Personal Finance

Why and where you should borrow before rates rise

Credit card debt: What should you pay off first?

If you need or want to borrow money, what are you waiting for?

Most people have already benefited from low rates, according to a September survey by Wells Fargo and Gallup of 1,006 investors. Fifty-eight percent have either taken out a car loan, mortgage or personal loan over the past two years. Half of those surveyed said they were very or somewhat likely to take out a loan in the near future in anticipation that rates may go up.

If you need a loan, it's best to shop around. "Consumers do best when they cast a wide net," said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at

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If you have a credit card balance and think you can pay it off quickly, use a zero percent balance transfer offer if that's available to you.

America's outstanding credit card debt is projected to total $900 billion by the end of the year, bringing the average indebted household's balance to $7,813 — the highest amount since 2008, when the average was $8,428, according to a analysis by credit card comparison website Card Hub.

The balance-transfer offers typically last 15 to 18 months, and the best ones are available to borrowers with credit scores of 720 or better.

The national average FICO score is now 695 — the highest it's been for at least a decade, according to the latest analysis from Fair Isaac Corp., which created the score. A separate analysis by Experian put the average VantageScore, which was developed by Experian and the other national credit reporting companies Equifax and TransUnion, at 667, which is still considered good. (Scores range from 301 to 850.)

If balance-transfer offers aren't coming your way, a personal loan from a traditional bank or a peer-to-peer lender, such as Lending Club or SoFi, which just raised $1 billion in its latest financing round, may offer you a way to consolidate debt at a lower rate.

As with balance-transfer offers, the best deals are reserved for those with top credit scores. Use lending comparison websites, such as Bankrate, NerdWallet and MagnifyMoney, to scope out the best terms.

Each lender specializes in a segment of the market, so if you don't receive a great offer from one lender, it doesn't mean another lender can't make you a better deal, said Nick Clements, co-founder of

Make sure that lenders are making soft inquiries into your credit when you are shopping around instead of hard ones, which can remain on your credit report for two years. When you commit to a borrower, you will typically have to do a hard inquiry into your credit. If you are unsure about the type of inquiry, ask the lender or find out on the lender's website.

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Many borrowers are also tapping into home equity lines of credit. "Heloc" originations increased 21 percent from June 2014 to June 2015, according to a report from Experian-Oliver Wyman Market Intelligence Report.

A Heloc can offer lower rates compared with personal loans, but there is a catch. You could lose your home if you fail to pay back your loan.

"The rates for Heloc are low compared with credit cards and personal loans because you are moving unsecured debt to debt secured by property," McBride said.

Finally, you may be tempted to tap your retirement savings to reduce your debt. Many retirement plans allow you to borrow against the balance and pay yourself back.

A July report from Fidelity, the nation's largest provider of retirement plans, shows the percentage of people initiating a loan or repaying one has remained steady at 10.1 percent and 21.9 percent, respectively, over the past several quarters. But the average loan has increased to $9,720, up 2.3 percent from a year ago.

But advisors recommend against that option, saying it's not good to use your 401(k) plan as an ATM. "'It's a permanent setback to your retirement plan," McBride said.