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I frequently get credit card offers with 0% interest or low interest balance transfers. Does it make sense to use these to pay down my home's mortgage?
It depends. If the home's mortgage is at a fixed 5% and the credit card offer is $20,000 at 0% for 6 months, then - unless you can pay off the $20k at the end of the 6 months completely, stay away from this offer.
In the following situation it does make sense:
Home's mortgage is a HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit) which adjusts every month. At the time of writing (June 2006) now it probably would be 7.75%
The credit card offer is 0% for 12 months and adjusting after that.
In this situation I recommend moving as much onto the credit card as you estimate to be able to pay off at the end of the 12 months.
I personally had a $35k HELOC balance approaching 7% interest last year. I paid off $5k right away. I moved $15k onto a 0% credit card for 12 months and the remaining $15k onto a 3.99% credit card (3.99% for the life of the balance).
There are several pitfalls with credit cards:
if you are ever late on a payment, forget the low rate, it will jump to 20% or whatever they feel like
if you make any payment to credit cards, it typically gets applied towards the lowest interest part of the balance first. So do not use this credit card for any other purchases which would incur the regular interest rate! For that reason, I cut up those 2 cards where I transferred my balances. See also my article 'Citibanks Dirty Tricks..' (link is on the left)
Remember to check carefully that you do not have any payments set up automatically to be billed against this credit card (cell phone service, trash service, etc). The card must be fully paid off at the time that you accept this low-interest balance transfer offer!
suddenly you have now some maxxed out (or nearly maxxed out) credit cards. Your credit rating will probably suffer a little from this. After all, you turn secured debt (mortgage, HELOC) into unsecured debt (credit card).
Is it worth it?
On a $30k HELOC at 8% the monthly interest payment is 30,000 * 0.08 / 12 = $200
After my transfer to the two cards, I pay 0 on the first and around $49 on the second card. So it does save around $150 a month. Or approximately $1000 over a year. (The savings get smaller as you pay off the balance.)
To avoid late payments, I suggest setting up automatic payments.
Once again, the credit card that you use to pay down your HELOC or high-interest mortgage must not carry any other balance while you do this. Otherwise you will end up paying regular (high) credit card interest rates on a portion of your balance. The card should show a balance of 0 before you do the transfer and you must not charge anything else to the card while you make use of the low interest offer.
If your mortgage company doesn't take credit card payments, I found a service online called ChargeSmart that let's you pay your mortgage with a credit card. There is a small fee but you get your reward points, miles, or cash back.
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