About this time of year you're probably getting a lot of offers by mail and phone from people who are really eager to lend you money.

The more you owe, the better they like you. After all, they can see profits rolling in for years on that $8,000 worth of credit-card debt that you're slowly paying off.Should you take the plunge and shift your debt around? Does it make sense to pay off your credit cards and move the debt to a home equity loan or line of credit?

From a financial standpoint, the answer is almost always yes.

With a good credit record, you might be able to find a fixed-rate credit card that carries interest of only 10 percent to 11 percent.

But a home equity loan should be substantially below that - as low as 8.5 percent if lenders in your town are offering equity lines at the prime rate. In addition, unless you have a mountain of debt already, the interest on a home equity loan is likely to be tax deductible for those who itemize. Credit-card interest offers no tax benefits.

For these reasons, thousands of people switch their debts to home equity loans each year. Annual surveys show that paying off debt is by far the No. 1 reason people get a home equity loan.

But there are good reasons not to make the switch, too. Chief among them is the temptation to start charging again once the credit cards are cleared. It's easy to run up the totals again before you realize it. Then you'll be paying on both the credit cards and the home equity loan. Eventually, such a situation can lead to financial ruin.

Looking at your habits, you may conclude that it's best to find a credit card with a reasonable interest rate and pay it off as fast as you can instead of opening an additional line of credit.

The nice thing about a credit card is that as you pay it down, the required payments drop. If you keep up the higher payment, the debt will disappear in relatively quick time.

If you're currently paying a high rate, look for a better deal. You can find a lot of credit card offers online at www.ramresearch.com

When you're looking for a job, you know that you must account for any gaps in your employment history. What you may not realize is that you need to make a similar accounting when you apply for a mortgage.

GMAC, in an industry newsletter, says that if you were out of work at any time in the two years before you buy a house, you'll need a statement explaining the reasons for the gap, along with the dates. And "If there was a gap in their employment because they were a full-time student, they must provide a copy of their school transcript covering that period."