When your credit card bills start to outweigh the junk mail in your mailbox, it may be time to start thinking about your credit card debt and what to do about it. But before you start canceling credit cards, make sure you have a plan. Trying to lower credit card debt the wrong way could actually cause more damage.

Plan your attack

Decide on your goals before merging your credit. Transferring a balance can be beneficial if your goal is to lower your interest rates. However, if you’re simply looking to decrease monthly payments or prolong the loan term, then consolidation may be pointless. Debt consolidation is meaningless if you keep swiping the plastic.  

Wise credit card management

One goal should be to reduce your number of credit cards to around two or three. First, pay off all credit cards that have a low balance and get rid of them. Then, find the card with the lowest interest rate and transfer all balances to that card. Keep the card hidden and don’t use it. Pay it off in full and close the account. Keep two or three multipurpose cards with high enough limits, and pay them off monthly in full.

Things to watch out for

Credit card debt can be tricky. Don’t get caught in a jam because you didn’t read the fine print. Before you transfer your balance, consult with the credit card company and read the agreement thoroughly. You don’t want to be stuck with a higher interest rate than you planned for.

To help determine whether transfering a balance is the right path for your situation, use Bankrate’s debt consolidation calculator.