Money Monday: To Consolidate Debt, or Not to Consolidate

If you’re thinking about minimizing your number of credit cards, make sure you will be helping, not hurting, your personal finances.

Posted: 08/08/2011 04:35 PM EDT
Filed Under Money Monday

Money Monday: To Consolidate Debt, or to Not Consolidate

Debt: It’s a word that many Americans do not like to hear, but lots of people—and governments—have it and must find ways to pay it off.

 

Americans love their credit cards. So much so that the average credit card holder has 3.5 cards, with the average debt per household reaching over $15,000.

 

Though we love our credit cards, amid last week’s new federal debt deal and the U.S.’s 70-year credit rating being downgraded from AAA to AA+, it’s not very comforting to know that America going deeper in debt could make your personal finances fall down a steep slope as well. Americans could be faced with higher interest rates and ultimately, a slower economy.

 

The best way to manage credit card debt is to pay it off immediately, but often that is easier said than done.

 

Consolidating credit cards to one, lower-rate-interest card can save you large and accumulating interest charges that build up from having multiple cards, but if done incorrectly, consolidating your credit card debt can do more harm than good.

 

If you are seriously considering consolidating your cards, Bankrate.com suggests these steps:

 

1. Pay off any low-balance cards you will not be keeping, and then close the accounts.

 

2. Transfer the remaining balances to the card with the best interest rate. Don't use this card until it's paid off. This will avoid additional interest charges on revolving purchases. Once the balance is paid, close the account.

 

3. Choose the two or three cards you are going to keep, and be sure they have limits high enough to cover your monthly charges. Close the others, and be sure to pay these off in full each month.

 

Many questions about transferring your credit card balance can be found on your credit card statement. If they are not, make sure you call your credit card company and request a copy of your agreement.

 

When questioning your credit card company about transferring a balance, Bankrate.com suggests asking these questions:

 

1. How long does the current rate last?

 

2. Does the current rate apply to transferred balances or new purchases or both?

 

3. Does the card have an annual fee?

 

4. What about late fees and over-the-limit fees?

 

5. Are there balance-transfer fees? (Some issuers charge transaction fees as high as 4 percent. So the higher that balance, the higher the transaction fee. A 4 percent fee on a $5,000 balance would cost $200.)

 

Get in control of your life by getting in control of your money.

 

 

To share story ideas with Danielle Wright, follow and tweet her at @DaniWrightTV.

 

(Photo: Chris Radburn/Landov)

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