Dear Liz: I need to understand how credit reporting agencies treat personal unsecured loan debt versus credit card debt.
I am considering getting a personal loan from a reputable lender to pay down my credit card debt. The amount of my overall debt will still be the same, just in a different category. How will my credit score be affected?
Answer: What you need to understand is how credit scoring formulas treat installment debt (loans) versus revolving debt (credit cards). Credit reporting agencies maintain the credit reports used to create scores — but don’t bless (or curse) particular types of debt.
The personal loan’s overall effect on your credit scores is likely to be positive if you pay the loan on time. What you owe on an installment loan is typically treated more favorably than a similar balance on a credit card.
Installment loans have other advantages: You typically get a fixed rate, rather than the variable one charged on most credit cards, and your balance will be paid off over the term of the loan, which is usually three years. If you stop carrying balances on your credit cards, you should be in much better shape: free of debt with potentially higher scores.
Often the best place to get installment loans is from credit unions, which are member-owned financial institutions that may offer lower interest rates.
Avoid any lender that gives you a high-pressure sales pitch, that offers you a loan if you have bad credit or that pitches debt settlement, which is far more dangerous to your finances than a personal loan.
If the lender tries to tell you about a new “government program” that wipes out credit card debt or tries to collect big upfront fees, you’ve stumbled onto a scam.