Have your bills gotten so out of control you don’t know which way to turn? Are things so bad you’re about to freeze your credit cards in a block of ice, cancel your Netflix subscription and swear to never eat out again?

These things could certainly help but most experts say that if your goal is to pay off your debts, you need to have a more comprehensive plan. One of the most popular of these is debt consolidation, where you roll all your debts into a single loan.

Debt consolidation can feel very helpful because it would make your debt feel more manageable. However, it’s not a panacea or an ideal solution for everyone. It works best if you have high-interest-rate debts like credit cards. A study done by NerdWallet last year found that U.S.households with credit card debt owed an average of $16,748. If you owe this much or more – at high-interest rates – then debt consolidation might be a good option. But there are for secrets you need to know to do it successfully.

1. Secret #1: Have a realistic budget

The most basic type of budget has three critical parts. They are money for debt payments, contributions to retirement savings, and money for an emergency fund. However, if you want to have a successful budget you need to avoid adding additional debt by including money for infrequent expenses, such as your car licensing fees. It’s also important to include money to cover those times of the year when expenses get high, like the holidays.

You also need to leave some money for fun. The mistake many people make is to cut their spending down to practically nothing for so long that they then go out and do something extravagant. To have a realistic budget means leaving enough money available to spend on those things that you love and value.

Secret #2: Stop using your credit cards

One of the most cardinal rules of debt consolidation is to stop using your credit cards while paying off your debts. You could cut them up, stash them away, or freeze them in ice. These may seem like extreme methods but they can be effective. You should also write down why you want to be debt-free and how often you will make payments. Set periodic reminders to check your progress.

However, don’t make the mistake of closing your credit card accounts. This will only damage your credit score. In fact, you need to put a small charge on one of your cards every few months, and then pay it off on time and in full. This is to keep the account active.

Secret #3: Be sure to compare options

Some of the balance transfer cards give you as much as 15 to 21 months interest-free – after which you will be charged a double-digit interest rate. Most of them also charge balance transfer fees and you’ll need a good credit score and a high income to qualify. If you think you’d like to take advantage of one of these cards you can increase your chances of qualifying for one by adding up all of your potential sources of income. This should include the money in your 401(k) and in your savings account. Then, list this amount on your application instead of just your salary.

Personal debt consolidation loans generally have lower interest rates than credit cards and let you borrow more money. Your interest rate will depend on your credit score and how much debt you have. The way this works is that the lender will send the money directly to your creditors, which removes the temptation to spend it instead of using it to pay off your debts. However, only some lenders – such as Wells Fargo, Discover, and FreedomPlus – offer this option.

Just be sure to check out all possible debt consolidation options before selecting one.

Secret #4: Enlist some moral support

You may find it hard to talk about your debts with family members or friends, but getting support from your peers can be a powerful motivator.

Support groups are available on the Internet, or you might use some close family members to help keep you on track in achieving your goal of being debt-free. Online lenders like Payoff and Prosper will even provide tailored recommendations and apps to help you stay motivated.

In summary

Debt consolidation can be a powerful tool for getting your debts paid off. But make no mistake about this. It takes time and more than a little self-discipline. Develop a realistic budget, put those credit cards away, check out the various debt consolidation options available, and be sure to get some moral support. Do this, and you should have no problem achieving your goal of being debt free.

If you have a lot of high-interest credit card debts, then transferring their balances to a 0% APR credit card can be a very wise move. You’d then have just one payment to make a month in place of the multiple ones you’re now making, which should certainly make your life easier. But more important, your new payment will be for much less than the total of your current payments because you’ll be paying 0% interest – at least until your introductory period ends. There are now cards that offer 0% interest for as long as 18 months, giving you a lot of time to pay off your balance.

One false move

As good as 0% APR credit cards might seem, they do have some drawbacks. With some of these cards all you’d have to do is make one false move and you’d be back with a huge APR. Of course, if you know the following six facts about these cards, you should be able to avoid this.

If you skip a payment

Transferring high-interest credit card debts to a 0% APR credit card will definitely save you money on interest but it’s crucial to never miss a payment. If you’re consistently late by as many as 60 days, your 0% APR could be cancelled. You could also be changed a penalty APR on your balance if you’re 60 days late. And the penalty APR could be as high as 30% making it something you will definitely want to avoid.

It may not apply to both

Here’s one where you need to read the fine print as many of these cards will apply the 0% APR to balance transfers or purchases but not to both. And there are some that offer 0% APR for an extended period of time on balance transfers but only six months’ interest free on purchases. Of course, if you’re smart you won’t be making any purchases with the 0% APR card because your goal should be to get your balance paid off and not to add on new debt.

What happens when your introductory period ends

The companies that offer 0% APR balance transfer cards are no dummies. The reason they offer these cards is they hope you’ll keep using the card when your introductory period ends and you get to start paying interest. And that interest could be as high as 24.9% — which is why it’s critical to pay off your balance before your introductory period ends.

Your credit could get dinged

It’s possible that pursuing a 0% balance transfer card could actually harm your credit score. One reason for this is 10% of your credit score is based on “new credit” so opening a new account could ding your credit score. Second, when you transfer your existing credit card debts to a new card, your debt doesn’t magically disappear. A full 30% of your credit score is your credit utilization or debt-to-credit ratio. If the amount of your available credit that you’re using up remains high so that you have a bad debt to credit ratio, your credit score will definitely take a hit. But if you do work on paying down your balance during your 0% APR introductory period, your debt to credit ratio will improve and your credit score should get better.

It won’t get you out of debt by itself

As you have read transferring your high-interest credit card debts to a 0% APR card will save you a lot of money in the short term but you still have a balance. And as you have also read, when your introductory period ends, your interest charges will come back to punish you. If you’re really serious about getting out of debt you need to use your interest-free introductory period to pay off your debt for good.

Most of these cards charge a fee

Most of the 0% APR cards charge a fee of 3% to 5% of the balances you’re transferring. While 3% might not sound like much if you were transferring a total of $10,000 your fee would be $300, which is not insignificant. Before you sign up for one of these cards be sure to check what the fee will be and factor it into your repayment plan.

In summary

There’s an old saying that we recent saw on a tee-shirt, “There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch”. And this is certainly true of 0% APR balance transfer cards. One of them could save you a lot of money in interest charges but it’s no magic bullet. You will need to read the fine print before applying for one so that you’ll know what you’re getting into and you’ll need to follow all its rules. If you fail to do either of these things you could literally end up in worse shape than you are now.