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Not good long-term loans
Don’t get us wrong. Credit cards definitely have a place in your life. They can be great for buying an item when you don’t have enough cash with you to pay for it or as a short-term loan. But credit cards should never be used as a long-term loan – due to their prohibitively high interest rates -- vs. a personal loan or a homeowner equity line of credit where you’d pay something like 3.99%.
If you’re working to get out of debt
If you want to get out from under that load of debt, the first thing you need to do is get a handle on your spending. The reason why you’re in debt is simple. You’re spending more each month than you have money coming in. And the only way to fix this is to determine where your money’s going. You need to then sit down and develop a budget to get your spending under control. If you find that your budget won’t handle both your living expenses and paying down your debts, you’ll have to either find ways to earn more or to cut your expenses.
Credit card transfer vs. a home equity line of credit
In the meantime there are two ways to get your interest rates reduced while you’re working to pay off your credit card debts. The first is to transfer it to several 0% interest balance transfer cards and the second – if you own your house – is to get a home equity line of credit.
So, which would make the most sense?
0% introductory rate vs. a home equity line of credit
Transferring your high-interest credit card debts to new ones with 0% introductory rates or getting a home equity line of credit would both give you a lower interest rate. And either could help you pay off that debt as quickly as possible.
The fog of war
This is a phrase that is often used to describe what happens once a battle begins. It’s a shorthand way of saying that no matter how carefully a general crafts a battle plan once the fighting begins a sort of fog sets in and things don’t go according to plan. Unfortunately, the same is true about a plan for getting out of debt – things don’t always go according to plan.
A home equity loan
As an example of this, take a home equity line of credit. If you were to get one of these loans to pay off that $29,000 in credit card debt and then pay it totally off as quickly as possible, this would be a great solution. But what happens to many people is they get a line of credit with all the best intentions for paying it back. But then a bank offers them a higher limit than they need to pay off their credit card debts. They believe that’s okay and convince themselves they won’t use that extra credit.
By the way -- if you’re not familiar with home equity loans here – courtesy of National Debt Relief – is a video that explains the differences between a home equity loan and a home equity line of credit.
Twice as much debt
What happens to many people is they then run into a bunch of bad luck, use up the entire line of credit and are forced to once again run up their credit card debts. And before they know it, they have twice as much debt as before they took out the loan. The same thing can happen with 0% interest balance transfer cards. People use the money to pay off their high-interest credit cards but forget to close them. They eventually find themselves short of money and begin using the old cards again and end up having both the old cards and the new ones and their balances just keep ballooning.
Have an emergency fund
If you create a budget to get your spending under control, try to make one that includes money for an emergency fund. Ideally, this fund should be the equivalent of six months of living expenses. But if that doesn’t seem doable, shoot for at least three months’ worth. Then when an emergency hits -- and trust us that one eventually will -- you won’t have to use a credit card to pay for it.
To escape the debt trap
If your goal is to get out of the debt trap, there are some things you should do besides creating an emergency fund.
For one thing you should close those old credit cards the minute you pay them off -- whether you use new 0% interest cards or a home equity line of credit. This will cause your credit score to drop but totally eliminates the possibility that you would be tempted to use them again.
Second, if you opt for a home equity line of credit, try to get one with a limit that’s no higher than what you need to pay off your old credit cards. Some financial experts might advise you to get the highest line of credit possible, as this would help your debt-to-available-credit ratio, which could boost your credit score. But the extra points you would earn is less important than getting out of debt. The best way to improve your debt-to-available-credit ratio is to pay down your debt and not to expose yourself to taking on even more. And if you don’t get a higher line of credit than you actually need, you will never be tempted to use that extra credit.
A 0% transfer card might be best
Between the options of transferring your high-interest balances to 0% interest cards or getting a home equity line of credit, we recommend the balance transfers – but only if you’re positive you can pay off your balances before your introductory periods end. The reason for this is the transfer fees you might be charged ($300 to $500 per transfer) will be far less than the interest you would pay on a home equity line of credit over the same time period. But you need to be really careful that you do pay off the balances on those new cards before your introductory periods expire or you could end up right back where you started or in even worse financial shape.
It’s not easy but it should be worth it
Paying off a huge pile of debt like our hypothetical $29,000 is not an easy task. It takes time and self-discipline. The reason you got into trouble with debt is because you were living a lifestyle you couldn’t afford. The only way to fix this is to change your lifestyle to match your income, which will mean you will need to make some sacrifices. You might have to find a cheaper place to live, trade in your car for a used one with more miles (and not as much pizazz), quit eating out three or four times a week or stop hanging out with friends so often.
But just imagine how you will feel when you become debt free. You’ll be able to sleep better at night, which means waking up feeling refreshed and looking forward to your day. If you’ve had debt collectors hounding you unmercifully, they will go away. You won’t be paying interest on your debts so you’ll have more money to save and invest for your long-term goals such as buying a home or for your retirement. You’ll have money for an emergency so that you won’t be wiped out when you have an unexpected medical bill or car repair. You’ll be able to face the world knowing that you’re in debt to no one and that no creditor can make your life miserable.
Wouldn’t this be worth some short-term sacrifices?