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How to Be a Credit Card Shark

A Suze Orman exclusive

If you overspend just because you like to buy buy buy on credit, then you are what I call Broke by Choice. You are willfully making your own mess. I am not going to lecture you about how damaging this is; I’m hoping the fact that you’re reading this article means you are ready to make a change.

But I also realize that some of you are Broke by Circumstance. I actually tell young adults in the dues-paying stage of their careers to lean on their credit cards if they don’t yet make enough to always keep up with their bills. But the key is that if you rely on your credit cards to make ends meet, you must limit the plastic spending to true necessities, not indulgences. Buying groceries is a necessity. Buying dinner for you and your pals at a swank restaurant is an indulgence you can’t afford if it will become part of your unpaid credit card balance.

But whether you are broke by choice or by circumstance, the strategy for getting out of credit card debt is the same: to outmaneuver the card companies with a strategy that assures you pay the lowest possible interest rate, for the shortest possible time, while avoiding all of the many snares and traps the card companies lay out for you.

Here’s how to be a Credit Card Shark.

Take an Interest in your Rate
The average interest rate charged on credit cards is 15 percent, with plenty of folks paying 18 percent, 20 percent, or even more. If you carry a balance on any credit cards, your primary focus should be to get that rate down as low as possible.

Now then. If you have a FICO score of at least 720, and you make at least the minimum payment due each month, on time, you should be able to negotiate with your current credit card issuer to lower your rate. Call ‘em up and let them know you plan to transfer your entire balance to another card with a lower rate—more on this in a sec—if they don’t get your rate down.

If your card issuer doesn’t step up to the plate and give you a better deal, then do indeed start shopping around for a new card with a sweet intro offer. For those of you with strong FICO scores, a zero-rate deal ought to be possible. You can search for top card deals at the Yahoo! Finance Credit Card Center.

Don’t forget, though, that the key with balance transfer offers is to find out what your rate will be when the intro period expires in six months to a year. If your zero rate will skyrocket to 20 percent, that’s a crappy deal, unless you are absolutely 100 percent sure you will get the balance paid off before the rate changes. (And if you got yourself into card hell in the first place, I wouldn’t be betting on you having the ability to wipe out your problem in just six months…)

Once you are approved for the new low- or zero-rate card, move as much of your high-rate balances onto this new card. But don’t—I repeat, do NOT—use the new card for new purchases. Hidden in the fine print on these deals are provisions stating, first, that any new purchases you make on the card will come with a high interest rate, and second, that you’ll be paying that high interest on the entirety of your new purchase charges until you pay off every last cent of the balance transfer amount. This, to put it mildly, could really screw up your zero-rate deal. So please, use the new card only to park your old high-rate debt, and not to shop with.

Another careless mistake you can make is to cancel your old cards. Don’t do that either. Those cards hold some valuable “history” that’s used to compute your FICO credit score. If you cancel the cards, you cancel your history, and your FICO score can take a hit. If you are worried about the temptation of using the cards, just get out your scissors and give them a good trim. That way you can’t use ‘em, but your history stays on your record.

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Main: How to Take Control of Your Credit Cards

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·  Fast Credit Card Pay-Down Plan
·  Shopping for Credit Cards
·  Avoiding Credit Card Debt
·  Beware the Hidden Costs of Credit Card Balance Transfers
 
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