Isolating your financial needs on different credit-card accounts will help you get the best possible terms on every transaction that you make. For example, you could get the best cash-back credit card for everyday expenses, the best travel rewards card for airfare and hotel reservations, and the best balance-transfer card for reducing the cost of your existing debt.
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.
Make no mistake: if you want help with your debt, you should get it. Don't let social stigma or ego get in the way—there are plenty of ways to get on the right track that go further than blog posts and stop short of putting you back in debt to someone else. Debt repayment and credit counseling programs can negotiate lower interest rates on your behalf, or help you do it yourself. They can help you with your budget, and help you plan a route out of debt that turns your credit into a tool you control, as opposed to a monster than controls you. If you need the help, get it—and definitely do that before you take out a loan. Photo by Media Bakery13 (Shutterstock).
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!
If you’re not disciplined enough to create a budget and stick to it, to work out a repayment plan with your creditors, or to keep track of your mounting bills, you might consider contacting a credit counseling organization. Many are nonprofit and work with you to solve your financial problems. But remember that “nonprofit” status doesn’t guarantee free, affordable, or even legitimate services. In fact, some credit counseling organizations — even some that claim nonprofit status — may charge high fees or hide their fees by pressuring people to make “voluntary” contributions that only cause more debt.
Companies that want you to lie about credit history or create a new credit identity can get you into legal trouble. Companies that provide “new” identifying information use stolen Social Security numbers, and if you use this number then you are committing fraud. Likewise using an Employee Identification Number or Credit Profile Number provided by these companies is a crime. Rather than committing fraud, take the steps below to improve credit on your own.
There is no magic ratio that is “good” but generally if your balances on any of your cards start creeping above 20 – 25% of your available credit, you may see an impact on your scores. Have you checked your credit scores to see how this factor is impacting your credit? Here’s how to check and monitor your credit score for free. As for the new account, it may have an impact on your score but usually for most people that levels out once the bills are paid on time for a few months. If it will save you a good chunk of money it may be worth it!
The best way to consolidate debt is to consolidate in a way that avoids taking on additional debt. If you're facing a rising mound of unsecured debt, the best strategy is to consolidate it through a credit counseling agency. When you use this method to consolidate bills, you're not borrowing more money. Instead, your unsecured debt payments are consolidated into one monthly payment to the agency, which in turn pays your creditors each month. Your credit counselor works with your creditors to try to reduce your interest rates and eliminate extra fees, like late charges or over-limit charges.
The best way to handle this is first pull your credit reports from the three major credit agencies – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. And this can be done free of charge once every 12-months through the site AnnualCreditReport.com. Go through each of the reports as thoroughly as possible looking for any inaccuracies, like – incorrect information on collections, judgments, balances, new accounts, and payment history.
There are two main ways to dispute errors on your credit reports – you can either do it yourself, or you can hire a professional credit repair firm to handle it for you. If you’re situation is such that you’re in need of quick credit repair, the credit repair firm is probably the way to go. They would have in place procedures for effectively challenging, communicating, and monitoring the removal of incorrect information. If you were to do it yourself, you would have to go through the learning curve of putting that all in place, and knowing how to get the results you desire.
The accounts section contains a detailed history of all accounts (open and closed), your balance, and your payment history associated with each account. You should be able to see month-by-month payment information for 7 years of history. Each month will have a symbol next to it that indicates whether the account was paid as expected or if it was late.
Your loan balances also affect your credit score in a similar way. The credit score calculation compares your loan current loan balance to the original loan amount. The closer your loan balances are to the original amount you borrowed, the more it hurts your credit score. Focus first on paying down credit card balances because they have more impact on your credit score.
Balance transfer rules to follow: Transfer balances soon after opening the card since many offers are only available for a limited time, usually around 60 days. And, make sure you aren’t late on payments since that may result in the cancellation of your 0% intro period. Also, make sure you pay your balance before the intro period ends so your debt isn’t hit with the ongoing APR and you avoid possible deferred interest.
Harzog was a successful freelance journalist for over 20 years, writing for major national magazines and custom publications. She became so entrenched in the credit industry, that in 2008, she was approached by CardRatings.com to be a credit card spokesperson for their site. In 2010, Harzog then went on to become the credit card expert for Credit.com.
Once your cards and debts are paid off, will you cancel the credit cards? Sure, you get credit cards with zero balances and no bills out of the loan, but one of the biggest problems with debt consolidation loans is that they do nothing to change the behaviors that got you into debt in the first place. Instead, they add another creditor to your pile, and fan the flames of going into debt to pay off more debt. If you even think you might be tempted to use those cards again after paying them off, or if you're using debt consolidation as an easy out or way to avoid really looking at your budget, it's not right for you. The last thing you want is to take out a loan, pay off your cards, and then charge up your cards again—now you've done nothing but dig your hole twice as deep.
Johnson said it makes sense to use this type of loan to help consolidate high interest debt such as with various credit cards because “the savings can be significant.” Using home equity loans to pay off other debts, such as student loans might also be wise, said George Burkley, owner of American Mortgage & Financial Services in Indiana — “[the] rates are usually much lower.”
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.
The exact number of points anyone’s credit score may drop for negative credit behaviors or improve with positive behaviors varies because everyone’s credit file is made up of a different combination of several factors. For example, the higher your score to begin with, the steeper the drop for any negative credit behaviors and with a lower starting score you may see more of a score increase for positive credit behaviors.
One of the sneaky-quick ways to increase your score is to add yourself as an authorized user on someone else’s. According to FICO, 35% of your score is based on your history of on-time payments, so when you become an authorized user on a friend or family member’s credit card, car loan, or installment loan, etc. you automatically “assume” the same positive history of payments on your credit report. Viola! Your score will go up as well. You do need to make sure the lender registers your social security number and will start reporting the change, and it can take 30 days to reflect on your own credit report (unless you do a Rapid Rescore—see below). But becoming an authorized user is a fantastic way to benefit from a great payment history that’s not even yours.
Credit utilization is the second most important factor when calculating an individual’s credit score. Simply, credit utilization is how much credit you have used in comparison to how much lenders have provided you. For example, if you have three credit cards with a limit of $3,000 on each card, your total credit would be $9,000. Now, say after a weekend of house decorating, you spent $4,500 on your credit cards – your credit utilization would be 50%. Credit utilization is another facet in which credit holders have complete control over. By landing your utilization in the 25%-45% bracket, your credit score will be optimized.
Lenders usually look at your credit score for both a debt consolidation loan and a home equity loan. However, sometimes lenders can be more lenient with debt consolidation loans in terms of your credit score; oftentimes, borrowers can have less than stellar credit and still be approved for a personal loan or debt consolidation loan. However, those with excellent credit will be more likely to obtain lower interest rates with debt consolidation loans than those who have fair to poor credit.
If you’re the parent of a teenager, you might wonder if now is the right time to help them open a credit card. It can be hard to decide if they’re ready to take on the responsibility that comes with having a credit card since you need to trust that your teen has the restraint to limit spending and pay on time. Generally, we recommend introducing your teen to credit as soon as you can since credit is such a large part of life as an adult — you need credit to take out loans, apply for a mortgage and even make certain purchases. Plus, it’s important for your teenager to learn how to manage credit responsibly so they can build good credit.
If you are running out of time on your intro APR and you still have a balance, don’t sweat it. At least two months before your existing intro period ends, start looking for a new balance transfer offer from a different issuer. Transfer any remaining balance to the card with the new 0% intro offer. This can provide you with the additional time needed to pay off your balance. Ideally, look for a card that has a 0% intro APR and also no balance transfer fee.
If you don’t pay a medical bill or a cell phone bill, your account may be referred to a collection agency. Once it is with an agency, they can register that debt with the credit bureau, which can have a big negative impact on your score. Most negative information will stay on your credit bureau for 7 years. Positive information will stay on your credit bureau forever, so long as you keep the account open. If you close an account with positive information, then it will typically stay on your report for about 10 years, until that account completely disappears from your credit bureau and score. If you don’t use your credit card (and therefore no payment is due), your score will not improve. You have to use credit in order to get a good score.
Basically, the trick is to aggressively dispute negative records, especially older ones, and force the source of that information (otherwise known as “data furnishers”) to produce verifying documentation. A lot of times, the so-called data furnishers can’t, which obligates them to stop reporting the negative item to the credit bureaus and thus removed from the consumer’s file.
Taking out a home equity loan could also require you to pay closing costs that can add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars, according to the CFPB. If the property declines in value, you could also run the risk of falling underwater on it. With that said, a home equity loan or a home equity line of credit could serve as an optimal way to pay off debt. As with any major financial decision, being well-informed will help you make the best choice for your unique situation.
My wife and I recently decided we wanted to buy a home better suited to starting a family and sell our townhouse (which she owned when we met). I didn't have the best, let's say, track record with financials in my past and my credit was abysmal. I hit rock bottom 2.5 years ago when my car ( a beautiful fully loaded Jeep) was reposed on Xmas eve morning. Even then, although angry and ashamed, I didn't do much to help myself out. My 20's, which were years of partying, spending and generally speaking not caring had finally caught up. I was 29. So, we got to work with fixing things. Paying off creditors, paying down debts, making on time payments, etc. When we had my credit run about 6 weeks ago, it was 588. This was much higher than the 410 I had a couple years ago, but still a far cry from good. (Side note here, be mindful of using credit cards that track your fico score, or having a credit bureau account that gives you your score. There are around 30 different scores that are used, and different scores are used for different types of inquires (auto loan is different than mortgage)). So we got to work, paid off the last couple things and really started paying attention to what was happening. One thing I can't stress enough is every year, you're allowed to get 3 free credit reports, 1 from each bureau. You MUST do this each year. This is where I found my credit windfall. I was able to uncover the fact that a debt that had been paid of was still being reported as open and late. I also found a debt that wasn't mine! A big one. $1700 showing open and late for 2 years with a collector. I filled a report with the CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) and they started an investigation. The company that had this debt wrote me a letter saying that even though I had no proof that the debt wasn't mine, they would absolve it and would contact the 3 credit bureaus to have the reporting removed and cleared. At this point, I called my broker and said it's time to run the simulator. They ran it, and then performed what is called a Rapid Rescore. Some brokers charge for this; good ones don't. Since they are trying to get your business they will do it for free. If it's at cost, it's roughly $10 per item per report. If you have a lot of issues it can add up. Anyhow, they did the rescore, did the simulator, ran a hard inquiry and BOOM, 657.
You may also be able to negotiate with creditors as part of a "goodwill adjustment." They may be willing to remove late payments that they've reported to the credit bureaus, especially if you have a history of on-time payments. While you're trying to fix your credit, don't neglect your current obligations. Whatever you do, be sure to pay all your bills on time so you don't accrue any more negative items on your report.
Keep up the good work and employ these strategies to repair your credit as your budget and credit score permits to watch your score continue to increase. If you feel overwhelmed by your credit problems, you might consider professional credit repair help. Remember, just five or 10 points can be the difference between sub-prime and prime credit or prime credit and excellent credit and each level of credit improvement has its rewards.
If you’re making little to no progress repaying or transferring balances or consider yourself to have a severe debt problem, then you may want to reach out to a reputable credit counseling agency or debt consolidation company. They can talk to you about a debt management plan and other credit resources that may be available to you as a consumer to help pay off your debt.
Introducing your teenager to credit as soon as possible is a great way to get them prepared for all the future credit products they’re bound to encounter in life. Practicing responsible credit behavior with a credit card or even as an authorized user can help your teen establish credit, which is necessary for taking out student loans, mortgages and other credit products. Plus, having a good credit score is key to getting the best rates and terms for credit products.
Home Equity Loans and Lines of Credit: Before the 2008 financial crisis, this was one of the most common methods of consolidating credit card debt. The benefit of a home equity loan is the low interest rate and the ability to deduct the interest. However, you put your home at risk and tempt yourself with extending the term. Credit unions offer particularly low interest rates. You can visit your local credit union, or work with a national credit union like PenFed, which offers home equity loan interest rates as low as 3.74%.
I to am rebuilding my credit for the past 2-1/2 yrs and to get it past 750 and most recently got added as an authorized user on my moms' credit card (more for using the card in an emrgency on her behalf than rebuilding my credit) and would like to get a possible clarification- If my mom misses a payment or maxes out her credit limit on her card that im a authorized user on, will it impact my score (currently 730)?
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.
I've racked up a good bit of credit card debt, and while I'm slowly paying it down, it's a pain wrangling multiple bills with different interest rates. My credit union is offering debt consolidation loans with a lower rate than any of my cards—should I take that, use it to pay off all of my cards, and only have one, low-interest bill to pay every month?
They may be willing to waive some of the late penalties or spread the past due balance over few payments. Let them know you're anxious to avoid charge-off, but need some help. Your creditor may even be willing to re-age your account to show your payments as current rather than delinquent, but you'll have to actually talk to your creditors to negotiate.
The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express includes an extended intro period now at an intro 0% for 15 Months on balance transfers and purchases (14.74%-25.74% Variable APR after the promo period ends) and a $0 balance transfer fee. (For transfers requested within 60 days of account opening.) This offer is in direct competition with other $0 intro balance transfer fee cards like Chase Slate®.
Sometimes you fall into debt due to unexpected expenses that may arise from medical issues or other events. An emergency fund can be a great way to provide yourself with a safety net in the case of unexpected expenses that may otherwise put you in debt. It’s up to you how much you put into an emergency fund, but keep in mind it should be somewhat easily accessible so you can quickly withdraw it to pay bills before they become past due.
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.
A HELOC typically charges a variable interest rate tied to a benchmark such as Prime Lending Rate. You only owe interest when you tap (use) your credit line. A HELOC often has a 10-year "draw" period when you can borrow against it, before you must start repayment. A HEL is typically a fixed-rate loan with a set payback period of five to 10 years or so.
To have a good credit score, you need to have positive information reported into your credit report on a monthly basis. The easiest way to do that is with a credit card. Just try to keep your utilization low (although there is no magic number, VantageScore released data showing that people with excellent credit scores tend to have utilization below 10%). And make sure you pay your statement balance in full and on time every month. If you repeat this, over time your score will improve.