A balance transfer credit card is one of the best tools available to consumers who are serious about paying down credit card debt. If you can qualify for one, a balance transfer card offers a fantastic opportunity to attack your debt without it continuing to grow — that is, aside from the transfer fee and as long as you don’t continue to rack up credit card charges.
Not everyone has this option, because you generally need good credit to qualify for a balance transfer card. That doesn’t mean your only option is to try and make progress on your credit card balance while a high APR inflates it. There are a few options you can explore to make it easier and more affordable to attain your goal of being debt-free.
Ask for a Lower Interest Rate
Being turned down for a balance-transfer credit card doesn’t mean you’re stuck with the high annual percentage rates on your current cards. You can call your issuer and ask for a rate decrease. There’s no guarantee you’ll receive it, but few customers ever ask, said Gerri Detweiler, Credit.com’s director of consumer education.
“If you don’t try, you definitely won’t get a better rate. Certainly it’s worth a phone call to see if your issuer will work with you,” she said. “Telling them you’d like to stay with them and be a customer, but you’d like a better rate — it will trigger a review (of your account), and the person on the other end will see if they can give you a better rate or if you qualify for a different card.”
Get a Personal Loan
If your credit standing is holding you back from getting a balance transfer card, you may run into a similar obstacle with personal loans, but not necessarily. Even if you don’t have the best credit, you could qualify for a personal loan with an interest rate lower than what you’re paying on your credit cards.
“The advantage is they have a repayment period of five years or less,” Detweiler said. “There won’t be that temptation to make the minimum payment and stretch the debt out for decades.”
Use a Credit Counseling Agency
A lot of people find the idea of working with a credit counseling agency intimidating, or they think their situation isn’t bad enough to warrant such help. The idea with a credit counseling agency is to help you before things get so bad you need to declare bankruptcy to move on with your life.
It’s a simple concept: The agency has relationships with creditors and can get you lower interest rates on your debts. You pay a small fee to work with the agency, to which you make one monthly payment. The agency pays your participating creditors, and you’re on your way to freedom from debt within a set time frame, often about four to five years.
Here’s an example of how this structure could benefit you: Cambridge Credit Counseling, a nonprofit agency in Massachusetts, puts out a performance report, highlighting its customers’ savings. In 2013, its customers were paying average interest rates of 21.6% on their own and 9.8% once enrolled in a debt-management plan with Cambridge. The average monthly payment started at $628.01 and went down to $459.59 once enrolled.
Borrow From Your Retirement Fund
It’s a move many financial advisers don’t recommend, but it’s an option: Consolidate your debt by taking out a loan from your 401(k) or retirement plan.
Detweiler reinforced the fact that it can be a risky move, but it has its advantages, and it’s a popular solution among debtors.
“It doesn’t require a credit check, you pay interest to yourself, and it’s usually a five-year repayment period,” she explained.
Before you decide which course you’d like to pursue, make sure you’ve checked your credit. If you don’t know where you stand, you can’t accurately estimate what you may or many not qualify for. You can see your free credit report data on Credit.com each month to help you make these decisions.
More on Managing Debt:
- The Credit.com Debt Management Learning Center
- How to Pay Off Credit Card Debt
- 5 Tips for Consolidating Credit Card Debt