There are many reasons people end up in debt. Medical bills, emergency home or car repairs, a job layoff. And some of us just didn’t know that it’s best to pay off credit cards in full every month. Either way, no judgment here. If you have high-interest credit card debt and are ready to put together a plan to pay it back, you might be considering one of two popular methods: Credit card refinancing vs. debt consolidation.
Both involve paying off your debt with another credit card or loan, ideally at a lower interest rate. Still, the two methods are not the same, and both options require careful consideration. Below, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of each debt payback method, so you can make an informed decision.
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What Is Credit Card Refinancing?
Credit card refinancing is the process of moving your credit card balance(s) from one card or lender to another with a lower interest rate. The main purpose of refinancing is to reduce the amount of interest you’re paying with a lower rate while you pay off the balance.
Borrowers may accomplish this by paying off their existing credit cards with a brand-new balance transfer card. This type of credit card offers a low or 0% interest rate for a promotional period of up to 21 months.
For example, say a borrower has $10,000 on a credit card that charges 20% interest. By switching to a 0% interest card (and making payments on time), they can save around $2,000 in the first year alone, provided there are no fees or penalties. Alternatively, if the borrower switches to a card that charges 10% interest in the first year, they can save around $1,000.
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What Are the Pros and Cons of Credit Card Refinancing?
We’ve discussed the goal of credit card refinancing — to lower your interest rate — and how to accomplish it. Now let’s explore some of the pros and cons of refinancing.
Pros of Refinancing
The primary benefit is the chance to pay off credit card debt while paying little to no interest for the first 12 or more months. For a relatively small credit card balance — one that can comfortably be paid off within a year — this can be an effective strategy.
Cons of Refinancing
Balance transfer cards come with major catches: The low or 0% interest period is short-term (6-21 months), and there may be a balance transfer fee of 3%-5%. For a borrower with $10,000 in credit card debt, a 5% balance transfer fee comes out to $500.
For some borrowers, the amount they’re saving in interest might not be worth the transfer fee. This is especially true if the borrower ends up unable to pay off their balance within the introductory period. After the promotion ends, the interest rate can skyrocket to as high as 25%.
This brings up yet another consideration: Balance transfer cards don’t put any structure into place for the borrower to follow in order to fully pay off the credit card debt. A borrower can just as easily continue making only the minimum payments and even add to the balance of the debt. This is the risk we run with what is called revolving credit.
Finally, 0% interest balance transfer cards often require a high credit score to qualify. However, borrowers hoping to qualify in the future can build their credit by making all payments on time and reviewing their credit report for errors.
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What Is Credit Card Debt Consolidation?
Credit card consolidation refers to the process of paying off multiple credit cards with a single loan, referred to as a debt consolidation loan or personal loan. Unlike refinancing, the main purpose of consolidation is to simplify bills by combining multiple credit card payments into one fixed loan payment.
A borrower may also pay less in interest, but the difference may not be as great as with refinancing. An applicant’s credit score and other financial data points will determine their personal loan interest rate.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Credit Card Debt Consolidation?
As we mentioned, credit card debt consolidation serves to pay off multiple credit cards with a single short-term loan. But as with credit card refinancing, there are advantages and disadvantages.
Pros of Debt Consolidation
Consolidation allows borrowers to pay off multiple debts and replace them with one monthly payment and a set repayment term of their choosing. Borrowers benefit from the structured nature of a personal loan: They make equal payments toward the debt at a fixed rate until it is completely eliminated.
With most personal loans, the borrower is able to opt for a fixed interest rate, which ensures payments won’t change over time. (Variable interest rate loans are available, but their lower initial rate can go up as market rates rise.) You might have a $10,000 loan, for instance, with a repayment term of five years at 8% interest — a rate that will not change for the duration of the loan.
Secured personal loans that require collateral sometimes offer lower interest rates. However, the savings is usually not worth the risk of losing your car or home. For that reason, unsecured personal loans are preferable.
Cons of Debt Consolidation
The terms of a personal loan will almost always be based on the borrower’s credit history and their holistic financial picture. That means that not every borrower will qualify for a low interest rate, or get approved for a personal loan at all.
Another hazard is the potential for a borrower to run up their credit card debt again, once their cards are paid off. Canceling all but one card can help prevent that. However, borrowers should research how canceling their credit cards might affect their credit scores.
Credit Card Refinancing vs Debt Consolidation
To recap, the difference between debt consolidation and credit card refinance is first a matter of goals. With credit card refinancing — as with other forms of debt refinancing — the borrower’s aim is to save money by lowering their interest rate. Debt consolidation may or may not save the borrower money on interest, but will certainly simplify bills by replacing multiple credit card obligations with a single monthly payment and a structured payback schedule.
The other difference is that credit card refinancing typically utilizes a balance transfer credit card that has a 0% or low-interest rate for a short time. This limits the amount a borrower can transfer to what they can comfortably pay off in a year or so. Debt consolidation utilizes a personal loan, which allows for higher balances to be paid off over a longer payback period.
Credit Card Refinancing vs Balance Transfer Cards
These two terms are not mutually exclusive. Instead, a balance transfer credit card is one way to refinance credit card debt.
Credit card refinancing is when a borrower pays off their credit card(s) by moving the balance to another card with a lower interest rate. A popular way to do this is with 0% interest balance transfer credit cards. However, borrowers typically need a high credit score to qualify for these cards. Debt consolidation, on the other hand, is when a borrower simplifies multiple debts by paying them off with a personal loan. Personal loans with a fixed low interest rate and a structured payback schedule are a smart option for consolidating debts.
If you have a relatively small balance that can be paid off in a year or so, refinancing with a balance transfer credit card may be right for you. If you have a larger balance or need more time to fully pay it off, personal loans are available for terms of up to 7 years.
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