If credit cards have become a way of life for you, it might be time to organize your credit cards. If you have a lot of credit card debt, you might even want to look at consolidating your cards to a lower rate card that will save you in interest charges. Be careful, done incorrectly, canceling and consolidating credit card debt can harm your credit.
Before you consolidate, first you need to recognize why you want to consolidate. Are you looking for lower interest rates? Do you need lower monthly payments? Do you simply need to stretch out the term of your loan? If you answer yes to one of the last two questions, you should beware.
If you really just want to get out of debt, you need to understand how you got into the mess. Then you can fix the mess. Simply solving the problem with debt consolidation often makes the problem worse. Too many people consolidate and then charge the cards back up again.
If you know that you need to reduce the number of credit cards you have open, start with determining how much credit you need. How do you use your cards?
If you have several department store and gas cards that you never use, you should go ahead and close them. You also shouldn't need to pay a yearly fee for a credit card that earns you gifts, like cash back or frequent flier miles. Pay attention to whether you use the miles or not. You may find that what you are paying isn't worth what you are receiving.
You really only need one or two credit cards. Ideally, you need one card that is only used in emergencies. There are several steps you can take to start consolidating your balances into fewer cards.
Start by paying off all of the low balance cards that you plan to cancel and then close the accounts. Then, transfer your remaining balances onto the card that has the best interest rate. You can't use this card or the other cards until it is paid off.
Now you need to have one or two cards that have high enough balances to cover your charging needs. Make sure that they have the lowest interest rates you can find. These should be the only accounts you have open. IF you charge to them, make sure you pay off each balance in full every month.
When it comes to balance transfers, there are some questions you should definitely ask. Find out how long the transfer rate lasts. Sometimes you can be given a rate for balance transfers that only lasts a few months. Find out if the rate is just for balance transfers, or is it for transfers and new purchases?
You need to find out about the fees that apply. Is there an annual fee? Find out what the late fees and over-the-limit fees are. Some institutions will charge balance-transfer fees as high as 4%. The higher the balance, the higher the fee. Just add it up: 4% of $5,000 is $200!
Read through your credit card offers very carefully. A lot of information is hard to understand (and find). Some offers waive the fees for the “initial balance transfer" only. This could be your first transfer and not the additional ones.
Each additional balance transfer will be treated like a cash advance and charged cash advance fees, which are very expensive.
If you feel comfortable with the terms offered to you, fill out the balance transfer form carefully. Mistakes can mean that the transfer won't go through. Keep making the minimum payment on your old card until you are absolutely sure that the balance transfer has been completed. This can take two to four weeks. You don't want to try to lower your payments and still receive a late fee and penalty.
Even though the new card company will contact you when the transfer is complete, you still need to talk to your old card. Call and verify that there is no balance left on your account. Write down the representative, time, date and what is said every time you talk with a company over the phone.
Have your card company send you a billing statement with a zero balance stated on it. You may need this in order to clear up any mix-ups. Oh, don't forget to close your old card, you don't want to accidentally charge on it!
There are some situations that can occur when you are consolidating your credit cards. You don't want to suffer because you are taking control of your credit. Manage your transfers well and you should avoid errors.
Don't cancel a card that still has a balance. This causes your rate to shoot up, because they know that they have to get the most out of you now. Don't even tell a card issuer that you are leaving until you have no balance. Many issuers will raise rates if you cancel with a balance remaining.
Pay all of your cards on time no matter what. It can take one late payment for your interest to go from 9% to 28%. Amazing, isn't it?
Don't start canceling all of your cards before you apply for a mortgage or car loan. This can make your chances of approval even lower. Credit scoring is based on many factors, including how much debt you have and how much you have available. If you have cards with no balance on them, it can raise your credit score.
You need to remember, even if you find better terms for your debt, it is still debt. You must be sure that you pay it off before you add to it. If you don't, then it will never end.
Consolidation doesn't offer you a new start, just a better path to paying off your debt. If you truly want to get rid of your debt, use consolidation as a way to put all of your debt in one payment. And get out the scissors.
Martin Lukac represents http://www.RateEmpire.com and http://www.1AmericanFinancial.com , a finance web-company specializing in real estate and mortgage rates. We specialize in daily updates, mortgage news, rate predictions, mortgage rates and more. Find low home loan mortgage interest rates from hundreds of mortgage companies!