Did you know that 43.9 percent of families in the U.S. have credit card debt, according to the Federal Reserve? Or that individual Americans owe, on average, $6,354 in credit card debt, according to Experian? Figuring out how to pay off credit card debt can seem daunting even if you don't owe much. And when you’re in such a huge amount of high-interest debt, things can seem pretty hopeless.

Consolidation loans are one of the first options you’re likely to see if you look for ways to pay off credit card debt. These are simply loans that you use to pay off all your credit cards today and get a lower interest rate that will save you money in the long run. Lots of businesses and banks offer them, and they can seem like a wonderful way to get out of debt more quickly.

If you dig deeper, though, many experts caution against using a consolidation loan. They say that it only puts a Band-Aid on a leaky ship.

The reason that most experts advise people against taking out credit card consolidation loans is because they fail to change their behavior.Many people end up right back in debt once they realize they can charge full balances again on their credit cards. Even worse, sometimes these loans can end up costing more in the long term.

However, I used a debt consolidation loan to pay off all my credit card debt a few years ago. Since then, I’ve successfully kicked the credit card habit.

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How was I able to pay off my credit card debt while making sure that I didn’t get taken advantage of by greedy lenders? Well . . .

How I Got Into Debt in the First Place

A few years ago, I had $8,000 in credit card debt. I knew that I needed to pay it off, but it seemed like an insurmountable task. I was only making $500 a week at my job, so how would I ever pay off the full balance?

The reason I stayed in debt was because it was just too tempting to put new charges on the credit card. I wouldn’t be able to pay it off in full at the end of the month anyway, so what was the harm in putting a few more dollars on it?

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How I Paid Off My Credit Card Debt

I made my payments on my debt each month. I even tried to pay more than the minimum, but still, the balance kept growing. But I knew I needed a way out. That was when I learned about credit card consolidation loans and why they’re not advisable for many people.

I decided to go ahead with it, anyway. And I haven't carried a balance since paying off my credit cards with the consolidation loan.

The reason I beat the credit card debt cycle was simple: I committed to changing my behavior.

Every time I use my credit card, I pay it off within a day or two. Normally it’s easy for me to forget these things, but I put it on my daily to-do list, and I even incorporated it into my daily routine so that I never forget.

Each morning, after I brew a cup of tea, the first thing I do is pay off any charges from the day before. Extreme? Maybe. But it works.

The reason that most experts advise people against taking out credit card consolidation loans is because the borrowers fail to change their behavior and continue to rack up more debt. I didn’t want to be a statistic. So I made a commitment to myself that if I took out this consolidation loan, I would always pay off my credit card. Otherwise, it would have all been for nothing.

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How to Pay Off Credit Card Debt With a Consolidation Loan

The first thing you’ll need if you want to try using credit card consolidation loans is to find out if it will actually be cheaper for you to do this. You’ll need to write down three numbers: the interest rate (APR), the loan term, and the monthly payment.

Banks and online lenders usually only lend to people with moderate to excellent credit, so if you have bad credit, you can always talk to an NFCC-certified credit counselor to see your options. There are also credit repair companies, such as  the Credit People and Pyramid Credit Repair, that might also be able to help.

Next, do the math on whether debt consolidation would actually save you money. It’s not hard: CentSai has a free, easy calculator that tells you if it’s cheaper to consolidate your debt.

Simply plug in the numbers from your existing credit card debt (APR and balance) and the numbers from the potential loan you want to compare it with (APR and loan term), and it will tell you how much money you will — or won’t — save.

You'll also want to make sure that you receive your consolidation loan from a trustworthy company, such as National Debt Relief or Accredited Debt Relief. So make sure to do your research.

If you will actually save money in the long run, ask yourself two things: First, can I afford the new monthly payment? And second, am I committed to not racking up a balance on my credit card? If you can answer yes to both of these questions, then loan consolidation might be a good option for you.

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