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Do credit card balance transfers just extend the cycle of debt? p2

There are a lot of dangerous, counterproductive ways to "manage" your debt. There are payday loans, for example: They seem reasonable at first glance but, on closer examination, you see that they come with sky-high interest rates, among other negatives. All too often, one loan leads to another and another until what started out as a financial setback turns into a financial fiasco.

During tough times, too, those of us who are looking to pay less for our debt have signed on for a balance transfer from one credit card to another. The idea of accruing less interest and keeping monthly payments manageable is enough to convince us it’s a good idea. The challenge, of course, is twofold: The transfer needs to be cost effective, and the cardholder needs to cancel or to stop using the higher-rate credit card. A celebratory trip to the outlets in Aurora is not the best plan of action.

CardHub.com recently compared transfer offers of 15 major credit card companies, and, as we said in our last post, the results were surprising. The website is operated by an independent company -- that is, it is not affiliated with lenders or card companies -- and CNN, the Wall Street Journal and others have praised the service.

The purpose of the balance transfer is to lower monthly payments and to decrease long-term debt. The best way to do this, of course, is to transfer to a no-interest/no-fee card. Consumers know to look for interest rate comparisons, but they may forget about the fee. According to CardHub, cards are generally charging 3 percent or 4 percent of the transferred balance.

If you have a high balance, then, that could be a lot of money -- $150 for a $5,000 transfer. Some cards come with upper limits on fees, but they are rare, CardHub says.

The other consideration, of course, is the interest-free period. These can vary significantly from card to card and are usually accompanied by a transfer fee. One card from Chase offers no fee and 15 months of no interest, but there are other conditions to consider.

Again, many of the advantages of the balance transfer are only realized if you pay off the balance during the interest-free period. After that, the full interest rate will kick in, and you'll be right back where you started. The objective is to short circuit the cycle of debt.

Source: The New York Times, "Credit Card Balance Transfer Can Reap Savings if Done Cautiously," Ann Carrns, Feb. 20, 2015

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