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Debt is a reality that many of us have to face in our day-to-day lives. If you’re trying to pay off some credit card debt that has gotten out of hand, using another credit card is generally not an option. Most credit card issuers don’t allow cardholders to pay a balance using another credit card. However, there is one loophole: a balance transfer credit card.
Now, whether or not a balance transfer credit card is the right decision in order to manage a high-interest credit card is entirely up to you. But with the right promotional rate and a certain level of discipline, it isn’t the worst idea in the world.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at what using a balance transfer credit card to pay off debt could look like and a few alternatives worth considering.
Why you should not pay a credit card with a credit card
You shouldn’t pay off a credit card with a credit card because it simply isn’t possible (unless it is a balance transfer credit card). Credit card issuers tend to only accept the following types of payment when you pay your bill each month: checks, electronic bank transfers and money orders. While this may be disappointing for some, using a credit card to address out-of-control debt on another credit card is only going to cause more issues. Your debt will become unmanageable and odds are you are going to be facing high-interest charges on your new credit card — much like the first credit card.
What to consider before doing a balance transfer to pay off a credit card
Balance transfer cards offer you the option to transfer debt and pay it down (or off entirely) during an introductory interest-free period. To get the most out of using a balance transfer card, look for cards that have no annual fees and offer cash back rewards. Here are a few other considerations to keep in mind:
- Is there a balance transfer fee? Balance transfer fees typically range from 3 percent to 5 percent of the total balance you transfer to your new card. For every $10,000 you transfer, you’ll owe either $300 or $500. If you are looking to transfer a much smaller balance, there’s typically a minimum charge in place, anywhere from $5 to $10.The balance transfer fee depends on which credit card you ultimately choose, so keep this in mind while you are browsing for balance transfer credit cards.
- When does the 0 percent period end? The best way to make the best out of your balance transfer is to ensure you can pay the balance off before the 0 percent period ends. The best balance transfer cards available typically have introductory 0 percent APR periods that last anywhere from 12 to 21 months. Once this period inevitably comes to an end, your balance will start accruing interest. It is important to know exactly when this is going to come to an end so you can take care of the balance before your credit card’s regular APR kicks in.
- How is your credit score? Many times when we are stuck with debt, our credit score is negatively affected. Paying off debt with a balance transfer card will also affect your credit score. Applying for a new card will trigger an inquiry into your credit report. This will lower your score a bit, but only temporarily. Take the time to research balance transfer credit cards so when the time comes, you are only applying for one.
- What will your new credit limit be? Unfortunately, when it comes to credit limits, there is no guarantee that you will be approved for an amount sufficient enough to handle large balance transfers. If you are looking at transferring a large chunk of change and your credit limit falls short, you are going to be stuck paying off two balances.
Tips to pay off debt with a credit card
While a balance transfer card may offer you a resource for paying off your debt, it is not a magic solution. Paying off debt and keeping it under control involves certain important steps. Here are some of the big ones:
Know how much you owe
When debt starts piling up, it is often easier to ignore what you owe than to crunch the numbers. However, the first step to getting out of debt is having an amount in black and white. So, sit down with all of your bills — car loan, medical bills, credit cards, etc. Make a list of what you currently owe for each bill. Make sure you note any interest rates that will be added on as well — these are an important factor in paying off your debt.
Come up with a plan
There are a variety of balance transfer cards out there that will offer you an introductory interest-free period to pay off the debt you’ve transferred. The best balance transfer credit cards offer introductory periods of 12 to 21 months, after which you’ll be responsible for any balance plus added interest. Before transferring your debt, take the time to figure out how much you will need to pay each month to pay off the debt before your no-interest period ends. You can use Bankrate’s credit card payoff calculator to help.
Make a payment schedule
Once you have calculated how much you will need to pay each month to pay off your debt, make a payment schedule. Late fees are only going to add to the debt you already have, so it’s important that you pay your bills on time. If you have the option, set up automatic payments. This will ensure consistent payment and help avoid late or missed payments.
Handle high-interest debt first
If you are dealing with debt from multiple places, handle your high-interest debt first. The introductory 0 percent APR period on your balance transfer card will give you a chance to pay off that debt without having to worry about the high interest for a while. For other debts, continue to pay your minimum payment each month until the high-interest debt is taken care of.
Use available tools
Paying off debt starts with knowing where you stand. Consumers can get a free copy of their credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com, but this doesn’t provide your actual credit score. However, anyone can purchase their score through any of the three credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian or TransUnion.
Another tool that is helpful for debt repayment is account alerts for when a payment is due. This is especially helpful if setting up auto payments is not an option.
Keep your options open
Balance transfer cards are helpful tools, but they aren’t for everyone. If your credit is not in a good place to add another card to your rotation, you may want to look at other options to pay off credit card debt. A personal loan is another way to get some debt relief at a lower interest rate. You can also look at the option of going through a debt management service to help you negotiate payment options with your creditors.
Alternatives to a balance transfer credit card
If you aren’t quite sure a balance transfer is the best option for you, there are other options. If you can manage to pay off your lingering debt with one lump sum payment, that is always going to be the route with the least amount of risk. Of course that may require a significant amount of cash, which is not always just lingering around.
Another option to keep in mind is a personal loan. Taking out a personal loan to pay off credit card debt has its pros and cons, but since personal loans tend to offer lower interest rates than credit cards, you may save some money in interest over time.
Taking out a personal loan for credit card debt has its advantages when it comes to debt consolidation because aside from a lower interest rate, you can pay off your debt in full and you’ll only have one monthly payment.
Now, paying off your credit card debt in full with a personal loan does not immediately make you debt-free. You still have to pay off your personal loan. However, by consolidating your debt into one loan, you will only have one monthly payment to worry about. This can make it easier to plan ahead when it comes to calculating your monthly expenses, and it may also help you pay off your loan more quickly depending on what your minimum payment is.
The bottom line
Paying off debt feels amazing, and a balance transfer card can often be the key to getting there. However, paying off debt may not last very long if your spending habits don’t change. As you work to pay off your debt, also come up with a working budget for your current and future spending to keep your debt in check.