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Debt Consolidation 101: The Crash Course
by Marc Eisenson

      If you owe money, you're probably paying a pretty penny in interest. You can save a lot by consolidating your debts and then quickly paying them off. We'd like to show you how.

      In Debt Consolidation 101, a 19-page booklet written in our usual easy to follow style, Gerri Detweiler, Nancy Castleman, and I took a fresh, hard look at all the ways you could possibly lower your interest rate and cut down on the hassle factor of paying all those bills -- including borrowing from banks, credit unions, family and friends, and even from yourself.

      We also investigated borrowing against 401 (k) and other retirement plans, as well as your insurance policy and the equity in your house. It turns out, much as it pains us to have to say it, that some of the lowest interest rates you'll find today are on credit cards. Properly handled, plastic can help repair the damage that plastic has created!

      In the booklet, we explain all the pros and cons, and suggest how to pursue each option. But you, my loyal readers, get the crash course right here -- beginning with an:

      Important Proviso: None of these options will work if you're going to keep on charging and otherwise spending money you don't have. So if you're just going to use a debt consolidation loan as a way to get more credit, and to string out your term of debt -- forget about it. Don't take this crash course, and don't buy our booklet. You'll just end up deeper in the hole.

      After researching all the options for debt consolidation loans, we've concluded that low-interest-rate cards often come out near or at the top of the list. They can be relatively easy to get -- if your credit history is decent. Most issuers are eager to transfer balances from other cards, and interest rates are often lower than what's available on more traditional debt consolidation loans at banks and credit unions.

      Credit card issuers send out a torrent of offers -- well over 2 billion a year. So somewhere in today's pile of junk mail, may be a pre-approved offer for a card that starts with a "teaser" rate of 5.9% for 3 to 6 months, or even for 12 months. Or maybe you'll get it tomorrow.

      Another good place to look is in your wallet. A great rate may be only a phone call away. Call your current issuers and tell them you'd like to transfer some of your other debts to their card -- but only if they can give you a competitive rate. If the customer service rep can't help, ask to speak to a supervisor. Be persistent. Chances are, at least one will bite.

      Then if you don't have enough credit available, ask for a credit line increase. If you've been paying your bills on time, most issuers will be happy to give you more credit. That's their business!

      In addition to carefully perusing the offers that come to you bulk rate, you can find a comprehensive list of low-rate cards at: http://www.cardtrak.com Or send $5 to: CardTrak, P.O. Box 3966, Gettysburg, PA 17325.



      That alone will save you a bundle. For example, let's say you owe $10,000, aside from your mortgage. To make the example easy to follow, we'll assume that the full $10,000 is on one piece of plastic that charges 17%. Transfer the balance to a credit card at 11%, and even if you only send in the minimum required payments, you'll save over $15,000.

      That's certainly a nice piece of change, but it'll still take over 28 years to pay it all off that way. What we urge you to do is create a plan for paying off the debt as quickly as possible -- say in 3 to 5 years. The faster you pay it down, the more you'll save. Ask the card issuer, your bank, or your credit union to transfer a fixed payment each month, or even twice a month from your account to pay off the credit card bill.

      Our new booklet includes easy to use charts showing just how much to pay in order to achieve that goal -- and how much money will be saved in the process.


      You can still save a bundle, even if low-rate credit card offers aren't flooding your mailbox. If you have a poor credit history, the following borrowing options might make sense, since they require no credit check. Loans against:

  1. Retirement savings such as a 401 (k), 403 (b), or profit sharing plans.
  2. The cash value in an insurance policy.
  3. Investments, such as stocks and bonds (which are called "margin" loans).But be warned: None of these options is risk-free. Read our booklet and then speak with your professional advisors before signing on the dotted line for any one of them.
      For help improving your credit report, get a copy of the new edition of The Ultimate Credit Handbook ($15.95 US, to order, call 845-657-8245). Written by Gerri Detweiler, this book will show you how to solve your credit problems and take control of your debt. It's a comprehensive, no-nonsense guide.


       1. The new 125% home equity loans, which offer to lend more than the value of your home and often have very high closing costs -- as much as $5,000 on a $25,000 loan! If you have to sell, chances are you won't be able to get anyone to pay more than your house is worth. (In some parts of the country, you'd be lucky to get 100% of its value.)

      2. Debt consolidation loans from finance companies, which charge very high rates, 23% for example. Customers are attracted because of ads focusing on the low monthly payments. Low payments can be an expensive trap, because they'll stretch your loan out -- over 30 years or more, dramatically increasing your final interest costs.


      Even if you can't bring yourself to go to the effort of getting a consolidation loan or if you can't qualify for one, you can still save big. Develop your own "Payoff Plan" for each of your debts, starting with the one that charges the highest interest rate. You can use The Banker's Secret Software ($39.95 US, call 845-657-8245 to order) to see how much you'll save and how soon you'll get out of debt.

             Here's how The Banker's Secret Payoff Plan works: Every month from here on, until the debt is paid off, continue to send in at least as much as you're required to send in right now. For example, on our $10,000, 17% debt, your required payment this month would be $200. If you simply send that amount in every month, as opposed to the ever decreasing amount that will be required in future months (assuming you don't charge anything more), you'll save $15,929, and over 42 years of payments.


       Stop charging, start consolidating, and keep paying off your bills. You can do it! We have faith in you.

The Pocket Change Investor
The Secrets to Getting Ahead -- Even If You Have a Pile of Credit Card Bills, Hefty Mortgage Payments,
Loans Out on a Clunker or Two, & a Bad Case of the "I'm Tired of Living Payday to Payday" Blues.

As of Issue #35 (Fall, 2003), The Pocket Change Investor, our quarterly newsletter on how to save money, get out of debt, and live better on less, will be available online, only -- for free! To get future issues right into your inbox, send your email address to us at newsletter@goodadvicepress.com, putting the word "subscribe" on the subject line.

The Pocket Change Windfall: Each of our 34 back issues offers painless ways to get out of debt and save on the many expenses that confront us all -- taxes, credit card bills, mortgages, insurance, food, you name it. You can get all 34 for just $29.95 -- that's less than $1 each. To order, you can use our secure server, call 845-657-8245, or write to us at:

PO Box 78
Elizaville, NY 12523

"While there are a multitude of debt reduction plans and courses available, the least expensive is from the father of the idea ... obtain a copy of Eisenson's booklet ... ."
-- Scott Burns, Personal Finance Columnist
Dallas Morning News

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Reprinted from The Pocket Change Investor, Issue #20
© 1998, Marc Eisenson & Nancy Castleman
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