It's happened to many people: Mired deep in credit card debt and facing steep interest rates, they see the chance to transfer their debt to another card with a lower interest rate, and they go for it. It certainly seems sensible -- why pay more in interest than you have to? But it's not quite as simple as it may appear.

At, Walecia Konrad offered some warnings on the topic. For starters, she points out that these low-rate offers are typically only for a few months, after which the low rate transmogrifies into a higher one. Make sure you know which rates you'll face, and for how long, and confirm that you will get these rates, given (or in spite of) your credit score. Also, find out which debts each rate will apply to -- sometimes one rate is just for the transferred debt from another card, and another rate applies to new charges.

Note that many cards will charge you several percentage points (often 4%) of the amount you transfer. So if you transfer a $10,000 debt, you may end up paying $400. Some cards cap this fee at $25 or $50 -- look for those deals and avoid the no-cap ones. (Or, you might simply call the card company and see if the fee can be waived entirely. The answer may be yes.) Finally, remember to pay each bill as soon as you get it. A late payment can nullify the low rate and sock you with a rate as high or higher than the one you were trying to leave behind.

The bottom line
If you have any kind of significant credit card debt, make sure you appreciate how much it can hurt you. It's like investing, but in reverse. Just as you would have earned an annual average of 22% invested in Harley-Davidson (NYSE:HOG) stock over the past decade, you could have paid 22% or more in interest on thousands of dollars in debt in the same period. The first option would have turned $10,000 into nearly $75,000, while the latter option could have depleted your nest egg by several thousands of dollars, with little to show for it.

Even stocks that haven't done as well, such as J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP) and its 11% return or Disney's (NYSE:DIS) 4% return over the past 10 years, are a much better deal than forking over gobs of interest on credit card debt.

And don't forget ...
It's also good to remember that you have some other options. For one thing, simply calling the credit card company and asking if they can lower your rate might work. It has worked for others.

Here are some discussions from our Credit Cards and Consumer Debt discussion board on the topic of balance transfers. Check them out for loads of perspectives and advice:

And finally, learn much more about the surprisingly interesting credit card industry in our Credit Center, which also features tips on getting out of debt, along with guidance on how to manage your credit effectively. There's some great stuff in our Credit Center, and it's all free reading.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article. Bankrate is a Rule Breakers pick, and Disney is a Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool has a disclosure policy.