debt
8 ways to consolidate debt

If you continually worry about debt, it's time to seek solutions. Greg Pahl, co-author of "The Unofficial Guide to Beating Debt," and Virginia Morris, co-author of "The Wall Street Journal Guide to Understanding Money & Investing," offer these suggestions on consolidating your debt.

1. Credit card transfers  
Rate surfing only makes sense if you can pay off your outstanding debt within the time frame of the low introductory rate. "By the time you do all the transferring, the introductory period is over," Pahl says. "I get this stuff in the mail a lot. You really have to read it carefully. The change of a word or two can change the whole thrust of the promotion."

To look for the credit cards with the lowest rates, use Bankrate.com's credit card search engine.

2. Home equity loans  

They're relatively inexpensive and they may offer a tax deduction for the interest portion of the loan. The downside is that the collateral for the loan is the house, and they've gotten much harder to get.

"A home equity loan can be an extremely useful strategy if it's used properly," Pahl says. "But people need to have their eyes open and understand the implications."

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The other disadvantage is the low-pressure repayment terms. "Most lenders aren't in a hurry for you to pay it back," he says. "The leisurely repayment schedule isn't part of your goal. Your new monthly payment should be at least as large as your previous monthly payments -- if you want to really make progress. If you can pay more, you should, because you'll pay it off faster."

Bankrate.com's home equity search engine lets you find the lowest rates for variable-rate home equity lines of credit and fixed-rate home equity loans.

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