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The Ups and Downs of Doing a Balance Transfer

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So you’ve gotten yourself into some credit card debt and you’re feeling a little overwhelmed about how to get out of it. It seems like every time you look at your balance, it’s gone up way more than you expected because of those pesky interest charges, and you’re beginning to wonder whether you’ll ever be able to get it back to zero.

But then, a beacon of hope arrives in the mail. Your bank is telling you that you can put a stop to those interest charges—at least for a little while—by putting all of that debt somewhere else. Or, maybe a new bank is telling you to bring your debt over to them by opening an entirely new account. Whether or not you should take advantage of one of those balance transfer offers depends upon the current state of your credit and the merits of the offer itself.

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If you’re interested in opening a new card, one of the negative sides is that, even though the direct mail letter may make it seem like you can basically call them and the card will appear in your hand, you still have to apply for the new line of credit. Because of that, the process can take time and you risk being denied. Daily Finance advises against applying for several lines of credit at a time because it will work against your credit score, decreasing your chances of actually getting a new credit line. However, if you are approved, your credit score could increase because your credit utilization rate (or your credit-to-debt ratio) will improve.

Using an existing line of credit may be a great way to consolidate your debt as well, especially if you already opened a new line of credit in order to complete a balance transfer in the past. CreditCards.com shares the important reminder that you may not be able to open a new line of credit because creditors could see you as a risk if you continue to carry a balance even after getting new credit. Being seen as a risk would make it harder for you to get different types of credit, such as loans for cars or a home.

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Regardless of whether you need to open a new account or are considering using an existing line of credit, make sure to read the fine print to find out how much it will cost. Every balance transfer will have a fee associated with it, regardless of the bank or the newness of your account, but some balance transfer offers have lower fees than others. Another consideration is the length of the zero or low interest rate promotion: some give you 18 months to pay off the amount, while others give you 24 months. USA Today makes an important point for debtors: creditors have no legal obligation to remind you of the end of your promotional rate, so it’s important to be diligent about paying off the entire amount in time or be prepared for the appearance of interest charges when the promotional rate expires.

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In addition to enjoying a lower interest rate on your debt, you’ll have the added benefit of easier, streamlined payments. If you have found yourself confused by due dates and bill cycle closing dates, this may be a very real perk to help you get back on top of your debt. The phrase “consolidating debt” sounds a lot fancier than it really is: all it means is that you put all of your debt in the same account, typically using a method like a balance transfer. But, keep in mind that many balance transfer offers have a limit on the amount of debts you can transfer.

If you do a balance transfer, be careful not to forget about the debt or only pay the minimum just because you are enjoying a zero percent interest promotion. Make regular payments and remember, if you have zero debt, you won’t have to worry about finding a card with zero interest!