortgage has a due-on-sale clause, your lender may try to collect the entire balance of the loan or foreclose on the property. However, the CFPB has expanded protection for heirs who have inherited a home. The transfer of property after your death won’t trigger the Bureau’s ability-to-repay rule, making it easier for your heirs to pay off your loan or refinance.

In contrast, a home equity loan against your home is different. A lender may have the right to force someone who inherits the home to pay back the loan right away. Some lenders may work with your heirs to take over the payments or work out a plan, but you shouldn’t assume that will be the case. In a worst-case scenario, your heirs may have to sell your property to pay back your home equity loan.

Car Loans

Car loans are similar to the other types of debt we have discussed. The steps for handling this type of debt will depend on whose name is on the loan and where you live. If your heirs or co-signer are willing to take over your payments, the lender won’t need to take any action. However, the lender can repossess the car if the loan isn’t paid back.

Student Loans

If you have federal student loans, these will be discharged when you die. It will not be passed onto anyone else. If you were a student recipient of Parent PLUS loans, you’re also eligible for a death discharge. These loans will not be the responsibility of your estate. Your executor simply has to present an original death certificate or certified copy of your death certificate to your loan servicer.

However, if you and your spouse co-signed Parent PLUS loans on behalf of a student, your spouse will still be responsible for the balance.

Some private lenders may also offer a death discharge if you don’t have a co-signer. However, these policies vary by institution. You should review the terms of your loan for the specifics. Wells Fargo is an example of a company that may allow student loan forgiveness in the case of death.

However, if your private loan has a co-signer, your co-signer may be legally responsible to pay back your debts. Some companies may ask for the balance immediately. Also, if you live in a community property state, your spouse may be held responsible for your student loans if the debt was acquired during the marriage.

Medical Bills

If you have outstanding medical bills, nursing home bills, or any expense related to your long-term care, your spouse or family members may be responsible for paying it back per your state’s filial responsibility laws.

Your children could be held responsible for your medical bills if the following scenarios are true:

  • You receive care in a state with a filial responsibility law.
  • You don’t qualify for Medicaid while receiving care.
  • You can’t afford your bills, but your children can.
  • Your caregiver sues your children to collect on your unpaid bills.

Final Thoughts

The last thing your family members want to think about after you have died is outstanding loans. This is why it is essential to get organized in advance. It may be worth speaking with a financial planner regarding the specifics of your individual situation. They can help you review which options could best protect your heirs from your unpaid debt. Once you have passed away, your heirs should seek assistance from a qualified estate attorney.

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College Students and Recent Grads, Pay Down My Debt

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

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The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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*

2.565% - 6.490%


Variable Rate*

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now
earnestA+

20


Years

3.75% - 6.74%


Fixed Rate

2.75% - 6.23%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now
commonbondA+

20


Years

3.37% - 6.74%


Fixed Rate

2.56% - 6.48%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now
lendkeyA+

20


Years

3.25% - 7.26%


Fixed Rate

2.43% - 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 2.43% 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.

 

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Balance Transfer, Best of, Pay Down My Debt

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

Advertiser Disclosure

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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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 and get 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.

Transparency Score
Transparency Score
  • 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

Transparency Score
Transparency Score
  • 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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Transparency Score
  • Interest is not deferred during the balance transfer period
  • The range of the purchase interest rate based on your credit history (13.24% – 23.24%) 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.

Transparency Score
Transparency Score
  • 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.

Transparency Score
Transparency Score
  • 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.

Transparency Score
Transparency Score
  • 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.

aspire credit union card image

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.

Transparency Score
Transparency Score
  • 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.

TAGS:

Balance Transfer, Best of, Pay Down My Debt

9 Best 0% APR Credit Card Offers – April 2017

Advertiser Disclosure

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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 and get 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.

TAGS: ,

Balance Transfer, Pay Down My Debt

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

Advertiser Disclosure

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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 and get 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

If you don’t think Chase is for you, consider Discover, which offers an intro 0% APR for 18 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 5.99% 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. One of our favorite lenders is SoFi, which has some of the lowest interest rates on the market if you have good or excellent credit. Variable interest rates start as low as 4.99%*. You can apply now on their website, without impacting your credit score, by clicking on the apply button below.

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Balance Transfer, Featured, News, Pay Down My Debt

Can a Balance Transfer Hurt Your Credit Score?

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The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

 

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.

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Credit Cards, Featured, Pay Down My Debt

Guide to Credit Counseling: 7 Key Questions to Ask

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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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Featured, Pay Down My Debt, Strategies to Save, Time Perspective

5 Reasons It Is So Difficult to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

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5 Reasons It Is So Difficult to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

Most of us start the year with high hopes for the health of our bodies, minds, careers, and — of course—bank accounts. But you probably don’t need a statistician to tell you that when it comes to keeping your New Year’s resolutions, the odds are stacked against you.

A popular study published in the University of Scranton’s Journal of Clinical Psychology found that while nearly half of Americans usually make resolutions, just 8% are successful in keeping them, and about one-quarter report that they fail to meet their goals year after year.

[Are you ready to become debt-free in 2017? MagnifyMoney has created a FREE online guide to help you get out of debt.] 

Why do these plans fall apart so easily? We talked to two certified financial planners to find out what held people back from sticking to their self-improvement plans in years past — and what can be done to overcome these obstacles in 2017.

No. 1: Your resolutions are unrealistic or unclear.

Vague, lofty goals like “lose weight” or “save money” can do more harm than good; undefined targets can leave you overwhelmed and discouraged when you don’t immediately succeed. That’s why resolutions should start small, according to Kristen Euretig, certified financial planner and founder of Brooklyn Plans in Brooklyn, N.Y., a company specializing in helping today’s women with their finances. “Take into account a realistic but ambitious goal that can be achieved in a year and would be forward momentum toward an even larger goal,” says Euretig. “Buying a house may be too much to tackle in a year, but saving the first 10% of a down payment could be a realistic starting point that would also be quite an accomplishment.”

Another trick to keep you from getting overwhelmed? Be as specific as possible. Euretig recommends breaking up big resolutions into defined subgoals with set deadlines. Rather than resolving to pay off student debt, says Euretig, start by figuring out if your payment plan is working to your advantage. That way, you’ll better understand the time and effort required to reach your goal and appreciate any incremental progress along the way.

No. 2: Your resolutions don’t align with your needs or lifestyle.

Ever find yourself rationalizing your way out of a behavioral change? Maybe you can’t go to the gym today because you have important errands to run, or you neglect that book on your nightstand because there is a movie on Netflix you’ve been meaning to watch. Your reasons may be legitimate, but using them as a means of abandoning your self-improvement plan is detrimental to you in the long term.

Melissa Ellis, certified financial planner at Sapphire Wealth Planning in Overland Park, Kan., knows that a thorough understanding of your current behaviors and lifestyle can help you anticipate the setbacks you will face throughout the year and think up solutions that will keep you on track when challenges arise. If your goal is to max out your Roth IRA, Ellis notes, you need to make sure you have the discretionary income to make it happen; if you know at the start of the year that you’ll have to cut back somewhere else in your budget (like your take-out habit) to find the extra money, you’re more likely to stick to the plan.

No. 3: You sacrifice your future well-being for your present happiness.

Most of us treat our future self as a different person. Unfortunately, it’s often a person we don’t seem to care much about. This phenomenon — our willingness to sacrifice our future well-being for immediate gratification — is called myopia temporal discounting. It’s one reason why many people continually put off diets, start saving for retirement later than they should, or rack up credit card debt for items or experiences they can’t afford. In fact, credit cards are the ultimate trap for people who like to live in the present vs. think about the future.

“It’s easier to put off the intangible, because it’s not an immediate need,” says Ellis. Try connecting with your future self by visualizing what you would like your life to look like at age 40, 60, or 75, and think about what steps, however small, you can take today to make that vision a reality.

The Time Personality Quiz - Be Well Versed In Your Financial Future

You should know your financial personality — that is, how you perceive time and how that perception impacts your financial  habits — before you make any financial resolutions. The better you understand your strengths and weaknesses, the more likely you will be to succeed.

Take the Time Personality quiz here > 

No. 4: You don’t hold yourself accountable.

Can you remember what your resolutions for last year were? It typically only takes about three weeks for most of us to get back into our old routines and forget all our intentions for the new year, especially if you don’t have a time frame for achieving the goal or a way to measure your progress.

“The best way to stick to resolutions is to make them real and to hold yourself accountable,” says Euretig. “Write goals down. Make a vision board. Put a picture of the vision board as the wallpaper of your phone. Share your resolutions with an accountability partner who you can check in with along the way or with your social media community.” Setting aside time each week or each month to check in with yourself about your success will help you remember the resolutions throughout the year. If you need an extra boost, tap a friend or family member who can help remind you to stay on track or, even better, join you on the journey.

No. 5: You forget to reward yourself.

It’s easy to lose motivation as the year goes on and you settle into old routines. Any sense of urgency goes away, and you can end up putting off behavioral changes indefinitely until it’s January again.

That’s why Ellis recommends rewarding yourself throughout the year if you are successfully sticking to your resolution. If you meet your goals of, say, paying off a department store credit card, maybe buy yourself a pair of shoes — but be sure to do it in cash, so you’re not buying something you can’t afford and racking up more debt. “It’s something concrete you can look at to remind you that you have made a change,” Ellis says.

Whether your goals are about money, your career, relationships, or fitness, it’s important to remember that good things typically don’t come easily. Taking time to set the right goals, define an execution plan, and regularly track your progress will make sticking to your resolutions a little less painful — and a lot more likely to happen.

Are you ready to become debt-free in 2017? MagnifyMoney has created a FREE online guide to help you get out of debt.

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Featured, News, Pay Down My Debt

Americans with Holiday Debt Added $1,003 on Average This Year

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The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

With the holiday season drawing to a close, some Americans are going to find themselves nursing a pretty serious debt hangover.

In our second annual holiday debt survey, MagnifyMoney found consumers who took on debt this holiday season will kick off the New Year with an average of $1,003 worth of new debt. That is up from $986 in 2015, for a year-over-year increase of 1.7%.

Our survey consisted of a national sample of 552 Americans who reported they added debt during the holidays.

Here are key findings:

Most people who went into debt didn’t plan on it

Racking up credit card debt isn’t exactly a problem in and of itself, so long as you have the cash on hand to pay it off quickly. But in our survey, we found the vast majority — 65.2% — of consumers who took on debt did so unexpectedly this year, and didn’t budget for the extra expenses.

It’s easy to imagine scenarios in which people might spend more than they can afford over the holidays. Last-minute gifts, family emergencies, and, for some, fewer work hours, can all add up to a hefty credit card bill if not planned for in advance.

Most people will be paying off their debt for 4 months or more

Less than one-quarter of those surveyed said they can pay off their debt within one month. Nearly half (46%) predict they’ll need four months or more to pay off their holiday debt, or will only make the minimum monthly payments.

Nearly 12% of respondents said they only plan on making minimum monthly payments, which can extend repayment for years.

Even a seemingly meager amount of debt can quickly balloon over time if it isn’t paid off aggressively. We can illustrate this using the MagnifyMoney Credit Card Payoff Calculator.

A person carrying an average debt load of $1,003 who makes one $25 minimum payment per month would need 58 months (4.8 years) to pay off their debt. That calculation assumes an average APR of 16%.

On top of paying off their principal balance of $1,003, over that time they would pay an additional $442 worth of interest for a grand total of $1,445.

Credit cards were the most common form of debt

For another year, credit cards reign as the most popular source of holiday debt. In fact, even more consumers reported using credit cards for holiday debt this year than in 2015 — 59.9% vs. 52%.

Unfortunately, the number of consumers who turned to payday loans this year increased, from 6% in 2015 to 7.1% in 2016. Payday and title loans are hands down the most costly options for people who find themselves in need of cash.

We did find one bright spot, however. This year, the rate of consumers who said they used store credit cards fell dramatically, from 30% in 2015 to 17.1% in 2016. Store credit cards can often come with painfully high interest rates and other gotchas like dreaded deferred interest policies.

Shoppers are stuck with higher rates this year

This year, half of survey respondents (50%) said their debt carries an APR of 10% and above. Among those, 34.7% have APRs between 10-19% and 16% carry APRs above 20%.

The rate of people who are stuck with 20% or higher APRs rose significantly year over year, from 9% in 2015 to 16% this year.

But most people won’t bother to get a lower rate

Despite the fact that almost half of respondents expect to take 4 months or more to pay off their debt, a mere 13% of respondents said they plan to shop around to find a better rate with a different bank or loan. That’s even worse than last year, when 22% of respondents said they would shop around for a better rate.

The most cited reason for not wanting to shop around is not wanting to deal with another bank, noted by 20.9% of respondents this year.

Using the MagnifyMoney credit card payoff calculator, we found a consumer with $1,003 in debt at a 16% rate making minimum payments would shave over a year off debt repayment and save over $400 in interest payments by finding a 0% balance transfer.

Millennials were most likely to go into debt over the holidays

Among all age groups, people ages 24-35 were most likely to say they went into debt this holiday season with a rate of 14.3%. With the exception of 45-54-year-olds, the likelihood of going into debt decreased with age. Seniors were least likely to say they went into debt, with a rate of 7.6%.

How to free yourself from holiday debt:

In preparation for the new year, MagnifyMoney released the 2nd edition of its free 45 page Debt Free Forever eBook – that you can download to prepare your action plan, tailored to whether your situation calls for a quick switch to a lower rate, or more significant debt payoff advice.

Key tips for beating the debt cycle include:

  1. Understand where your money actually went. The best way to fix your spending problem is to understand where the money has actually gone. And there are great apps, like LevelMoney or Mint, which can help you understand where your money has gone over the last 3 months. We particularly like LevelMoney, because it splits your expenditure into fixed, recurring expenses and variable expenses.
  2. Review your credit report from all three reporting agencies. You need to know what is on your credit report in order to build a good credit score. You can download your report for free at AnnualCreditReport.com for all three bureaus.
  3. Understand your credit score and put together a plan to improve your score during 2017. People with the best scores never charge more than 10% of their available credit and pay their bills on time every month. Not only is that good for your score, but it is good for your wallet. And you can now get your official FICO score for free in a number of places. Otherwise, you can get your VantageScore at sites like CreditKarma.
  4. If you have a good credit score, your debt can probably be refinanced. Mortgages, student loans, auto loans and credit cards (with a balance transfer or personal loan) can all be refinanced. Find ways to lock in much lower interest rates now before rates go up to help you pay off your debt faster. But avoid extending the term to get a lower payment. The biggest trap people fall into with refinancing is that they lower their rate and extend their term, like taking a 30 year refinance on a mortgage that’s set to be paid off in 15 years. By doing this, you might end up paying more money in the long run. Second, be careful before you refinance federal student loans, because you give up valuable protection.
  5. Paying off the debt with the highest interest rate first will save you the most money (the debt ‘avalanche’ method), but a recent study shows you’re more likely to stick to paying off your debt if you pay the debt with the smallest balance in full first (the debt ‘snowball’ method), even if it doesn’t have the highest interest rate. That’s because small ‘wins’ help build momentum to keep you motivated.
  6. Automate all of your payments. Data has consistently shown that automating decisions greatly increases the likelihood of achieving your goals. To build that emergency fund, set up automatic transfers from your checking to your savings account. (Even better, get a higher interest rate online account and keep it completely separate from your checking account). To build your retirement savings, automate your 401(k) or IRA contributions. And to pay your credit card bill, automate your monthly payments.
  7. ‘Net worth’ is not just a concept for the rich, and you need to focus on your net worth now. Net worth is a simple concept: it is what you own minus what you owe. Building wealth and being financially responsible means you are building your net worth. A good salary doesn’t help your net worth if you’re spending it all on your car and clothes and not saving each year. Focus on the right number: building your net worth.

Before you consider a balance transfer:

If you need to buy yourself more time while you trim expenses and work on paying down your debt, a balance transfer can be a useful tool, but one that can backfire if you’re not disciplined. A balance transfer is simply a process where you transfer the balance from one or more credit cards onto a single new credit card with a different rate.

You can use our balance transfer calculator to estimate whether getting a balance transfer credit card will help you save money and pay off your debt faster.

If it will help, you’ll first need to check your credit score to see where you stand since you’ll be applying for another credit card. Balance transfer offers typically require a credit score of 680 or higher to be approved.

You can check your FICO score for free using Discover’s free FICO Score Card which is even available to non-customers who don’t use Discover products, or use another free source.

It’s also important to do the math before signing up for a new credit card. Be honest about how much you can afford to pay each month to determine how much a balance transfer will save you in the long run.

And keep these tips in mind:

  • Many balance transfer offers have fees of 3% or more. While that can be worth it for large balances, make sure you compare the fee versus what you will save in interest and when you think you’ll pay off the debt.
  • On most cards, balance transfer offers are only valid if you complete the transfer within the first 60 days.
  • One month before your rate expires, look for another offer because when the 0% period expires, the interest rate will rise significantly.
  • Don’t spend on the new card. Unless the 0% offer extends to purchases, you will be charged interest on your spending and rack up more debt.

2016 Post-Holiday Debt Survey Questions

Methodology: MagnifyMoney surveyed 552 U.S. adults who reported they added debt over the holidays via Google Consumer Surveys from December 26 – 27.

Average Debt Among Shoppers Who Said They Went into Debt Over the Holidays

2016: $1,003

2015: $986

Did you go into debt this holiday season?

Age 25-34: 14.3%
Age 35-44: 10.9%
Age 45-54: 12.5%
Age 55-64: 8.5%
Age 65+: 7.6%


If you went into debt, did you plan to go into debt this holiday season?

Yes: 34.8%

No: 65.2%

How much debt did you take on over the holidays?

$0-999: 62.1%

$1,000-1,999: 19.7%

$2,000-2,999: 6.6%

$3,000-3,999: 2.8%

$4,000-4,999: 0.7%

$5,000-5,999: 1.5%

$6,000+: 6.3%

Where did your holiday debt come from?

Credit cards: 59.9%

Store cards: 17.1%

Personal loan: 8.9%

Payday / title loan: 7.1%

Home equity loan: 5.3%

When will you pay the debt off?

I’m only making minimum payments: 11.8%
1 month: 23.9%
2 months: 13.8%
3 months: 16.2%
4 months: 7.4%
5 months+: 27.0%

Will you try to consolidate your debt or shop around for a good balance transfer rate?

Yes: 13.1%
No – Don’t want to deal with another bank: 20.9%
No – Too many traps: 16.0%
No – Rate is already low: 26.3%
No: – Don’t know enough about it: 11.0%
No – Wouldn’t qualify: 12.6%


How stressed are you about your holiday debt?

Stressed: 29.7%

Not Stressed: 70.3%

What interest rate are you paying on your debt?

Less than 9%: 41.7%

10-19%: 34.7%

20-29%: 16.0%

 

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