Money & Career

How to fight debt

Scared of opening credit-card bills? Consolidating your debts will simplify your life and lighten your load. Here’s how

1. Use one card
Combine your credit-card balances. Find out which card in your wallet carries the lowest interest rate and transfer all of your balances to that account. Cut up your store cards: Some carry interest rates as high as 28.8 percent. (This means you, HBC, Best Buy and IKEA plastic.) You can also apply for a new card with a low introductory rate and transfer your balances onto it, but be wary of making new purchases; they’ll be subject to higher interest rates and any payments you make will first be applied to your oldest outstanding balance. “You’ve got to read your agreement and think hard before adding any new charges,” says John Kane, spokesman for the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.

2. Get a line of credit
Apply for a line of credit at your bank. If they deem you creditworthy, you can apply for a flexible loan that you can access at will and reuse once you’ve paid it back. Interest rates are generally low – usually prime plus one percent – so you can afford to pay off your credit-card balances and other loans in full. Other solutions include a personal loan. “Your banking officer can advise you on what the best option is,” says Bev Moir, a financial planner with ScotiaMcLeod. “Banks are very competitive, and they’ll want to offer you a good rate.”

3. Seek counselling
Ask for advice from a non-profit consumer credit-counselling agency. Beware those late-night TV commercials from companies that promise to get you out of debt instantly, though. They’ll take advantage of your desperation and charge you extortionate fees. In addition, “don’t believe anyone who says they can fix your credit rating,” Kane says. “Only you can do that.” A non-profit credit-counselling agency, such as Credit Canada, will help you come up with a plan that works with your lifestyle and budget, although Kane says for-profit agencies can also work: Just do your homework before you settle on one. And remember: Credit counselling will show up on your credit history.

4. Swallow your pride
If they can spare the cash, get help from your family and friends. Accept it graciously: You may never get as good an offer elsewhere. Just commit to paying them back within a certain time frame, and put it in writing; there’s a reason why money is the number-one destroyer of relationships.

5. Check the web
Some sites, such as www.moneytools.ca, run by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, have interactive features that help you shop around for the ideal banking package and find low-interest credit cards available in your province.