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Friday, May 24, 2024   

Balance transfer game
by Scott Bilker
Scott Bilker is the author of the best-selling books, Talk Your Way Out of Credit Card Debt, Credit Card and Debt Management, and How to be more Credit Card and Debt Smart. He's also the founder of DebtSmart.com. More about and DebtSmart can be found in the online media kit.
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Scott Bilker

Dear Scott,

I have learned a great deal even from just a few visits to your site and my husband has as well! Our problem: We are both sole proprietors of our own businesses and have ridden the freelance rollercoaster for a combined 30 years.

I am slowly working away at debt I accumulated when I was in massage school. My husband, however, has not always been so good at opening his mail, paying his bills on time, and in the last 4 years since 9/11, frequently was simply unable to pay certain bills. I am in the process of cleaning up this mess, as I've taken over the money management.

He gets offers for 0 percent intro rates frequently, but they have horrible default rates. I just found a decent one and he called to apply over the phone and they rejected him. His finance charges are so high (close to $900 per month!) that if we could transfer a few balances to a 0 percent card, we'd pay off one big balance in a year. BUT--they keep rejecting him after tempting him with these offers. What gives? How do we get out of the pit here? I am ordering your book right now, but do you have any words of encouragement?

Thank you for what you are doing!!


Thanks for your comments about DebtSmart.com!

Thirty years in freelance can certainly be a rollercoaster ride. I know that firsthand because my father worked as a freelance photojournalist for many years. Of course there are many rewards as well, like being able to manage your own time to some degree.

It is a smart move for you to take over the financial management. If your husband has been having trouble focusing on opening the mail and paying the bills, then this can end up increasing the cost of your debt when banks raise your rate. And the banks will raise your rate if there are late or missed payments. Opening mail and paying bills in a timely manner is the most simply way to ensure that you're efficient with your current debts.

With finance charges of $900 per month, you really do need to transfer your balances to a lower rate. The fact that you are receiving 0 percent offers frequently is good, because they create the credit options you need to keep your rates low. Of course, your husband being rejected for these offers hurts that plan.

It is important to distinguish between two types of low-rate credit card offers: (1) offers from your current cards and (2) offers from new banks. Offers from your current cards are the best offers because it means you've already been accepted. Plus the transfer terms are usually better, and by that I mean less expensive. The other type of offer, those from new banks, are difficult to rely on after you apply, even if they say "pre-approved." That’s because the fine print of these offers provides a way out of the deal.

For example, you may get an offer that says, “0 percent for 6 months on balance transfers, plus a $10,000 limit with no annual fee.” But, when the card arrives you have actually received 4.99% on transfers, a $500 limit, and a $50 annual fee. When you call the bank, fuming, the representative will direct you to the fine print that says something like, “you get the advertised deal if you ‘qualify’ otherwise you get deals X, Y, or Z” of which none are that great.

Here are two suggestions to get you started now:

(1) Call your current card and try to negotiate lower rates. Tell them that you’re taking over the finances and will be paying promptly from this point forward. Ask them to do something for you, like reduce your rates, or else you will need to transfer your balances. Negotiating with banks is the topic of my latest book, Talk Your Way Out of Credit Card Debt. In that book I present 52 phone calls that saved more than $43,000. You can do it! Call today.

(2) Continue to apply for low-rate cards. I do recommend a few good low-rate cards. You can find them at http://www.debtsmart.com/cards

You can reduce your rate by focusing on getting better credit options! Work on this every day and you will succeed!



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