If you find yourself burdened by credit card debt, you’re not alone. It’s a prevalent issue affecting many adults in the United States. In fact, most Americans carry 3 credit cards, with an average credit card balance of $5,474 as of late 2022, according to the credit bureau TransUnion.
Dealing with credit card debt can be overwhelming, but there are potential solutions that can help you regain control of your financial situation. One such option is credit card refinancing, which holds the potential to secure a lower interest rate or even accelerate the process of eliminating your credit card debt.
- The goal of credit card refinancing is to make it easier to pay off existing debt.
- There are different ways you can refinance credit card debt, including using a balance transfer card, getting a personal loan, borrowing from a retirement account, etc.
Credit Card Refinancing Explained
Credit card refinancing involves paying off high-interest credit card balances using alternative financial tools. The goal is to lower the overall cost of your debt by reducing the interest rate or monthly payments. This approach can help you manage your debt more effectively and achieve greater financial stability.
Various refinancing options exist, including balance transfer cards, personal loans, home equity loans, and borrowing from retirement accounts. What method you want to use depends on factors such as your credit score, credit history, overall debt load, and financial circumstance.
Credit Card Refinancing vs. Consolidation
Credit card debt consolidation involves combining different credit card balances into one payment, often through a personal loan or another credit card. The goal is to simplify the repayment process by reducing the number of outstanding balances and potentially securing a lower interest rate.
Benefits of Refinancing
Refinancing offers potential benefits, including:
- Lower Interest Rate: The average credit card interest rate is 24.59% as of June 2023. But with refinancing, you might secure a more favorable rate based on your creditworthiness. That translates into savings on interest charges and can expedite the process of paying off your debt.
- Cost Savings: If you secure a lower interest rate, you can potentially save a significant amount of money on interest charges over the life of your debt. By paying less interest, more of your money goes toward reducing the principal balance, allowing you to become debt-free faster. For example, refinancing a $10,000 credit card balance with a $500 monthly payment from a 24.59% APR to a 10% APR could save you over $2,000 in interest charges.
- Reduced Monthly Payments: Refinancing offers the flexibility to extend the repayment term, which can reduce your monthly payment amount. This can provide much-needed relief if you struggle with high monthly credit card payments. However, opting for a longer repayment term will likely result in paying more interest charges over time.
- Improved Budgeting and Financial Planning: With a refinanced loan, you have the advantage of a structured repayment plan. You’ll know exactly how much you need to pay each month, making it easier to budget and plan accordingly.
Drawbacks to Consider
While refinancing credit card debt offers potential benefits, there are potential drawbacks you should keep in mind:
- Fees: Refinancing may involve fees such as origination fees or other charges associated with obtaining a new loan. These fees can eat into your potential savings, particularly if you’re refinancing a relatively small amount of debt.
- Accumulating More Debt: Refinancing doesn’t address the underlying spending habits that may have led to the debt in the first place. If you continue to accumulate charges without a plan to manage your spending, you may find yourself in a deeper cycle of debt.
- Long-Term Interest Costs: Extending the repayment term through refinancing can reduce your monthly payments, but it can also result in paying more interest over the life of the loan. Assess whether the overall interest savings outweigh the potential increase in interest charges due to an extended repayment period.
- Qualification Requirements: Refinancing options, such as personal loans or balance transfer cards, typically have specific qualification requirements. These may include factors such as credit score, income, and debt-to-income ratio. If your credit score or financial situation doesn’t meet the necessary criteria, you may not qualify for the most favorable refinancing terms.
Can Credit Card Refinancing Impact Your Credit Score?
Credit card refinancing can help your credit score in the long run, but it is not entirely risk-free. Applying for a new credit card or loan for refinancing purposes typically results in a temporary decrease in your credit score. Lenders may perform a hard credit inquiry to assess your creditworthiness, and each one can lower your score by a few points.
Making consistent on-time payments on your new loan or credit card used for refinancing is crucial for building a strong payment history. Payment history accounts for a significant portion (35%) of your credit score. By consistently meeting your payment obligations, you demonstrate responsible financial behavior and improve your credit score over time.
Your credit utilization ratio represents the amount of credit you’re using compared to your total credit limit. By consolidating your credit card debt and paying off revolving credit card accounts, you can potentially lower your credit utilization. Experts recommend keeping your credit utilization below 30% to show lenders you are responsible with credit, though I typically keep mine below 15% to be safe.
Having a diverse mix of credit accounts, including credit cards, personal loans, auto loans, and mortgages, can also help your credit score. Adding a personal loan to your credit profile may improve your credit mix, which makes up 10% of your credit score.
While credit card refinancing can boost your credit score in the long run, practicing responsible financial habits is key. Making timely payments and refraining from accumulating additional debt is essential. Missing payments or taking on more debt can negatively impact your credit health, regardless of whether you refinance or not.
How to Refinance Credit Card Debt
Refinance Credit Card Debt With a Personal Loan
Personal loans often offer lower interest rates than credit cards, making them an attractive refinancing option. While this will not erase your debt, you can take out a personal loan to pay off any high-interest credit card debts. This process simplifies your payment obligations and may make budgeting and planning for repayments easier.
To qualify for a personal loan with favorable terms, you should ideally have a minimum credit score of 670 or higher, though a score of 720 or higher is best. A higher credit score increases your chances of approval and may help you secure the best interest rates available.
Because personal loans for credit card refinancing are typically unsecured, you don’t need to provide collateral to guarantee the loan. This reduces the risk of losing assets if you can’t repay the loan. However, they may come with slightly higher interest rates compared to secured loans, which require collateral.
Personal loans typically range from $1,000 to $50,000, depending on your creditworthiness and the lender’s terms. The loan term can vary from 2 to 7 years. We recommend choosing the shortest term you can comfortably afford, as longer-term loans may result in more interest paid over time.
Your monthly bill will include your installment plan and interest. If you plan on paying off your loan earlier than expected, check with your lender first to see if there are penalties for early payoffs. Sometimes lenders may charge a fee if you pay off your debt too quickly since they lose out on interest charges.
Some personal loans may also come with origination fees, which can offset potential interest savings. It’s essential to consider the overall cost of the loan, including any fees when evaluating the benefits of refinancing. If you plan to pay off your debt quickly, a balance transfer credit card with an introductory APR period might be a more cost-effective option.
Refinance Your Credit Card Debt with a Balance Transfer Card
A popular refinancing option involves transferring your balances from credit cards with high annual percentage rates (APR) to ones with lower APRs. Ideally, you want a balance transfer card with a 0% APR introductory period, which typically ranges from 12 to 18 months. During this period, you will not need to pay interest on the transferred balance, allowing you to wipe out your debt without accruing more interest charges. However, if you fail to pay off all your debt within the given time frame, you may be subject to higher interest rates again, which can negate the benefits of the transfer.
Be aware of the time frame within which you need to make the balance transfer to qualify for the 0% introductory APR. The card issuer usually specifies the time frame, such as within 45 days of account opening. You may also have to pay a balance transfer fee of 3% to 5% of the transferred amount.
Balance transfer cards generally require a credit score of 680 or higher for approval and may limit the amount you can transfer, typically up to your new credit limit. If you have a large amount of debt, you may need to prioritize transferring the debt with the highest interest rate to make the most impact.
Use a Home Equity Loan to Refinance Credit Card Debt
Using a home equity loan to refinance credit card debt can be a viable option if you are a homeowner with significant equity in your property. You can tap into your home’s equity by taking out a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC) with an online lender or bank.
A home equity loan provides a lump sum amount with a fixed interest rate, while a home equity line of credit (HELOC) functions more like a credit card, allowing you to borrow up to a certain limit during the draw period. With a HELOC, you only pay interest on the borrowed amount, but eventually, the full loan amount, including the principal, needs to be repaid.
To determine your home equity, subtract the amount you owe on your home from its current value. For example, if your home is valued at $500,000 and you owe $175,000, your home equity is $325,000. Lenders usually cap the loan amount at 80% of the value of your equity, though the specific terms and conditions will vary depending on the lender.
These loans typically offer lower interest rates compared to personal loans and credit cards because they are secured by the property itself. However, defaulting on payments could result in foreclosure and the loss of your home.
Like the other loans mentioned, lenders typically offer the lowest interest rates to borrowers with the highest credit scores. Applying for a home equity loan is similar to the process of mortgage refinancing. It involves a comprehensive assessment of your financial situation and may include closing costs.
Home equity loans or HELOCs are suitable if you have substantial credit card debt and prefer an extended repayment period, usually spanning 10+ years. These loans allow you to consolidate your debt and make fixed monthly payments over an extended period.
Borrow From a Retirement Account to Refinance Credit Card Debt
You can borrow from your 401(k) as a last resort if you have bad credit and don’t qualify for other refinancing or debt consolidation options. However, borrowing from a retirement account can have a significant impact on your retirement savings. By withdrawing funds from your 401(k), you may be diminishing your future retirement income potential while reducing the available funds for compound growth.
If you are younger than 59.5 years old, you may have to pay taxes on the amount withdrawn. It’s important to understand the tax implications and consult with a tax professional for guidance. Secondly, the IRS allows you to borrow only up to 50% of your 401(k) account balance, with a maximum limit of $50,000. Most times, you will also need to repay within 5 years.
While borrowing from a 401(k) may offer lower interest rates, it shouldn’t be the first choice due to its impact on retirement savings. The main advantage is that it doesn’t require creditworthiness checks and may offer relatively lower rates, depending on your employer-sponsored plan. Unless you have no other options, it’s best to avoid borrowing from your 401(k).
Consider a Debt Management Plan
If you are struggling with a significant amount of credit card debt and have difficulty managing payments, consider seeking help from a nonprofit credit counseling agency. These organizations can work together with you and your creditors to create a debt management plan.
With a debt management plan, you make a single monthly payment to the credit counseling agency, which then distributes the funds to your creditors at a reduced interest rate. This process allows you to eliminate credit card debt over a period of 3 to 5 years. You will usually need to pay a one-time setup fee and a monthly administrative fee for the services the credit counseling agency provides.
While the debt management plan is in effect, it will be noted on your credit report. However, once the plan is completed, this notation is removed. Closing credit card accounts may temporarily lower your credit score, but timely payments can improve it over time.
It is essential to thoroughly research and choose a reputable credit counseling agency for your debt management plan. Look for organizations accredited by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) to ensure their credibility and ethical practices.
Debt management plans can be worth considering if you lack confidence in making timely payments or prefer to have a professional negotiate lower rates and follow a structured payment plan on your behalf. These plans can potentially lower monthly payments, negotiate reduced interest rates, and help you pay off your debt within a specific timeframe.
The Bottom Line
If you are tired of juggling multiple credit card balances or have trouble paying off your debt, refinancing may alleviate some of your stress and make it easier to take control of your finances. However, weigh the pros and cons carefully before refinancing to see if it makes sense for you.