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February 14, 2014

Dave Ramsey: Balance transfers don’t do much

NEW CASTLE — Dear Dave: I’m trying to pay off my credit card and get out of debt. Do you think I should transfer the balance to one with a lower interest rate while I do this? — Kelsey

Dear Kelsey: I’m not against this idea, as long as you understand that you’re not really accomplishing much. All you’re doing is moving money around, and maybe saving a tiny bit on interest. If you were planning on keeping the debt around for 30 years it would become a big deal. But if you’re talking about a few months, just until you get it paid off, it’s not that much money.

The problem with balance transfers is that you feel like you took a big step forward when you really didn’t. Lots of times this causes people to lose focus on other things they can do to get out of debt, like picking up an extra job or selling a bunch a crap they don’t want or need. That kind of stuff, along with living on rice and beans and a strict written budget, is 98 percent of the battle when it comes to getting out of debt. — Dave

Dear Dave: How can I get credit card companies to stop sending us preapproved offers? My wife continues to sign up for these, and now we have $40,000 in credit card debt. — Dan

Dear Dan: Chances are you’ll never get credit card companies to stop sending stuff, but there a few things you can do that might help slow things down. Access your credit bureau report, and opt out of marketing offers. You can also freeze your credit report, and send direct requests to the credit card companies to take you off their mailing lists.

I’ve been telling people not to use credit cards for 20 years and, believe it or not, even I get offers in the mail. The more mailing lists you get on, the more your mailbox will fill up with junk mail. If you have magazine subscriptions and things like that, your contact information is circulating all over the place.

The next thing I’m going to say may sound cruel, but I really don’t mean it that way. You don’t have a junk mail problem, Dan. You have a relationship problem. You two are not on the same page about money. Either she doesn’t feel like you two have enough money, and she’s resorting to credit cards for this reason, or she does this because she’s a spoiled brat who thinks she should always have what she wants when she wants it. Her behavior is destroying your financial lives and driving a wedge between you.

My advice would be to sit down and have a gentle, loving talk with her about all this. Try to find out why she feels the need to have all these credit cards, and explain that you’re worried about what it’s doing to your marriage and your finances. That may mean having to spend some time with a marriage counselor, but that’s okay, too. There’s no reason to be ashamed of something like that. The truth is, most of us who have been married more than 20 minutes could use a little help in that area of our lives! — Dave

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