Many or all companies we feature compensate us. Compensation and editorial research influence how products appear on a page. Personal Loans Credit Card Refinancing vs. Debt Consolidation Updated Jun 13, 2023   |   8-min read Written by Rebecca Lake, CEPF® Written by Rebecca Lake, CEPF® Expertise: Student loans, mortgages, home-buying, credit, debt, personal loans, education planning, insurance, investing, small business Rebecca Lake is a certified educator in personal finance (CEPF®) and freelance writer specializing in finance. Learn more about Rebecca Lake, CEPF® Reviewed by Erin Kinkade, CFP® Reviewed by Erin Kinkade, CFP® Expertise: Insurance planning, education planning, retirement planning, investment planning, military benefits, behavioral finance Erin Kinkade, CFP®, ChFC®, works as a financial planner at AAFMAA Wealth Management & Trust. Erin prepares comprehensive financial plans for military veterans and their families. Learn more about Erin Kinkade, CFP® Credit cards can be convenient—until you have to pay back what you borrow. Collectively, Americans owe $986 billion in credit card debt, and if you’ve got one or more balances to repay, you might be wondering how to approach it. Credit card refinancing is one option; debt consolidation is another. Both could potentially save you money on interest and help you get out of debt faster. However, there are some cons to go with the pros. Comparing credit card refinancing vs. debt consolidation can help you decide the best way to pay down your debt. In this guide: What is credit card refinancing?What is debt consolidation?Credit card refinancing vs. debt consolidation: key differencesHow to choose which one is best for youFAQs What is credit card refinancing? Credit card refinancing simply means moving an existing balance from one credit card to another with a lower interest rate. It’s more commonly referred to as a balance transfer. For example, you might have a $5,000 balance at 17.99% that you transfer to a new credit card offering a 0% APR for 18 months. Because many credit cards have interest rates as high as 15% to 20%, transferring a balance to a card with a low or 0% interest rate can save hundreds or thousands of dollars while you pay off your debt. Of course, that assumes you pay the transferred balance in full before the promotional rate ends. Credit card balance transfers limit how long you can enjoy a 0% APR. Depending on the card, it may be anywhere from nine to 21 months. If you still owe a balance once the promotional rate ends, the regular variable APR will apply to the remaining amount. Advantages and disadvantages Credit card refinancing can offer tangible benefits if you’re ready to pay off your balances, but it’s not necessarily ideal in every situation. Here are some pros and cons to consider. Pros It’s possible to reduce your APR to 0%, allowing you to save a significant amount on interest. Applying for a credit card balance transfer is faster and easier than applying for a loan to pay off debt. Transferring balances can streamline monthly debt payments and potentially raise your credit score over time. Cons Introductory rates have a time limit, and the regular variable APR could be much higher. Balance transfer fees of 3% to 5% may apply, increasing the total amount you’ll pay back to the credit card company. Paying only the minimums may save you little in interest if part of your balance eventually becomes subject to the regular APR. If you are applying for a new credit card, a hard credit check will be run and could reduce your credit score by a few points. Credit card refinancing could save you money and help you get out of debt faster. But you might pay more in fees and interest if you can’t pay the balance in full before the promotional rate ends. What is debt consolidation? Debt consolidation is the process of combining multiple debts. This is usually done through a debt consolidation loan, which is a personal loan used specifically to pay off debts. You’d use the loan proceeds to pay off your debts, then repay what you borrowed to the lender with interest. It’s possible to find secured and unsecured personal loans ranging from $1,000 to as much as $100,000. If approved, you could use a debt consolidation loan to pay off: Credit cardsRetail store cardsIn-house financingMedical debtsInstallment loansOther personal loans or lines of credit Personal loans charge interest, and while you likely won’t find a 0% APR option, it’s possible to lock in a low, fixed rate if you have good credit. Loan terms can range from 12 to 84 months, depending on the lender, and since rates are fixed, your monthly payments are predictable. Advantages and disadvantages Similar to credit card refinancing, debt consolidation has both pros and cons. Here are some to keep in mind before applying for a loan: Pros Debt consolidation allows you to combine multiple debts at a fixed interest rate. Consolidating debts can minimize the number of monthly debt payments you must make. Fixed interest rates make it easier to plan for monthly payments and calculate how much interest you’ll pay over the life of the loan. Cons Some lenders charge origination fees for debt consolidation loans, which are deducted from the loan proceeds. Debt consolidation loan rates can be as high as credit card interest rates for borrowers with less-than-perfect credit. Continuing to use your credit cards after consolidating balances with a loan could lead you deeper into debt. Applying for a personal loan will result in a hard credit check, potentially lowering your credit score a few points. Bottom line? A personal debt consolidation loan could make it easier to handle credit card debt and save a little bit of money on interest. However, it’s not a foolproof solution if you still use credit cards to create new debt. Credit card refinancing vs. debt consolidation: key differences If you’re considering debt consolidation vs. credit card refinancing, it helps to understand how they compare. In terms of their differences, the biggest things that set them apart center on interest rates, fees, repayment terms, funding, and credit score requirements. Credit card refinancingDebt consolidationAverage APR0% is a typical APR for balance transfer credits5.99% – 35.99% is a typical APR range for the best personal loansAverage fees3% – 5% is a typical balance transfer fee, though some cards waive the fee for eligible customers 0% – 9.99% is a typical origination fee range for personal loansRepayment terms9 – 21 months; varies by card issuer 2 – 12 years; varies by lenderHow it’s fundedOnce approved, the new credit card issuer will pay off the balances you specify using your new credit line Personal loan proceeds are paid out in a lump sum, though some lenders may offer the option to pay your creditors directly Credit requiredVaries by card Minimum credit score requirements can start at 580, though some lenders may require higher scores How to choose which one is best for you What is credit card refinancing vs. debt consolidation right for? The short answer is that it depends on your personal financial situation. Some of the factors to consider when deciding which option to pursue include: How much debt you currently have and the interest rate you’re paying to each one. Whether you’d also like to consolidate or pay off debts other than credit cards, such as medical loans or installment loans. Your credit scores and which refinancing or debt consolidation options you will most likely qualify for. How quickly you’d like to be able to pay off debts. What you can realistically afford to pay toward your debt each month. Credit card refinancing might be right if you’re confident you can pay off the balance before the promotional rate ends. Let’s return to our previous example: You have $5,000 in credit card debt.You qualify for a card offering a 0% APR for 15 months. You’re charged a 5% balance transfer fee, which adds $250 to your payoff total. You’d need to pay $350 per month to clear the balance before the promotional rate ends. If you’re not able to manage that payment, you should look for a card with a longer 0% APR term or consider a debt consolidation loan instead. Now consider this example using a debt consolidation loan: You take out a $5,000 loan at 5.99% with a 24-month repayment term. Your monthly payments would drop to $221, which could be more workable for your budget. The trade-off is that you’d pay $317 in interest instead of $0 interest with a balance transfer card. Here are some other factors to consider when deciding between credit card refinancing and debt consolidation: Consider credit card refinancing if …Debt consolidation might be better if …Your primary goal is to minimize the amount of interest you pay. You need a longer timeframe to pay off debt and don’t mind paying interest. You’re comfortable paying a balance transfer fee, or you can find a card that waives the fee.You can qualify for the lowest personal loan rates and the best terms based on your credit score. You know you’ll be able to pay the balance in full before the promotional rate ends. You need to pay off more debt than you can consolidate with a credit card. FAQs How does credit card refinancing affect my credit? Applying for a new balance transfer credit card can result in a hard inquiry being added to your credit. That may trim a few points off your score. If you don’t charge new balances to your cards, refinancing could improve your score over time if you’re making timely payments and steadily reducing your debt. How does debt consolidation affect my credit? Debt consolidation can also trim a few points off your credit score if the lender does a hard credit check when you apply. But it’s possible to recover by making on-time payments and not charging any new balances to the cards you paid off. Are there alternatives to consider to eliminate credit card debt? A debt management plan (DMP) can help you pay off credit card debt while reducing interest rates and fees. You consult with a debt counselor or credit counselor who gets your creditors to agree to the plan. You then make one payment to the debt management plan each month, which is distributed among your creditors. Debt negotiation is another option in which you get the credit card company to accept a payment of less than what is owed. While this can lower your debt amount, it can damage your credit score, as creditors may be unwilling to make a deal unless you’re on the verge of default. In addition, the forgiven debt will be reported as taxable income if the amount is more than $600.