But even if you have a low credit score, go ahead and do the research to see if you can find a better deal than the one you have right now. "Those with the best credit scores typically qualify for the best rates on their new personal loans, but don't let an average or even poor score keep you from requesting quotes," says Norris. "This is especially true if you have more than $10,000 in credit card debt and those cards charge exorbitant interest rates, which most of them do."
Improving your credit score is a bit like losing weight: It takes a while. Unless there are major errors on your credit report that you can easily get erased, there is no quick fix. Often, it takes at least a couple years to go from a low score to a high one. But at least, you'll be improving your financial position, and building up good financial habits, in the interim.
Carefully review older debt that shows as charged-off. Before contacting the creditor or collection agency, check your state laws to see if the debt is statute-barred or time-barred, meaning that it is too old for creditors to attempt further collection. If it is not statute-barred, even contacting the creditor can re-instate the debt as currently collectible, which can drop your score.
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.
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 student loans, 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.
Each time you apply for credit is listed on your credit report as a “hard inquiry” and if you have too many within two years, your credit score will suffer. In general, a consumer with good credit can apply for credit a few times each year before it begins to affect their credit score. If you’re already starting with below-average credit, however, these inquiries may have more of an impact on your score and delay your ultimate goal of watching your credit score climb.