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15 secrets debt counselors wish you knew
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8. If your name is on the bill, it doesn't matter what the divorce decree says.
It's important whose name is on the bill, says Graham. So if your ex is taking over the mortgage, car loan or credit card payments and can't make the bills, "they're coming after you," he says. And any late payments could show up on your credit report.

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Have joint obligations transferred out of your name or take over the payments yourself.

9. Balance transfers aren't the panacea for credit problems.
Debtors often transfer a balance from a card with a higher interest rate to one with a lower APR. While it sounds great in theory, the move can actually hurt your credit score, says Michelle Jones, vice president of counseling for the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Atlanta.

Here's why: You're opening additional lines of credit, increasing the possibility of racking up higher bills. Simultaneously, you're moving your existing debt, but "you're not really paying it off," says Jones. Creditors see someone who can't handle the current balances but can run up more charges.

So while you're making the minimums, throw all available money at the card with the highest interest rate. Once you get it paid off, start on the one with the next-highest rate. That demonstrates that you're actually paying down debt, not just moving it around.

10. If you're late on one card, another could raise your rates.
Known as "universal default," this is one of the dirty little secrets of the credit industry.

"This is something that catches people by surprise," says Keating. "You can be talking about a 20 percent to 30 percent interest rate" for a card you've always paid on time.

Creditors figure that late payments could signal money problems, which make you a bigger credit risk. If the due date's looming, pay online through the creditor's own Web site. "They almost always post the next day," says Jones.

If money's tight, make all the minimum payments on time, rather than playing favorites with one card. Then draft a money budget that will allow you to quickly pay off the balances.

11. Challenge your credit card bill.
See a fee that doesn't look right? Don't believe you should have been hit with a late penalty when you mailed the bill on time? Don't just accept it, call the company. And don't be afraid to vote with your feet. "If you're not happy with your card company," says Keating, "there are a lot of others out there ready to step in."

Next: "You've basically put your home at risk for your credit cards."
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