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Should I request a personal loan to pay off my credit cards?

By , CardRatings Contributor

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If you've racked up some significant credit card balances, your neighborhood bank or credit union might offer a personal loan to help you pay down your debt more quickly. It's a good deal if you can meet all three of these conditions:

  1. You can get an unsecured personal loan with fees and finance charges far less than what you're paying right now.
  2. You're confident that your family, health, and employment situations will stay stable enough to maintain your cash flow while you pay down the loan.
  3. You're disciplined enough to prevent your credit card balances from creeping back up once you've paid your bills with your personal loan.

Otherwise, you may be better off shopping for a balance transfer offer from your bank or from their rivals. Competition has heated up again among lenders. Even consumers with fair credit scores have reported qualifying for some decent balance transfer deals. If you've paid your bills consistently over the past few years, you may even qualify for a deal with no upfront balance transfer fee.

Avoid taking out a personal loan that requires you to post collateral. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, many homeowners believed that they could save money by rolling credit card balances into home equity lines of credit. When housing prices collapsed, those HELOC deals haunted Americans who faced foreclosure because of their spending habits. A lender may sue you over an unpaid credit card bill, but they can't seize your home.

Sadly, I'm hearing more stories lately about credit card customers who fall victim to disreputable lenders. These companies use high pressure sales tactics to push low quality loans. Despite public scrutiny, predatory lending still impacts the unemployed, the elderly, and residents of low income communities. Don't do business based on a single telemarketing call. Instead, do your homework, research your prospective lender online, and avoid deals that sound too good to be true.

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