Tag Archives: Debt Management

Debt Settlement vs Bankruptcy: Which is Best?

You’ve tried debt payoff strategies, balance transfers, consolidation, and even debt management; you’ve begged your creditors, liquidated your assets, and pestered your friends and families for any money they can afford, but after all of that, you still have more debt than you can handle.

Now what?

Once you reach the end of your rope, the options that remain are not as forgiving as debt management and they’ll do much more damage to your credit score than debt payoff strategies. However, if you’ve tried other forms of debt relief and nothing seems to work, all that remains is to consider debt settlement and bankruptcy.

Debt settlement is a very good way to clear your debt. It’s one of the cheapest and most complete ways to eradicate credit card debt and can help with most other forms of unsecured debt as well. Bankruptcy, on the other hand, is a last resort option for debtors who can’t meet those monthly payments and have exhausted all other possibilities.

But which option is right for you, should you be looking for a debt settlement company or a bankruptcy attorney?

Similarities Between Bankruptcy and Debt Settlement

Firstly, let’s look at the similarities between bankruptcy and debt settlement, which are actually few and far between. In fact, beyond the fact that they are both debt relief options that can clear your debt, there are very few similarities, with the main one being that they both impact your credit score quite heavily.

A bankruptcy can stay on your credit report for up to 10 years and do a lot of damage when it is applied. It may take several years before you can successfully apply for loans and high credit lines again, and it will continue to impact your score for years to come.

Debt settlement is not quite as destructive, but it can reduce your credit score in a similar way and last for up to 7 years. Accounts do not disappear in the same way as when you pay them in full, so future creditors will know that the accounts were settled for less than the balance and this may scare them away.

In both cases, you could lose a couple hundred points off your credit score, but it all depends on how high your score is to begin with, as well as how many accounts you have on your credit report and how extensive the settlement/bankruptcy process is.

Differences Between Bankruptcy and Debt Settlement

The main two types of bankruptcy are Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. The former liquidates assets and uses the funds generated from this liquidation to pay creditors. The latter creates a repayment plan with a goal of repaying all debts within a fixed period of time using an installment plan that suits the filer.

Debt settlement, on the other hand, is more of a personal process, the goal of which is to offer a reduced settlement sum to creditors and debt collectors, clearing the debts with a lump sum payment that is significantly less than the balance.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

When people think of bankruptcy, it’s often a Chapter 7 that they have in mind. With a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, all non-exempt assets will be sold, and the money then used to pay lenders. There are filing costs and it’s advised that you hire a bankruptcy attorney to ensure the process runs smoothly.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy is quick and complete, typically finishing in 6 months and clearing most unsecured debts in this time. There is no repayment plan to follow and no lawsuits or wage garnishment to worry about.

Chapter 13, on the other hand, focuses on a repayment plan that typically spans up to 5 years. The debts are not wiped clear but are instead restructured in a way that the debtor can handle. This method of bankruptcy is typically more expensive, but only worthwhile for debtors who can afford to repay their debts.

Filing for bankruptcy is not easy and there is no guarantee you will be successful. There are strict bankruptcy laws to follow and the bankruptcy court must determine that you have exhausted all other options and have no choice but to file.

Bankruptcy will require you to see a credit counselor, which helps to ensure that you don’t make the same mistakes in the future. This can feel like a pointless and demeaning requirement, as many debtors understand the rights and wrongs and got into a mess because of uncontrollable circumstances and not reckless spending, but sessions are short, cheap, and shouldn’t cause much stress.

How Debt Settlement Works

The goal of debt settlement is to get creditors to agree to a settlement offer. This can be performed by the debtor directly, but it’s often done with help from a debt settlement company.

The debt specialist may request that you stop making payments on your debts every month. This has two big benefits:

1. More Money

You will have more money in your account every month, which means you’ll have more funds to go towards debt settlement offers. 

The idea of making large lump sum payments can seem alien to someone who has a lot of debt. After all, if you’re struggling to make $400 debt payments every month on over $20,000 worth of debt, how can you ever hope to get the $5,000 to $15,000 you need to clear those debts in full?

But if you stop making all payments and instead move that money to a secured account, you’ll have $4,800 extra at the end of the year, which should be enough to start making those offers and getting those debts cleared.

2. Creditor Panic

Another aspect of the debt settlement process that confuses debtors is the idea that creditors would be willing to accept reduced offers. If you have a debt worth $20,000 and are paying large amounts of interest every month, why would they accept a lump sum and potentially take a loss overall?

The truth is, if you keep making monthly payments, creditors will be reluctant to accept a settled debt offer. But as soon as you start missing those payments, the risk increases, and the creditor faces the very real possibility that they will need to sell that debt to a collection agency. If you have a debt of $20,000, it may be sold for as little as $20 to $200, so if you come in with an offer of $10,000 before it reaches that point, they’ll snap your hand off!

Types of Debt

A debt settlement program works best when dealing with credit card debt, but it can also help to clear loan debt, medical bills, and more. Providing it’s not government debt or secured debt, it will work. 

With government debt, you need specific tax relief services, and, in most cases, there is no way to avoid it. With secured debt, the lender will simply take your asset as soon as you default.

Debt settlement companies may place some demanding restrictions on you, and in the short term, this will increase your total debt and worsen your financial situation. In addition to requesting that you stop making monthly payments, they may ask that you place yourself on a budget, stop spending money on luxuries, stop acquiring new debt, and start putting every penny you have towards the settlement.

It can have a negative impact on your life, but the end goal is usually worth it, as you’ll be debt-free within 5 years.

Pros and Cons of Debt Settlement and Bankruptcy

Neither of these processes are free or easy. With bankruptcy, you may pay up to $2,000 for Chapter 7 and $4,000 for Chapter 13 (including filing fees and legal fees) while debt settlement is charged as a fixed percentage of the debt or the money saved. 

As mentioned already, both methods can also damage your credit score. But ultimately, they will clear your debts and the responsibilities that go with them. If you’ve been losing sleep because of your debt, this can feel like a godsend—a massive weight lifted off your shoulders.

It’s also worth noting that scams exist for both options, so whether you’re filing bankruptcy or choosing a debt settlement plan, make sure you’re dealing with a reputable company/lawyer and are not being asked to pay unreasonable upfront fees. Reputable debt settlement companies will provide you with a free consultation in the first instance, and you can use the NACBA directory to find a suitable lawyer.

Bankruptcy and Debt Settlement: The End Goal

For all the ways that these two options differ, there is one important similarity: They give you a chance to make a fresh start. You can never underestimate the benefits of this, even if it comes with a reduced credit score and a derogatory mark that will remain on your credit report for years to come.

If you’re heavily in debt, it can feel like your money isn’t your own, your life isn’t secure, and your future is not certain. With bankruptcy and debt settlement, your credit score and finances may suffer temporarily, but it gives you a chance to wipe the slate clean and start again.

What’s more, this process may take several years to complete and in the case of bankruptcy, it comes with credit counseling. Once you make it through all of this, you’ll be more knowledgeable about debt, you’ll have a better grip on your finances, and your impulse control. 

And even if you don’t, you’ll be forced to adopt a little restraint after the process ends as your credit score will be too low for you to apply for new personal loans and high limit cards.

Other Options for Last Ditch Debt Relief

Many debtors preparing for debt settlement or bankruptcy may actually have more options than they think. For instance, bankruptcy is often seen as a get-out-of-jail-free card, an easy escape that you can use to your advantage whenever you have debts you don’t want to pay.

But that’s simply not the case and unless you have tried all other options and can prove that none of them have worked, your case may be thrown out. If that happens, you’ll waste money on legal and filing fees and will be sent back to the drawing board.

So, regardless of the amount of debt you have, make sure you’ve looked into the following debt relief options before you focus on debt settlement or bankruptcy. 

Debt Consolidation

A debt consolidation loan is provided by a specialized lender. They pay off all your existing debts and give you a single large loan in return, one that has a lower interest rate and a lower monthly payment. 

Your debt-to-income ratio will improve, and you’ll have more money in your pocket at the end of the month. However, in exchange, you’ll be given a much longer-term, which means you’ll pay more interest over the life of the loan.

A Debt Management Plan

Debt management combines counseling services with debt consolidation. A debt management plan requires you to continue making your monthly payment, only this will go to the debt management company and not directly to the creditors. They will then distribute the money to your creditors.

You’ll be given a monthly payment that you can manage, along with the budgeting advice you need to keep meeting those payments. In exchange, however, you’ll be asked to close all but one credit card (which can hurt your credit score) and if you miss a payment then your creditors may back out of the agreement.

Balance Transfer Card

If all your debts are tied into credit cards, you can use a balance transfer credit card to make everything more manageable. With a balance transfer credit card, you move one or more debts onto a new card, one that offers a 0% APR for a fixed period. 

The idea is that you continue making your monthly payment, only because there is no interest, all the money goes towards the principal.

Home Equity Loans

If you have built substantial equity in your home then you can look into home equity loans and lines of credit. These are secured loans, which means there is a risk of repossession if you fail to keep up your payments, but for this, you’ll get a greatly reduced interest rate and a sum large enough to clear your debts.

Bottom Line: The Best Option

Debt settlement and bankruptcy are both considered to be last resort debt-relief options, but they couldn’t be more different from one another. Generally speaking, we would always recommend debt settlement first, especially if you have a lot of money tied up in credit card debt.

If not, and you can’t bear the idea of spending several months ignoring your creditors, missing payments, and accumulating late fees, it might be time to consider bankruptcy. In any case, make sure you exhaust all other possibilities first.

Debt Settlement vs Bankruptcy: Which is Best? is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

How to Consolidate Credit Card Debt

Credit card debt is on the rise. Millions of Americans are in over their heads. They’re losing sleep, losing control, and worried about what the future will hold. But there are solutions, and consolidation is one of the best.

Consolidation works by “consolidating” multiple debts into one. It’s the perfect solution for mounting debt, one that doesn’t destroy your credit score, liquidate your assets, or make it difficult to acquire mortgages and personal loans in the future.

With that said, let’s look at some of the best ways to consolidate credit card debt.

Option 1: Do It Yourself

The idea of debt consolidation essentially boils down to acquiring a large, low-interest loan and using that to repay multiple high-interest debts. If your credit score is high enough, you can get that loan yourself, clear your credit card debts, and then focus on repaying the loan.

Do It Yourself Consolidation Explained

The average credit card APR is close to 20%. If you have a balance of $10,000 and a monthly payment of $300, this APR will cost you over $4,700 in total interest and your debt will be repaid in just over 4 years. If you were to acquire a $10,000 personal loan at a respectable rate of 8% over the same 4 years, you’ll pay just under $1,800 in interest.

That’s a saving of nearly $3,000 over 4 years, and it’s based on an 8% rate (lower rates are available) and on the assumption that you don’t accumulate any credit card penalty fees or penalty APRs, which are very common on rolling balances.

Pros

  • You Will Save Money: As noted above, this process could save you a lot of money over the long-term and will also free up some additional cash in the short-term.
  • Complete Control: You don’t have to worry about company fees and service charges; you don’t need to concern yourself with hidden terms. With this credit card consolidation option, you are in complete control.
  • Easy on Your Credit Score: While your credit score will take an initial hit because of the loan inquiry and the new account, as soon as you use that loan to clear your credit card debts you should see an improvement. Just remember to keep those cleared cards active, otherwise, your credit utilization ratio will drop.

Cons

  • Good Credit Needed: For this option to be viable, you will need an excellent score. Anything less and you may struggle to be accepted for a low-interest loan. Let’s be honest, if you’re struggling with growing credit card debt, the odds of you having a flawless credit score are pretty slim.
  • On Your Own: While there are benefits to doing everything by yourself, it can also be a little time consuming, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can be intimidating.

Option 2: Work with a Debt Management Company

Credit counseling agencies can help you manage your debt by working with your creditors. A new payment structure will be created, and your money will go straight to the agency, after which it will be released to your creditors.

Debt Management Consolidation Explained

To begin the process, search for reputable debt management services in your area. They will assess your situation and determine if you are a good fit for the program. Some charge fees, some don’t, but all will serve as an intermediary between you and your creditors.

Every month you will make a single payment and the money will then go to your creditors. The agency will negotiate reduced payments by bringing the interest rates down and removing fees, therefore making these debts cheaper and more manageable.

Pros 

  • Professional Help: Get quality support from an experienced debt management company, one that will assume control and take the stress away.
  • Cheap: This is one of the cheapest and most cost-effective ways to clear your credit card debt, greatly reducing your total interest repayments.

Cons

  • Fees: Some debt management companies charge fees for their services, although these tend to be nominal and you’ll still save more money in the long-term.
  • Canceled Contract: If you fail to make one of the agreed-upon repayments, your creditors may cancel the improved contract and revert back to the previous terms, erasing all the agency’s hard work.

Option 3: Balance Transfer

A balance transfer is a promotion offered on new credit cards. It invites you to move your balance from your current card to a new one, and in exchange, it offers a period of 0% interest. 

You will need to pay a balance transfer fee, and this is typically charged at between 3 and 5% of the total transfer amount, but it’s often one of the cheapest and easiest ways to consolidate credit card debt.

Balance Transfer Consolidation Explained

As an example of how balance transfers work, let’s imagine that you have three credit cards, each with a maxed-out balance of $10,000 and an APR of 20%. If you’re repaying $300 a month, that’s $900 a month and in 4 years and 2 months, you’ll pay around $14,000 in interest to clear the full $30,000.

Alternatively, you can move all three balances onto a single balance transfer card with a $30,000 limit. Immediately, that balance could grow to $31,500. If you continue paying $900 a month and the balance transfer period lasts for 18 months, the balance will be just $15,300 when interest begins to accrue again. And if you use that 18-month period to initiate a debt repayment strategy, you could clear it in full and avoid paying any interest.

Pros 

  • Multiple Balances Can be Consolidated: You can consolidate multiple credit card balances, providing you’re not moving them to the same creditor.
  • No Interest Repayment: If you plan it properly, you can repay your balance in full before accruing any interest.
  • Available to Everyone: Credit cards are generally easier to acquire than low-interest personal loans and you won’t need an excellent credit score to get a good one.

Cons  

  • Higher Interest: The interest rate and fees may be higher once the 0% balance transfer period ends. If you use the intro period to avoid repayments and not to clear your debt, you could find yourself in serious trouble when interest begins to accumulate again.
  • Large Limits May be Difficult: The bigger your current credit card balances are, the harder it will be to get a balance transfer card with a large enough limit.
  • Fees: Although it’s a great option for consolidating credit card debt, it’s not completely free, as you’ll pay an initial balance transfer fee.

Option 4: Debt Consolidation Loans

Some companies offer specific loans tailored toward debt consolidation. These options work a lot like personal loans, as they are large loans designed with consolidation in mind. However, there are a few key differences, including the fact you don’t need an excellent credit score.

Debt Consolidation Loans Explained

The ultimate goal of debt consolidation loans is not to save you money in the long-term or to reduce the debt period. In fact, it does the opposite. The goal is to reduce your monthly payment and give you a smaller rate of interest, but it does this while increasing the loan period, which means you ultimately pay more money over the term.

Pros

 

  • More Money Every Month: Your monthly payments will be reduced, freeing up some extra cash to use every month.
  • Cleared Debts: Your credit card debts will be cleared in one fell swoop, potentially giving you some financial breathing space.

 

Cons

  • Longer Period: The total length of your debt will be extended, which means you’ll be stuck with the debt for a prolonged period.
  • Cost: While you’ll save some money every month, you’ll do so at the cost of an increased overall balance. Depending on your credit score, you could find yourself paying thousands more in total repayments.

Other Credit Card Debt Consolidation Solutions

If you have a supportive and financially-free family, you can ask them for the money to clear your debts and then promise to repay them in time. 

Of course, this option isn’t without its problems. Firstly, there’s the old adage that you should never lend money to friends or family. It may seem pretty heartless, but it’s a saying steeped in experience. It causes problems, as that debt is right at the bottom of the borrower’s list of priorities and if they’re skipping payments and begging for relief, while at the same time buying new clothes and going out every night, it can anger the borrower.

To avoid these issues, agree to pay them in monthly installments, offer a little interest, and get everything in writing. Make that debt your priority, because by skipping your payments you’ll be hurting your finances and your relationships.

Don’t guilt-trip a friend or family member into lending you money. Don’t ask them unless you have a very close relationship with them, have known them a long time, and know they can easily afford to lend you money. The last thing you want is for them to leave themselves short or to acquire debt just to help you out.

Alternatively, if you own a significant amount of home equity, you can opt for a home equity loan. This will give you a sizeable loan charged at a small rate of interest. It will take longer to repay your mortgage, but by reducing your debt demands you’ll save more money in the long-term.

How to Consolidate Credit Card Debt is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

16 Small Steps You Can Take Now to Improve Your Finances

Pretty brunette with moneybox in hands

You have all kinds of financial goals you want to achieve, but where should you begin? There are so many different aspects of money management that it can be difficult to find a starting point when trying to achieve financial success. If you’re feeling lost and overwhelmed, take a deep breath. Progress can be made in tiny, manageable steps. Here’s are 16 small things you can do right now to improve your overall financial health. (See also: These 13 Numbers Are Crucial to Understanding Your Finances)

1. Create a household budget

The biggest step toward effective money management is making a household budget. You first need to figure out exactly how much money comes in each month. Once you have that number, organize your budget in order of financial priorities: essential living expenses, contributions to retirement savings, repaying debt, and any entertainment or lifestyle costs. Having a clear picture of exactly how much is coming in and going out every month is key to reaching your financial goals.

2. Calculate your net worth

Simply put, your net worth is the total of your assets minus your debts and liabilities. You’re left with a positive or negative number. If the number is positive, you’re on the up and up. If the number is negative — which is especially common for young people just starting out — you’ll need to keep chipping away at debt.

Remember that certain assets, like your home, count on both sides of the ledger. While you may have mortgage debt, it is secured by the resale value of your home. (See also: 10 Ways to Increase Your Net Worth This Year)

3. Review your credit reports

Your credit history determines your creditworthiness, including the interest rates you pay on loans and credit cards. It can also affect your employment opportunities and living options. Every 12 months, you can check your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) for free at annualcreditreport.com. It may also be a good idea to request one report from one bureau every four months, so you can keep an eye on your credit throughout the year without paying for it.

Regularly checking your credit report will help you stay on top of every account in your name and can alert you to fraudulent activity.

4. Check your credit score

Your FICO score can range from 300-850. The higher the score, the better. Keep in mind that two of the most important factors that go into making up your credit score are your payment history, specifically negative information, and how much debt you’re carrying: the type of debts, and how much available credit you have at any given time. (See also: How to Boost Your Credit Score in Just 30 Days)

5. Set a monthly savings amount

Transferring a set amount of money to a savings account at the same time you pay your other monthly bills helps ensure that you’re regularly and intentionally saving money for the future. Waiting to see if you have any money left over after paying for all your other discretionary lifestyle expenses can lead to uneven amounts or no savings at all.

6. Make minimum payments on all debts

The first step to maintaining a good credit standing is to avoid making late payments. Build your minimum debt reduction payments into your budget. Then, look for any extra money you can put toward paying down debt principal. (See also: The Fastest Way to Pay Off $10,000 in Credit Card Debt)

7. Increase your retirement saving rate by 1 percent

Your retirement savings and saving rate are the most important determinants of your overall financial success. Strive to save 15 percent of your income for most of your career for retirement, and that includes any employer match you may receive. If you’re not saving that amount yet, plan ahead for ways you can reach that goal. For example, increase your saving rate every time you get a bonus or raise.

8. Open an IRA

An IRA is an easy and accessible retirement savings vehicle that anyone with earned income can access (although you can’t contribute to a traditional IRA past age 70½). Unlike an employer-sponsored account, like a 401(k), an IRA gives you access to unlimited investment choices and is not attached to any particular employer. (See also: Stop Believing These 5 Myths About IRAs)

9. Update your account beneficiaries

Certain assets, like retirement accounts and insurance policies, have their own beneficiary designations and will be distributed based on who you have listed on those documents — not necessarily according to your estate planning documents. Review these every year and whenever you have a major life event, like a marriage.

10. Review your employer benefits

The monetary value of your employment includes your salary in addition to any other employer-provided benefits. Consider these extras part of your wealth-building tools and review them on a yearly basis. For example, a Flexible Spending Arrangement (FSA) can help pay for current health care expenses through your employer and a Health Savings Account (HSA) can help you pay for medical expenses now and in retirement. (See also: 8 Myths About Health Savings Accounts — Debunked!)

11. Review your W-4

The W-4 form you filled out when you first started your job dictates how much your employer withholds for taxes — and you can make changes to it. If you get a refund at tax time, adjusting your tax withholdings can be an easy way to increase your take-home pay. Also, remember to review this form when you have a major life event, like a marriage or after the birth of a child. (See also: Are You Withholding the Right Amount of Taxes from Your Paycheck?)

12. Ponder your need for life insurance

In general, if someone is dependent upon your income, then you may need a life insurance policy. When determining how much insurance you need, consider protecting assets and paying off all outstanding debts, as well as retirement and college costs. (See also: 15 Surprising Insurance Policies You Might Need)

13. Check your FDIC insurance coverage

First, make sure that the banking institutions you use are FDIC insured. For credit unions, you’ll want to confirm it’s a National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) federally-covered institution. Federal deposit insurance protects up to $250,000 of your deposits for each type of bank account you have. To determine your account coverage at a single bank or various banks, visit FDIC.gov.

14. Check your Social Security statements

Set up an online account at SSA.gov to confirm your work and income history and to get an idea of what types of benefits, if any, you’re entitled to — including retirement and disability.

15. Set one financial goal to achieve it by the end of the year

An important part of financial success is recognizing where you need to focus your energy in terms of certain financial goals, like having a fully funded emergency account, for example.

If you’re overwhelmed by trying to simultaneously work on reaching all of your goals, pick one that you can focus on and achieve it by the end of the year. Examples include paying off a credit card, contributing to an IRA, or saving $500.

16. Take a one-month spending break

Unfortunately, you can never take a break from paying your bills, but you do have complete control over how you spend your discretionary income. And that may be the only way to make some progress toward some of your savings goals. Try trimming some of your lifestyle expenses for just one month to cushion your checking or savings account. You could start by bringing your own lunch to work every day or meal-planning for the week to keep your grocery bill lower and forgo eating out. (See also: How a Simple "Do Not Buy" List Keeps Money in Your Pocket)

Like this article? Pin it!

With the new year here, it’s time to take control of your financial goals. From creating a household budget, to calculating your net worth, or setting a monthly savings amount, we’ve got 16 small steps you can take to improve your finances. | #personalfinance #moneymatters #budgeting


Source: feeds.killeraces.com

Credit Card Balance Transfers

Credit card balances are crippling households across the United States, giving them insurmountable debts that just keep on growing and never seem to go away. But there is some good news, as this problem has spawned a multitude of debt relief options, one of which is a credit card balance transfer.

Balance transfers are a similar and widely available option for all debtors to clear their credit card balances, reduce their interest rate, and potentially save thousands of dollars.

How Credit Card Balance Transfers Work

A balance transfer credit card allows you to transfer a balance from one or more cards to another, reducing credit card debt and all its obligations. These cards are offered by most credit card companies and come with a 0% APR on balance transfers for the first 6, 12 or 18 months.

Consumers can use this balance transfer offer to reduce interest payments, and if they continue to pay the same sum every month, all of it will go towards the principal. Without interest to eat into their monthly payment, the balance will clear quickly and cheaply.

There are a few downsides to transferring a balance, including late fees, a transfer fee and, in some cases, an annual fee.

What Happens When You Transfer a Balance on Credit Cards?

When you transfer a balance, your new lender repays your credit card debt and moves the funds onto a new card. You may incur a transfer fee and pay an annual fee, which can increase the total debt, but transferring a balance in this way allows you to take advantage of a 0% introductory APR. While this introductory period lasts, you won’t pay any interest on your debt and can focus on clearing your credit card debt step by step.

Why are Balance Transfers Beneficial?

A little later, we’ll discuss some alternatives to a balance transfer offer, all of which can help you clear your debt. However, the majority of these methods will increase your debt in the short term, prolong the time it takes to repay it or reduce your credit score. 

A balance transfer credit card does none of these things. As soon as you accept the transfer offer, you’ll have a 0% introductory APR that you can use to eliminate your debt. The balance transfer may increase your debt liabilities slightly by adding a transfer fee and an annual fee, but generally speaking, this is one of the best ways to clear your debt.

To understand why this is the case, you need to know how credit card interest works. If you have a debt of $20,000 with a variable APR rate of 20% and a minimum monthly payment of $500, you’ll repay the debt in 67 months at a cost of over $13,000 in interest.

If you move that debt to a card with a balance transfer offer of 0% APR for 12 months, and you continue to meet the $500 minimum payment, you’ll repay $5,000 and reduce the debt to $15,000. From that point on, you’ll have a smaller balance to clear, less interest to worry about, and can clear the debt completely in just a few more years.

Of course, the transfer fee will increase your balance somewhat, but this fee is minimal when compared to the money you can save. The same applies to the annual fee that these cards charge and, in many cases, you can find cards that don’t charge an annual fee at all. 

You can even find no-fee balance transfer cards, although these are rare. The BankAmericard credit card once provided a no fee transfer offer to all applicants, in addition to a $0 annual fee. However, they changed their rules in 2018 and made the card much less appealing to the average user.

Pros and Cons of Credit Card Balance Transfers

From credit score and credit limit issues to a high variable APR, late fees, and cash advance fees, there are numerous issues with these cards. However, there are just as many pros as there are cons, including the fact that they can be one of the cheapest and fastest ways to clear debt.

Pro: 0% Introductory APR

The 0% APR on balance transfers is the best thing about these credit cards and the reason they are so beneficial. However, many cards also offer 0% APR on purchases. This means that if you continue to use your card after the transfer has taken place, you won’t be charged any interest on the new credit.

With most cards, the 0% APR on purchases runs for the same length of time as the balance transfer offer. This ensures that all credit you accumulate upon opening the account will be subject to the same benefits. Of course, accumulating additional credit is not wise as it will prolong the time it takes you to repay the debt.

Pro: Can Still Get Cash Rewards

While cash rewards are rare on balance transfer cards, some of the better cards still offer them. Discover It is a great example of this. You can earn cash back every time you spend, even after initiating a balance transfer. The cash rewards scheme is one of the best in the industry and there is also a 0% APR on balance transfers during an introductory period that lasts up to 18 months.

Pro: High Credit Limit

A balance transfer card may offer you a high credit limit, one that is large enough to cover your credit card debt. You will need a good credit score to get this rate, of course, but once you do your credit card debt will clear, you can repay it, and then you’ll have a card with a high credit limit and no balance.

Throw a rewards scheme into the mix (as with the Discover It rewards card) and you’ll have turned a dire situation into a great one.

Con: Will Reduce Credit Score

A new account opening won’t impact your credit score as heavily as you may have been led to believe. In fact, the impact of a new credit card or loan is minimal at best and any effects usually disappear after just a few months. However, a balance transfer card is a different story and there are a few ways it can impact your score.

Firstly, it could reduce your credit utilization ratio. This is the amount of credit you have compared to the amount of debt you have. If you have four credit cards each with a credit limit of $20,000 and a debt of $10,000 then your score will be 50%. If you close all of these and swap them for a single card where your credit limit matches your debt, your score will be 100%.

Your credit utilization ratio points for 30% of your total FICO score and can, therefore, do some serious damage to your credit score.

Secondly, although FICO has yet to disclose specifics, a maxed-out credit card can also reduce your score. By its very nature, a balance transfer card will be maxed out or close to being maxed out, as it’s a card opened with the sole purpose of covering this debt.

Finally, if you close multiple accounts and open a new one, your account age will decrease, thus reduce your credit score further.

Con: Transfer Free

The transfer fee is a small issue, but one worth mentioning, nonetheless. This is often charged at between 3% and 5% of the total balance, but there are also minimum amounts of between $5 and $10, and you will pay the greater of the two.

This can sound like a lot. After all, for a balance transfer of $10,000, 5% will be $500. However, when you consider how much you can save over the course of the introductory period, that fee begins to look nominal.

There may also be an annual fee to consider, but if your score is high enough and you choose one of the cards listed in this guide, you can avoid this fee.

Con: Late Fees and Other Penalties

In truth, all credit cards will charge you a fee if you’re late and you will also be charged a fee every time you make a cash advance. However, the fees may be higher with balance transfer cards, especially if those cards offer generous benefits and rewards elsewhere. It’s a balancing act for the provider—an advantage here means a disadvantage there.

Con: High APR on Purchases

While many balance transfer cards offer a 0% APR on purchases for a fixed period, this rate may increase when the introductory period ends. The resulting variable APR will often be a lot larger than what you were paying before the transfer, with many credit cards charging over 25% or more on purchases.

Which Credit Cards are Best for Clearing Credit Card Debt?

Many credit card issuers have some kind of balance transfer card, but it’s worth remembering that credit card companies aren’t interested in offering these cards to current customers. You’ll need to find a new provider and if you have multiple cards with multiple providers, that can be tricky. 

Run some comparisons, check the offers against your financial situation, and pay close attention to late fees, APR on purchases, cash rewards, and the length of the 0% introductory APR rate. 

You’ll also need to find a card with a credit limit high enough to cover your current debt, and one that accepts customers with your credit score. This can be tricky, but if you shop around, you should find something. If not, focus on increasing your credit score before seeking to apply again.

Here are a few options to help you begin your search for the most suitable balance transfer card:

Discover It

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 18 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 3% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 6 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 24.49% Variable APR
  • Rewards: Yes

Chase Freedom Unlimited

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 15 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 5% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 15 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 25.24% Variable APR
  • Rewards: Yes

Citi Simplicity

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 21 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 5% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 12 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 26.24% Variable APR
  • Rewards: No

Bank of America Cash Rewards

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 15 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 3% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 15 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 25.49% Variable APR
  • Rewards: No

Capital One Quicksilver

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 15 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 3% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 15 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 25.49% Variable APR
  • Rewards: No

Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 15 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 3% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 15 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 25.49% Variable APR
  • Rewards: No

Capital One SavorOne

  • Balance Transfer Offer: 15 Months
  • Transfer Fee: 3% on transfers
  • Purchases APR: 0% for 15 months
  • Annual Fee: $0
  • Rate: Up To 25.49% Variable APR
  • Rewards: Yes

How to Clear Debt with a Balance Transfer Card

From the point of the account opening to the point that the introductory period ends, you need to focus on clearing as much of the balance as possible. Don’t concern yourself with a variable APR rate, annual fee or other issues and avoid additional APR on purchases by not using the card. Just put all extra cash you have towards the debt and reduce it one step at a time.

Here are a few tips to help you clear debt after you transfer a balance:

Meet the Monthly Payment

First things first, always meet your minimum payment obligations. The 0% APR on balance transfers protects you against additional interest, but it doesn’t eliminate your repayments altogether. If you fail to meet these payments, you could find yourself in some serious hot water and may negate the balance transfer offer.

Increase Payment Frequency

It may be easier for you to repay $250 every two weeks as opposed to $500 every month. This will also allow you to use any extra funds when you have them, thus preventing you from wasting cash on luxury purchases and ensuring it goes towards your debt.

Earn More

Ask for a pay rise, take on a part-time job, work as a freelancer—do whatever it takes to earn extra cash during this period. If you commit everything you have for just 12 to 18 months you can get your troublesome debt cleared and start looking forward to a future without debt and complications, one where you have more money and more freedom.

Sell Up

It has never been easier to sell your unwanted belongings. Many apps can help you with this and you can also sell on big platforms like Facebook, eBay, and Amazon. 

Sell clothes, electronics, books, games, music—anything you no longer need that could earn you a few extra dollars. It all goes towards your debt and can help you to clear it while your introductory APR is active.

Don’t Take out a Personal Loan

While you might be tempted to use a loan to cover your debt, this is never a good idea. You should avoid using low-interest debt to replace high-interest debt, even if the latter is currently under a 0% introductory APR. 

It’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of swapping one debt for another, and it’s a cycle that ultimately leads to some high fees and even higher interest rates.

Focus on the Bigger Picture

Debt exists because we focus too much on the short-term. Rather than dismissing the idea of buying a brand-new computer we can’t afford, we fool ourselves into believing we can deal with it later and then pay for it with a credit card. This attitude can lead to persistent debt and trap you in an inescapable cycle and it’s one you need to shed if you’re going to transfer a balance.

Instead of focusing on the short term, take a look at the bigger picture. If you can’t afford it now, you probably can’t afford it later; if you can’t repay $10,000 worth of debt this year, you probably can’t handle $20,000 next year.

Alternatives to Credit Card Balance Transfers

If you have the cash and the commitment to pay your credit card debt, a balance transfer card is perfect. However, if you have a low credit score and use the card just to accumulate additional debt and buy yourself more time, it will do more harm than good. In that case, debt relief may be the better option.

These programs are designed to help you pay your debt through any means possible. There are several options available and all these are offered by specialist companies and providers, including banks and credit unions. As with balance transfer cards, however, you should do your research in advance and consider your options carefully before making a decision.

Pay More Than the Minimum

It’s an obvious and perhaps even redundant solution, but it’s one that needs to be mentioned, nonetheless. We live in a credit hungry society, one built on impulsive purchases and a buy-now-care-later attitude. A balance transfer card, in many ways, is part of this, as it’s a quick and easy solution to a long and difficult problem. And like all quick patches, it can burst at the seams if the problem isn’t controlled.

The best option, therefore, is to try and clear your debts without creating any new accounts. Do everything you can to increase your minimum payment every month. This will ensure that you pay more of the principal, with the minimum payment covering your interest obligations and everything else going towards the actual balance.

Only when this fails, when you genuinely can’t cover more than the minimum, should you look into opening a new card.

Debt Consolidation

Balance transfers are actually a form of debt consolidation, but ones that are specifically tailored to credit card debt. If you have multiple types of debt, including medical bills, student loans, and personal loans, you can use a consolidation loan to clear it.

This loan will pay off all of your debts and then give you a new one with a new provider. The provider will reduce your monthly payment and may even reduce your interest rate, allowing you to pay less and to feel like you’re getting a good deal. However, this is at the expense of a greatly increased loan term, which means you will pay considerably more over the duration of the loan.

As with everything else, a debt consolidation loan is dependent on you having a good credit score and the better your financial situation is, the better the loan rates will be.

Debt Management

Debt management can help if you don’t have the credit history required for debt consolidation. Debt management plans are provided by companies that work with your creditors to repay your debts in a way that suits you and them. You pay the debt management company, they pass your money on, and in return, they request that you abide by many strict terms and conditions, including not using your credit cards.

Many debt management programs will actually request that you close all but one of your credit cards and only use that one card in emergencies. This can greatly reduce your credit score by impacting your credit utilization ratio. What’s more, if you miss any payments your creditors may renege on their promises and revert back to the original monthly payments.

Debt Settlement

The more extreme and cheaper option of the three, but also the riskiest. Debt settlement works well with sizeable credit card debt and is even more effective if you have a history of missed payments, defaults or collections. A debt specialist may request that you stop making payments on your accounts and instead put your money into a secured account run by a third-party provider.

They will then contact your creditors and negotiate a settlement amount. This process can take several years as they’re not always successful on the first attempt but the longer they wait, the more desperate your creditors will become and the more likely they will be to accept a settlement.

Debt settlement is one of the few options that allows you to pay all your debt for much less than the original balance. However, it can harm your credit score while these debts are being repaid and this may impact your chances of getting a mortgage or a car loan for a few years.

Credit Card Balance Transfers is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

10 financial resolutions for 2021 – that are actually doable

How many times have you made a number of New Year’s resolutions – only to forget about them long before spring?

The trick to making New Year’s resolutions is to choose those that are actually doable. And a good place to start is with your finances.

To explore feasible financial moves that are easy to stick to, we got advice from Bankrate Chief Financial Analyst Greg McBride, CFA.

Use these tips to set yourself up for financial success in 2021.

10 financial resolutions for 2021

  1. Set financial goals
  2. Create or freshen up your budget
  3. Check your progress on paying down debt
  4. Review your credit card benefits and reward offers
  5. Review your asset allocation and rebalance your portfolio
  6. Consider converting your traditional IRA to a Roth
  7. Review your beneficiaries
  8. Review your savings
  9. Check your credit report
  10. Continue to educate yourself

1. Set financial goals

Before you dive into your finances, make sure you know what you hope to accomplish this year. According to Women & Financial Wellness: Beyond the Bottom Line from Merrill Lynch, “Seventy-seven percent of women say they see money in terms of what it can do for their families.” By figuring out what is most important to you, you can create specific priorities and goals.

Do you hope to pay off your credit cards or are you saving for a down payment on a house? Or do you see yourself purchasing a new car this year? Map out your goals so it’s easier to see why you need to create a budget.

2. Create or freshen up your budget

You’ve heard that you need to create a budget a million times. Why? Because it’s one of the healthiest financial moves you’ll ever make.

Particularly after 2020, when many faced unemployment, 2021 is a good time to figure out where your money is going by tracking your spending against a budget.

“Make a monthly budget for 2021 and resolve to track your spending against it throughout the year,” McBride said. “Any month you spend less than budgeted, transfer the difference into savings.”

As daunting as it may seem, a budget will provide long-term benefits, both financial and mental.

Mint, Goodbudget and You Need a Budget (YNAB) are all good options. But whichever tool you pick, make sure to:

  • Give your money a purpose by bucketing it into specific funds or accounts.
  • Be patient as you settle into a budgeting routine.
  • Schedule a “money meeting” with yourself every month and examine your spending, make tweaks and congratulate yourself for the work you’ve done.

See related: How to create a budget that works for you

3. Check your progress on paying down debt

McBride congratulates those who have made steady progress in paying down their debt and recommends making a plan to pay it down in 2021 (if you’ve stalled a bit in 2020).

You can temporarily cut your expenses and throw that money toward your debt, or, if you have high-interest debt, consider debt consolidation, McBride said.

A nonprofit credit counseling agency can set you up with a debt management plan that will even likely lower your interest rate.

In addition, you might want to pick up a side hustle and use that money to pay down your debt.

The average credit card interest rate is still around 16%, and that’s still a high rate, particularly if you carry a balance.

“Credit card debt is the most expensive debt most households have, so put some urgency behind the efforts to get these balances paid off,” McBride said. “Paying down a 16% credit card balance is a risk-free return of 16% – at a time when savings accounts and government bonds pay less than 1%.”

There are many strategies you can use to pay off your credit card debt, but a good guideline is to first pay off the debt with the highest interest rate.

See related: How to pay off credit card debt – 3 best strategies

4. Review your credit card benefits and reward offers

Credit card issuers have responded toward consumer spending changes as a result of the pandemic by adding new benefits and rewards bonuses to their credit card products.

Don’t miss out on those perks, such as extra cash back on groceries and food deliveries, streaming services and more.

See related: Best cash back credit cards

5. Review your asset allocation and rebalance your portfolio

The stock market has been particularly volatile in 2020 so you should review your mix of investments in 2021.

“Taking the opportunity to rebalance back to your intended mix of stocks, bonds, cash and alternative investments means lightening up on things that have done well while adding to asset classes that have lagged,” McBride said. “This also enforces the discipline of ‘buying low’ and ‘selling high.’”

“Travelers have been largely sidelined in 2020, but credit card rewards have very much been on the move,” McBride said. “Check your cards and make sure you’re aware of category spending payouts that have changed and are using the right card for those expenditures.”

See related: Investing tips for women: Overcoming financial setbacks for future success

6. Consider converting your traditional IRA to a Roth

If you lost income in 2020, McBride suggested maybe taking advantage of your lower tax bracket to convert some of your traditional IRA into a Roth IRA.

“Be advised that converting will trigger taxes on any contributions not already taxed, so be sure to consult your tax adviser,” McBride cautioned.

If you earn too much to contribute to a Roth IRA, consider a “back-door” Roth conversion.

“If you’re unable to contribute to a Roth IRA directly because of your income, you may benefit from contributing to a traditional IRA, then converting the funds to a Roth IRA,” McBride says.

“If you have an existing traditional IRA, be sure to consult your tax adviser about the tax implications before converting anything,” he added.

7. Review your beneficiaries

Many people designate beneficiaries and forget about it but it’s important that your assets go to whom you want, so review yours for 2021. McBride said to keep in mind that beneficiaries trump wills, so make sure the two documents are aligned in their directives.

“If you haven’t looked at it in a while or especially if there has been a change in family dynamics such as a marriage or divorce, review the beneficiary designation on your life insurance and retirement accounts to make sure it reflects your current intentions,” McBride said.

8. Review your savings

Having savings is important in the event of an emergency. If you had to exhaust your savings during 2020, you’re not alone. But in 2021, make a plan to replenish and grow your savings account.

“Add up the amount you’ve contributed to your retirement accounts, 529 college savings plans, savings accounts and other investment accounts and subtract out any withdrawals taken during the year.” McBride said.

How much emergency fund should I have?

9. Check your credit report

You should check your credit report routinely to see if there are any mistakes on it that happen to be affecting your credit score – or, worst-case scenario, to see if you’ve been the victim of identity theft.

“Regularly checking your credit report is a great way to spot errors or evidence of identity theft,” McBride said. “Knowing what is on your credit report and that everything is correct is important when going to apply for a loan, rent an apartment or even changing insurance carriers.”

AnnualCreditReport.com provides consumers with a free credit report annually, so make sure you take advantage of that in 2021 so you can catch (and fix) any errors early.

See related: Credit cards that offer free credit scores

10. Continue to educate yourself

Learn the ins and outs of your own financial picture – even as it relates to the fine print. Find places where you can make tweaks or by gaining a better understanding of your taxable income, your investments, your insurance products, etc.

Some great financial literature to get you started includes “Clever Girl Finance: Ditch debt, save money and build real wealth” by Bola Sokunbi, the founder of Clever Girl Finance and a Certified Financial Education Instructor (CFEI). The book is an accessible personal finance book written specifically for women.

Another piece of literature worth looking into is “Live Richer Challenge: Learn how to budget, save, get out of debt, improve your credit and invest in 36 days” (which comes with accompanying resources) by Tiffany Aliche, better known as The Budgetnista. An award-winning teacher of financial education, Aliche has been featured on “Queer Eye” and, through her company, has created a financial movement that has helped over 800,000 women worldwide collectively save more than $100 million.

Free resources are also available to you as you make your way through your personal finance journey. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) offers tools and resources to help women bridge issues like the wage gap.

Final thoughts

As you make your way through 2021, don’t put too much pressure on yourself when it comes to your finances. Use the tools available to you and make a plan that you can easily follow. By adding personal finances to your 2021 resolutions, you’re setting yourself up for success!

Source: creditcards.com