If something sounds too good to be true – everyone knows the rest of that expression, and it could not be more fitting than in the credit repair industry. The word “fast” should never be in the same sentence with quality credit restoration and expecting the unlikely should only be reserved for marketing products during Super Bowl commercials. In a world where the spirit of a dog appears to sell beer during halftime, it is not surprising that people are misled. Logic would indicate that if it took several months or even years to damage the credit files, they would not magically restore themselves in a matter of minutes. It would be the same concept of expecting brand new lungs or a sparkling fresh liver immediately after the last puff or sip.
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."
Before you consolidate credit cards, make sure you have a clear payment plan that can help you tackle your debt. Beware of simply moving your debt from credit cards to another form of debt; it may feel like you’re suddenly debt-free but you are definitely not. You’ve simply reorganized your debt and it should become more manageable now. If you fail to make sizeable, consistent payments toward your debt, you could find yourself back in the same cycle of debt. Also, when selecting your consolidation method — for example, an intro 0% APR credit card, personal loan, etc. — be sure to look closely at the fees you may be charged. The fees are typically outweighed by the amount you save in interest, but it’s a good idea to review them.
Obviously, the higher the utilization percentage, the worse you look. Experts have long said that using 30% of your available credit is a good way to keep your credit score high. More recently, that recommendation has been reduced to 20%. In the $5,000 limit MasterCard example above, 30% utilization would represent a $1,500 balance. Boosting your credit limit from $5,000 to $10,000 would allow for a $3,000 balance and still maintain 30% utilization. (This, of course, is just an example. It’s not likely you would get a 100% increase in your credit line. But any amount will help increase the spread and lower the utilization ratio).
Most credit counselors offer services through local offices, online, or on the phone. If possible, find an organization that offers in-person counseling. Many universities, military bases, credit unions, housing authorities, and branches of the U.S. Cooperative Extension Service operate nonprofit credit counseling programs. Your financial institution, local consumer protection agency, and friends and family also may be good sources of information and referrals.
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.
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