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Your Guide to Refugee Travel Loans — And How to Repay Them

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refugee travel loans

Getting to the United States as a refugee when you have practically nothing, can be a daunting endeavor. As a result, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) offers travel loans designed to defray the cost of plane tickets and other transportation costs.

Because these are refugee travel loans and not a free gift, those coming to the United States are expected to begin repaying the loans soon after they arrive. Here’s what you need to know about getting and repaying a refugee travel loan.

Refugee travel loans: The good and the bad

So, how does someone without credit or income get a loan? Loans are funded by the State Department and administered through the International Organization for Migration (IOM). There is no credit check. All that happens is that, when someone is cleared for resettlement in the United States, the IOM approaches them and begins the process with paperwork.

“Getting the travel loan is simpler because it’s done overseas,” says Zeze Rwasama, the director of the Refugee Center located at the College of Southern Idaho (CSI), in Twin Falls, Idaho. “American requirements don’t apply.”

Rwasama points out that the refugees sign a promissory note that details the repayment schedule for the loan. “They have to begin repaying the loan within six months. Hopefully by then they have a job.”

Travel loans can range between three and nine years, depending on how much is borrowed. Just the cost of plane tickets can be more than $1,000 and if a family is coming over together, it’s not uncommon to have bigger loans. The average note, according to the State Department, is about $2,740.

What happens when you can’t repay a refugee travel loan

Most refugee travel loans are eventually repaid. The State Department reports that 75.4% of IOM travel loan amounts are repaid within 15 years. Rwasama says that, for refugees coming through his resettlement center, the default rate is extremely low.

However, the fact that most refugee travel loans are ultimately repaid doesn’t mean that some people don’t have problems. The average monthly repayment amount is $84. That might not seem like a lot to average Americans, but to refugees struggling to start over again, that can seem like more than they can handle.

Refugees who come to the U.S. basically have a blank slate. Each time you make a move with a loan or other type of credit, it’s recorded in your credit history. The items in your credit history are used to create a credit score, which is checked when you want to move into a new home, get insurance, buy a car or even purchase a new smartphone.

Loans made through the IOM aren’t subject to the same credit requirements, but once you have the loan and are settled in the United States, the story changes. Rwasama warns that, even though you don’t need credit to get a refugee travel loan, your payment history will be reported to the credit bureaus in the United States. “Missing payments can lead to credit problems and cause more challenges for refugees,” he says. Not paying on the travel loan immediately results in lower credit scores, making it difficult to access other financial resources later.

On the flip side, though, the travel loan provides a way for refugees to establish a credit history. As you make your loan payments, you start building a good credit history, resulting in a higher score that can be beneficial later. Rwasama points out that in the United States, it’s practically impossible to advance financially without a credit history. “When you make your loan payments, you can begin building credit so you can buy other things,” he says.

How to deal with a travel loan you can’t repay

When you can’t make your loan payments, you do have options. First of all, says Rwasama, it’s possible to get an extension on loan repayment. Some of the factors that allow for a deferral or restructuring of terms include:

  • Unemployment
  • Temporary medical disability
  • Full-time school attendance

If you meet the requirements, you might receive more time to start repaying your loan, rather than being forced to begin making payments right at six months, according to Rwasama. Additionally, if something comes up after you’ve started repayment, you can stop payments for a while or have the repayment schedule changed.

On top of that, there are times the IOM is willing to cancel your refugee travel loan, including bankruptcy, permanent disability or to care for an orphaned child. Additionally, if you’re repatriated to your home country, the IOM might cancel your debt. Finally, the IOM can cancel the loan if you die so that your heirs aren’t saddled with the debt.

No matter your situation, though, Rwasama points out that it’s vital to remain in contact with your resettlement agency. You shouldn’t just stop making payments because you can’t. Talking with a contact at the agency can help you understand your options and reduce the negative impact on your credit history.

“All refugees are assigned to a resettlement agency, and it’s important to check in,” says Rwasama. “They can help you navigate all of these issues and help you get an extension if you need it.”

Other struggles refugees face after migrating

It’s not just the money, though. While repaying a refugee travel loan provides challenges on its own, refugees are dealing with a number of other hurdles.

“The biggest challenge is the language,” says Rwasama. “Many refugees don’t speak English, and many have no schooling. How can you have school when you’ve been in a refugee camp for 15 years or more?”

Rwasama points out that his refugee center focuses a great deal on helping those who come through learn the language. “Without knowing the language, it’s hard to get a job,” he says.
Because a job is key to self-sufficiency, that’s one of the main focuses refugee centers have. Rwasama says the CSI Refugee Center provides a number of services designed to help refugees get a solid start. Basic but necessary lifestyle activities and tasks can present difficulties to refugees, Rwasama points out, including:

  • Transportation: Getting to work or to the grocery store can be difficult without transportation. The CSI Refugee Center provides transportation for a limited number of months, until refugees can get their own car or become proficient at public transit.
  • Financial system: It can be confusing to learn the banking system in the U.S. Navigating account setup, understanding how it works and then using it to one’s advantage can be frustrating. It’s easy to make mistakes when paying off debt because of the complexity of the system.
  • Grocery shopping: It’s not just the language that makes this difficult, Rwasama points out. The concept of shopping in large supermarkets with check out lanes and using a debit card to pay is different than what many refugees are used to.

Even understanding the postal system can be a challenge. “We have to teach them everything,” says Rwasama. “It’s so different from what they’re used to. We help as much as we can so they can be self-sufficient faster.”

Resources for refugees: From financial to emotional support

It’s possible to find help as a refugee. Rwasama emphasizes the importance of using the resources available at refugee resettlement agencies. Because each refugee is assigned one, it’s important for you to go there for additional help, whether you need emotional support or help with navigating the financial system.

The CSI Refugee Center offers orientations and provides the basic necessities so refugees can move forward as quickly as possible.

“We are in an area where the cost of living is low and wages are okay,” says Rwasama. “It’s harder in bigger places that are more expensive.”

In addition to refugee resettlement centers, there are other organizations that provide different levels of support to refugees. Some places to consider include:

  • Office of Refugee Resettlement: This office is located within the Administration for Children & Families at the Department of Health & Human Services. You can find help accessing various resources, as well as see state-by-state programs.
  • International Rescue Committee: Nonprofit organization that helps refugees navigate the legal system and find resources to help them thrive.
  • Refugees Helping Refugees: This nonprofit focuses mainly on refugees in Western New York. They provide classes, training and other resources to help refugees.
  • International Refugee Assistance Project: Focuses on providing legal assistance and other help to refugees.

Also, many states also have their own refugee resources. Check with your state to see what’s available. For example, Washington offers cash and medical assistance to refugees during their first eight months. You can also check to see if your state has a specific program for refugees. Idaho’s Office for Refugees isn’t affiliated with the state’s government, but it offers community meetings, various resources and ways to get involved.

Getting help and access to resources is important, and many refugees integrate in their communities. Being able to participate and have the help can provide refugees with a feeling of belonging to their adopted communities. In fact, on average, labor force participation rates rise to or exceed native-born rates, according to the Urban Institute.

Results from well-supported refugees also include:

  • Reduced reliance on public assistance
  • U.S. citizenship
  • Improved English language proficiency
  • High educational attainment for refugee youth
  • Community contribution
  • Homeownership
  • Establish businesses

“Most of our refugees are supposed to be self-sufficient by the time they’ve been here eight months,” says Rwasama. “We provide a lot of support and it pays off.”

Bottom line

While paying off refugee loans can be a daunting task, it is possible. And, if you need help, it’s possible to find it. Start with your assigned resettlement center, and look for resources beyond those. Many communities offer resources aimed at low-income residents — not just refugees — and it’s possible to look to those resources as well as using what’s available through refugee programs.

“In my five years at the CSI center, every family who has come through has become self-sufficient,” Rwasama says. “There are a lot of resources if you know how to ask for them.”

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Miranda Marquit
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Miranda Marquit is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Miranda here

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

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

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Updated – March 20, 2019

Digging out of credit card debt 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 racked up credit card 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.

You also need to understand what motivates you to succeed. Do you want to pay down your credit card 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?

Here’s a couple strategies consider as you learn the best way to handle credit card debt — and pay it off quickly.

2 common credit card debt repayment strategies

These repayment strategies can help you pay off credit card debt quickly. Keep in mind, you can use these strategies even for non-credit-card debt:

  • Debt avalanche: Focus on paying off the credit card with the highest interest rate first. Then, work your way down. This strategy can save you money on interest and get you out of debt sooner.
  • Debt snowball: Pay off your smallest debts first. Doing so can motivate you to continue making payments as you climb out of debt.

You don’t necessarily need to pick the repayment strategy that gets you out of debt the fastest. After all, if your repayment strategy doesn’t keep you motivated, you may not stick to it.

Using a personal loan or balance transfer credit card

As you seek to repay your debt, you could consider a personal loan or balance transfer credit card with a lower interest rate than on your existing debt. Transferring your debt to one of these financial products could help you reduce long-term interest costs.

But you’ll first need to learn whether or not you’re eligible. Your credit score will play a big role in determining your eligibility for a personal loan or balance transfer card. Use our widget below to figure out if a personal loan or a balance transfer is the best option for you!

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If you have a credit score above 640, 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. In just a few minutes, with a simple online form, you can get matched with multiple lenders. People with excellent credit can see APRs below 10%. But even if your credit isn’t perfect, you might be able to find a good loan to fit your needs.

Not sure what your credit score is? Click here to learn how and where to find out. If you know your credit score needs some work but not sure of what can be done, click here.

If you have a score above 700, you could also qualify for 0% balance transfer offers. We will talk more about balance transfers below but this option is the best way to pay off credit card debt if you’re able to qualify for a 0% APR balance transfer credit card.

A credit score of less than 600 will make it difficult for you to qualify for either option. If you have a credit score less than 640, struggling to make monthly debt payments and would like to explore your options to reduce your debt by up to 50%, then please click our option below to customize a personal debt relief plan.

Custom Debt Relief Plan

Now let’s talk about the financial tools to add to 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

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.

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Regular APR
14.24% - 25.24% Variable
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MagnifyMoney regularly surveys the market to find the best balance transfer credit cards. If you would like to see what other options exist, beyond Chase and Discover, you can start there.

promo-balancetransfer-halfIt also has tips to make sure you do a balance transfer safely. If you follow them you’ll save thousands on your debt by remaining disciplined.

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 at multiple lenders without hurting your credit score, and find the best deal to pay off your debt faster.

Personal loan interest 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. If you want to shop for a personal loan, we recommend starting at LendingTree. With a single online form, dozens of lenders will compete for your business. Only a soft credit pull is completed, so your credit score will not be harmed. People with excellent scores can see low APRs (sometimes below 6%). And people with less than perfect scores still have a good chance of finding a lender to approve them.

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A Personal Loan can offer funds relatively quickly once you qualify you could have your funds within a few days to a week. A loan can be fixed for a term and rate or variable with fluctuating amount due and rate assessed, be sure to speak with your loan officer about the actual term and rate you may qualify for based on your credit history and ability to repay the loan. A personal loan can assist in paying off high-interest rate balances with one fixed term payment, so it is important that you try to obtain a fixed term and rate if your goal is to reduce your debt. Some lenders may require that you have an account with them already and for a prescribed period of time in order to qualify for better rates on their personal loan products. Lenders may charge an origination fee generally around 1% of the amount sought. Be sure to ask about all fees, costs and terms associated with each loan product. Loan amounts of $1,000 up to $50,000 are available through participating lenders; however, your state, credit history, credit score, personal financial situation, and lender underwriting criteria can impact the amount, fees, terms and rates offered. Ask your loan officer for details.

As of 28-Feb-2019, LendingTree Personal Loan consumers were seeing match rates as low as 3.99% (3.99% APR) on a $10,000 loan amount for a term of three (3) years. Rates and APRs were based on a self-identified credit score of 700 or higher, zero down payment, origination fees of $0 to $100 (depending on loan amount and term selected).

If you don’t want to shop at LendingTree, you can see our list of the best personal loans here.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Brian Karimzad
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Brian Karimzad is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brian at [email protected]

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Are Balance Transfers the Best Way to Pay Off Debt?

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When you’re buried under a pile of debt, you’ll need to go beyond making the minimum payments if you hope to get debt-free as quickly as possible. And with interest rates on an upward swing, it may not be something you can afford to ignore.

This is where balance transfer credit cards come into play. Once you understand how they work, they can be a powerful tool that lets you temporarily pause your interest payments — and chip away at your principal balances faster.

MagnifyMoney tapped the experts to unpack everything you need to know about balance transfers. Here’s how to master the ins and outs of one of the most effective debt repayment options available.

What is a balance transfer?

It’s all in the name. A balance transfer involves taking one or more credit card balances and transferring them to a different card that has a lower interest rate. The ideal situation is to roll everything over to a card that has a 0% APR promotional period. This essentially eliminates the interest for a set period, giving you a chance to catch your breath and, if all goes according to plan, pay off the balance before the interest kicks in.

To pull off a balance transfer, you can either open a new low- or no-interest credit card, or look to your existing cards that you’ve already paid off to see if there are any deals to be had. According to David Metzger, a Chicago-based certified financial planner and founder of Onyx Wealth Management, it isn’t uncommon to find 0% interest rate promotions on your existing cards.

“If you’ve got multiple cards, chances are you get offers like that all the time,” he said.

If not, don’t be afraid to reach out to your credit card companies to see if they have any deals up for grabs. If they don’t, or you don’t have the credit capacity on your existing cards, you can shop online for a balance transfer card.

As for the promotional introductory period, it varies from offer to offer, with the best rates and terms generally going to those who’ve got excellent credit. Those with a minimum credit score of 680 can expect transfer periods that last anywhere from 12 to 21 months. Keep in mind that some offers tack on a balance transfer fee to the tune of 0% to 4%, so it pays to read the fine print.

How balance transfers can save you money

Temporarily eliminating your interest rate can translate to pretty significant savings. Let’s say you have the following open balances, and you pay $100 per month on each:

  • $1,000 with 18.00% APR
  • $2,000 with 16.00% APR
  • $800 with 20.00% APR

If you stay on this path, you’ll shell out $500 in interest and get out of debt in 24 months. But a balance transfer with 0% APR for 15 months will keep that $500 in your pocket. Your monthly payment won’t change, and you’ll also pay off the balance nine months faster. From a numbers-and-sense perspective, it’s a no-brainer.

“You can save a ridiculous amount in interest payments, but the name of the game is to more or less come close to paying the balance off completely before that transition over to that higher interest rate,” Lucas Casarez, a Fort Collins, Colo.-based certified financial planner and founder of Level Up Financial Planning, told MagnifyMoney.

Applying for a balance transfer credit card

As Metzger mentioned, turn first to any existing credit cards that can absorb some new debt. Are there any balance transfer offers available? If not, the best place to search and compare balance transfer offers is online. According to Casarez, the following factors play the biggest role in the kinds of deals for which you’ll be eligible:

  • A good credit score: You won’t qualify for much if your credit score is below 680. At the time of this writing, the longest promo periods with 0% interest were reserved for this bunch. Why? A lower credit score is a red flag to credit card companies that you may be a risky borrower.
  • Reliable income: Your credit score doesn’t stand alone. “You could have the best credit score in the world, but lenders still want to know that you have the ability to pay your bill,” Casarez said.

He adds that folks in retirement, for example, may have a tougher time qualifying for a worthwhile balance transfer since their money may come more from retirement accounts rather than Social Security or pensions. Casarez does clarify, however, that credit card companies typically want to approve you.

“These banks make a lot of money the longer that your current balance is at a higher interest rate,” he said.

Discover it® Balance Transfer

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Rates & Fees

Read Full Review

Discover it® Balance Transfer

Regular APR
14.24% - 25.24% Variable
Intro Purchase APR
0% for 6 months
Intro BT APR
0% for 18 months
Annual fee
$0
Rewards Rate
5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate, 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
Balance Transfer Fee
3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*
Credit required
good-credit
Excellent/Good

Wells Fargo Platinum Visa Card

The information related to Wells Fargo Platinum Visa Card has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

Wells Fargo Platinum Visa Card

Intro Purchase APR
0% for 18 months
Intro BT APR
0% for 18 months on qualifying balance transfers
Regular Purchase APR
13.74%-27.24% (Variable)
Annual fee
$0
Credit required
good-credit
Excellent/Good

3 questions to ask before transferring your debt

If you’re looking to save money and get out of debt faster, balance transfers are a powerful weapon to have in your arsenal — if you know how to use them wisely. Here’s what to consider before giving it a go.

1. Do you understand why you’re in debt?

This strategy won’t work if you don’t get to the root of why you’re in debt to begin with. What kinds of purchases make up the bulk of your existing credit card statements? Whether they’re living expenses, splurges or surprise pop-up bills, it’s time to revisit your budget to prevent falling into the same patterns again. After your balance transfer is complete, seeing $0 balances on your old credit cards can create serious temptation.

“If you don’t have a plan, balance transfers may be something that allow you to spend even more money, so it could put you further into the hole,” Casarez said. “It’s like a hot potato you’re passing around, but there’s going to come a day when you have to pay up.”

Having emergency savings on hand provides an additional safety net because you won’t need a credit card to see you through your next unexpected bill. Our insiders recommend building a $1,000 mini-emergency fund while you’re paying off debt.

2. Can you pay off your debt before the introductory period ends?

Once your budget and emergency fund are in shape, it’s time to shop around online for balance transfer offers. Ones with the lowest transfer fees and longest 0% introductory periods are the best, but here’s the catch: This strategy only makes sense if you can pay off the balance before that period ends, at which point you’ll be slammed with interest charges on the remaining balance.

Standard interest rates after the introductory promo period ends are generally higher than other credit cards. And if you miss a payment, the credit card company may cancel your promo period.

3. Are you OK with taking a short-term credit hit?

Opening a new balance transfer card requires a hard credit inquiry, which will result in a short-term dip in your credit score. Your score may also take a small hit if the transfer itself uses up more than 30% of your new credit line. (How much you owe accounts for 30% of your FICO score.) But Metzger said it may be worth it if you’re ultimately eliminating high-interest debt faster.

“Your score will improve much faster than it would have had you not engaged in the strategy,” he said. “You take a small step backward for a huge step forward, if you’ve got the discipline to do it.”

Metzger does suggest using caution with balance transfers if you plan on financing a big purchase, such as a mortgage or car, within the next month or two. Depending on your financial health, slight fluctuations in your credit score could prevent you from getting the best interest rates on these purchases.

3 alternatives to a balance transfer

If a balance transfer isn’t in the cards for you right now, there are still plenty of viable ways to get out of debt as quickly as possible. Here are a few tried-and-true debt repayment methods you can put to use today.

1. Debt snowball method

The debt snowball approach prioritizes your lowest balance first, regardless of your interest rates. You make the minimum payments on all your debts while hitting the lowest balance the hardest with any extra income you can spare. Once it’s paid off, you take whatever you were spending there and roll it over to the next lowest balance. Keep on chugging along until all your balances are paid off.

“The nice thing about the debt snowball, and the reason that it tends to be the most effective way, is that you start to have those wins a lot faster when you’re focusing on those smaller balances,” Casarez said.

“You start to build up some momentum and confidence,” he added. “As you do that, you start to get a little bit more swagger and feel like you’re actually making progress and have more control over your financial situation than you thought.”

2. Debt avalanche method

This strategy puts your highest-interest balance above all others. When you compare it to the debt snowball method, it’s the fastest and cheapest way to get the job done, which is why Metzger said it makes the most sense.

“With that being said, people are quirky,” he added. “If paying down the lowest balance and snowballing it that way works for you, then by all means do it. The outcome is far more important than the path you take to get there.”

3. Debt Consolidation loan

Another way to tackle your debt is to consolidate it using a personal loan. Once you receive the loan amount, you use the funds to pay off all your debt, at which point you’ll have one new balance and monthly payment. This strategy is ideal for those who can lock down a lower interest rate. What’s more, personal loans often have fixed rates, monthly payments and repayment timelines, so it makes budgeting a whole lot easier.

And since it’s a lump-sum installment loan — not a revolving credit line in which you can charge and pay off as you go — using it to eliminate credit card debt should boost your credit score because you’re effectively using less available credit. Some personal loans do come with an origination fee, typically between 0% and 6%, so do the math to see if it’s the right debt consolidation method for you.

When shopping for a debt consolidation loan, it’s best to compare your option to make sure you get the one with the lowest interest rate. LendingTree, the parent company to MagnifyMoney, allows you to compare up to five lenders without affecting your credit score. Use our table below to get the best results!



Compare Debt Consolidation Loan Options

Which is the best way to pay off debt?

It all depends on your situation. If you’ve got a solid credit score and qualify for attractive balance transfer offers, it’s worth exploring — as long as you don’t charge new debt and you’ve got a plan in place for paying off the balance before the introductory period ends. When done right, balance transfers are great shortcuts that could save you a significant amount of time and money in the long run.

The debt snowball and avalanche methods are worthwhile alternatives for those who prefer to get out of debt the old-fashioned way. Meanwhile, a debt consolidation loan could pave the way for a locked-in lower interest rate. The main takeaway here is that you have multiple debt repayment options at your fingertips. They’re all, as the old saying goes, “Different paths up the same mountain.”

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Marianne Hayes
Marianne Hayes |

Marianne Hayes is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Marianne here

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