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Consolidation works best when your ultimate goal is to become debt-free.

This type of credit card charges no interest for a promotional period, often 12 to 18 months, and allows you to transfer all your other credit card balances over to it.

Here are 9 questions you want answered before you sign on the dotted line.

The "very first question" the consumer should ask is, "Why am I applying for this card? " says Bruce Mc Clary, media director for Clear Point Credit Counseling Solutions, a nonprofit affiliated with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling Some positive reasons: The card has low or no fees, a lower interest rate or offers a rewards program that suits your spending habits.

While credit companies are under no obligation to negotiate your payments, the best debt consolidation companies may be able to consolidate your debt to a single, monthly payment or negotiate to lower the total amount of debt that you owe.

When you start pursuing debt management options, you may get many mixed messages from those in the debt relief industry.

If you are struggling to manage your debt but unsure of what steps to take, you can look into solutions offered by loan consolidation companies. Many of these paths negatively affect your credit score, require long-term dedication and obligate you to still pay off the majority of what you owe.

Debt consolidation companies communicate with your debtors to negotiate lower rates on your behalf.

The option that best suits you depends on your overall debt load, credit score and history, available cash and other aspects of your financial situation, as well as your self-discipline.

Most negatively affect your credit, and with most programs, you still pay off the majority of your debt.

What these debt solution services can do for you is negotiate with your creditors in an attempt to lower some of your debt, or you may be able to consolidate your debt down to a single, monthly payment, preferably one with a lower interest rate than what you are paying with each individual creditor.

Most issuers charge a balance transfer fee of around 3%, and some also charge an annual fee.

Before you choose a card, calculate whether the interest you save over time will wipe out the cost of the fee.

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