Debt Consolidation

If credit card debt is causing you problems, debt consolidation could be the solution. Find out how to lower interest rates and reduce monthly payments while eliminating your debt.

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What is Debt Consolidation?

Debt consolidation can help you reduce your interest rates and monthly payments on credit card debt by combining all cards into a single monthly payment. You can consolidate your debt with or without a new loan, depending on which debt relief program you choose. With debt consolidation, you combine several unsecured debts — credit cards, medical bills, personal loans, payday loans, etc. — into one bill. Instead of having to write checks to 5–10 creditors every month, you consolidate credit bills into one payment, and write one check. This helps eliminate mistakes that result in finances charges like late payments.

Note: Debt consolidation is commonly referred to as credit consolidation. There are three major types of debt consolidation: Debt Management Plans, Debt Consolidation Loans and Debt Settlement. These are not quick fixes, but rather long-term financial strategies to help you get out of debt. When done correctly, debt consolidation can:

  • Lower your interest rates
  • Lower your monthly payments
  • Protect your credit score
  • Help you get out of debt faster

How to Consolidate Your Debt?

Assess Your Credit Card Debt

Compile all your credit card bills and calculate a) total amount owed; b) average interest rate being paid; and c) total monthly payment for cards. This gives you a baseline for comparison purposes. Consolidation only works if you lower the interest rate on your debt and reduce your monthly payment.

Review Your Budget

If your monthly income is higher than expenses, you may be able to handle the problem yourself without consolidating debt. If you don’t have a budget, call a nonprofit credit counseling agency. They will coach you through the budget-making process and their service is free.

Make the Right Choice

The three major choices are a debt consolidation loan, a debt management plan or debt settlement. Each one has pros and cons. Know what you’re getting into before you commit to one.

Stick with It

Debt consolidation is not a quick fix. Debt consolidation loans usually run 3-5 years. Debt management programs take at least three years. Debt settlement can run 3-5 years. Compare interest rate, monthly payment and pay off time before making a decision.

How Debt Consolidation Works?

Debt consolidation works by combining multiple debts into one account and making a single, on-time monthly payment until all the debt is eliminated. Debt management plans, debt consolidation loans and debt settlement programs are the primary ways to consolidate debt, but there are several other options available (credit card balance transfers, home equity loans, personal loans, online lenders, etc.), depending on how desperate your situation is.


What Is The Best Way to Consolidate Debt?

How much money you owe and your available resources dictate the best option for consolidating debt.

If your credit card debt is over $5,000, a debt management plan or debt consolidation loan are very good choices. Both plans are based on reducing interest rate paid on the debt, thus making it easier to afford monthly payments. The difference is that there is no loan involved in a debt management plan.

If your credit card debt has ballooned to an unmanageable figure - a number so high that you can barely afford the minimum monthly payments - debt management and a debt consolidation loan are still in the mix, but it would be wise to add debt settlement. If you own a home, a home equity loan also is an option.

If your credit card balance is under $5,000 - and you're committed to pushing it down to zero - a zero-percent interest credit card balance transfer would be another choice. However, those cards usually go to customers with very high credit scores, charge a 3%-5% balance transfer fee and have an introductory period lasting 12-18 months before regular interest rates apply.

Debt Management Plans

Most financial experts agree that a Debt Management Plan (DMP) is the preferred method of debt consolidation. The most-recommended DMPs are run by non-profit organizations. They start with a credit counseling session to help determine how much money you can afford to pay creditors each month. The non-profit agency can help you get a lower interest rate from creditors and reduce or waive late fees to help make your monthly payment affordable. You send one payment to the agency running the DMP and they split it among all your creditors. Utilizing a debt management plan could affect your credit score. However, at the end of the 3-to-5 year process, you should be debt free, which definitely improves your score.

Learn More About Debt Management Plans

Debt Consolidation Loans

A Debt Consolidation Loan (DCL) allows you to make one payment to one lender in place of multiple payments to multiple creditors. A debt consolidation loan should have a fixed interest rate that is lower than what you were paying, which reduce your monthly payments and make it easier to repay the debts. There are several types of DCLs, including home equity loans, zero-interest balance transfers on credit cards, personal loans, and consolidating student loans. It is a popular way to bundle a variety of bills into one payment that makes it easier to track your finances. There are some drawbacks — you could face a longer repayment period before you finish paying off the debt — but it’s definitely worth investigating.

Learn More About Debt Consolidation Loans

How to Get the Best Consolidation Loan?

Credit unions typically offer the best rates for debt consolidation loans because they are nonprofit organizations and are owned by their members.

If you have a good relationship with your local bank, that is another choice, but banks are for-profit companies who rely heavily on credit scores to set their interest rates. At the very least, you should compare their rates to credit unions before making a decision.

If you have bad credit and aren't successful with credit unions or banks, online lenders could be a better place to borrow. Many online lenders are flexible with their qualifications as long as you are willing to pay a higher interest rate.

The key is to know how to consolidate your bills. Start by listing each of the debts you intend to consolidate - credit card, phone, medical bills, utilities, etc. - and what the monthly payment and interest rates are on those bills. It also helps to know your credit score.

Once you have this information, make sure to compare lender's rates, fees and payoff period before making a decision. A consolidation loan should reduce your interest rate, lower your monthly payment, and give you a practical way to eliminate debt.

How to Consolidate Credit Card Debt on Your Own?

If you have a very good credit score (700 or above), the best way to consolidate credit card debt is to apply for a 0% interest balance transfer credit card. The 0% interest is an introductory rate that usually lasts for 6–18 months. All payments made during that time will go toward reducing your balance. When the introductory rate ends, interest rates jump to 13–27% on the remaining balance. Be aware, however, that balance transfer cards often charge a transfer fee (usually 3%), and some even have annual fees.

Another DIY way to consolidate your credit card debt would be to stop using all your cards and pay using cash instead. This can allow you to set aside a portion of your income each month to pay down balances for each card, one at a time. When you have paid off all the cards, choose one and be responsible with how you use it.

What Is Bill Consolidation?

Bill consolidation is an option to eliminate debt by combining all your bills and paying them off with one loan. With bill consolidation, you make only one monthly payment — a good idea for when you have five, or maybe even 10 separate payments for credit cards, utilities, phone service, etc. If you consolidate all bills into one, the single payment should be at a lower interest rate and reduced monthly payment. Any savings could be used to start an emergency fund to help prevent a future financial crisis.

How Can I Consolidate My Bills?

Debt and bill consolidation takes patience, persistence and some organizational skills. You must start by gathering all your bills for things like medical, credit card, utilities, cell phones. Add the total amount owed on the unsecured debt. The next step is to determine how much you can afford to pay on a monthly basis, while still having enough to pay basics such as rent, food and transportation.

When you have that number, decide whether a personal loan, debt management program or debt settlement gives you the best chance to eliminate the debt. Understand that this process normally takes between three to five years. There are no easy fixes with debt consolidation.

Should You Consider Debt Consolidation?

Debt consolidation is an appealing way to simplify your bill paying responsibilities and eliminate debt, but there also is a risk that things could get worse if you don't choose the appropriate method and stay committed to the process.

The three major methods of debt consolidation - debt management, a debt consolidation loan and debt settlement - each require time to complete and a behavior change that makes paying off debt more important than accumulating more of it.

For example, a debt management program can dramatically reduce interest rates you pay on credit card debt and eliminate it in 3-5 years. However, if you fall behind on the expected monthly payments, the creditors who granted those major concessions, can revoke them immediately and you are in trouble again.

If you go with a secured debt consolidation loan using your home or car as collateral, the lender should offer an interest rate considerably better than what you're paying on credit card debt. But again, failure to make on-time payments could mean losing the home or car, which obviously makes you worse off than before.

If you decide to use debt settlement, you might reduce your debt by as much as 50%, but your credit score will take a severe hit that will last seven years. That could make it difficult to get a loan for a car or home in that time.

For debt consolidation to work, you must calculate how many payments it will take to eliminate the debt and how much interest is included in those payments. Compare that number to what you would pay under your current plan.

If you are not really committed to making on-time payments and changing the habits that got you into financial trouble, the cost and time for debt consolidation may make the situation worse.

Debt Consolidation FAQs

How does a debt management program compare with a debt consolidation loan?

What is debt consolidation refinancing?

What type of loans can I consolidate?

What Does Debt Consolidation Do Your Credit?

What are the best loans for debt consolidation?

When is debt consolidation the right option?

How do I consolidate debt and pay it off?

Is debt consolidation bad?

Are debt consolidation loans taxable?

Who qualifies for debt consolidation loans?

Does debt consolidation work on a limited income?

What do debt consolidation companies do?

Which debt consolidation plan is right for me?

Can I consolidate my debt without a loan?

Do lenders perceive debt consolidation negatively?

Debt Consolidation vs. Debt Settlement

These two repayment methods are often confused with each other, but they are vastly different.

Debt settlement companies promise to negotiate a lump-sum payment with each one of your creditors for less than what you actually owe. While this sounds ideal, there are drawbacks. Many creditors refuse to deal with debt settlement companies and debt settlements have a huge negative impact on your credit score.

Debt consolidation means taking out a single loan to pay off several unsecured debts. You make one payment to the lender each month, instead of multiple payments to multiple lenders. Debt consolidation has a positive impact on your credit score as long as you don’t miss any payments.

Debt settlement companies, on the other hand, ask clients to stop paying creditors and instead send a monthly check to the settlement company that is deposited in an escrow account. When the account reaches a specific dollar goal — this sometimes takes as long as 36 months – the settlement company steps in and makes its offer to the creditor. The creditors are not bound to accept the offer. Late fees and interest payments also accumulate during this time, making the amount owed much larger.

If you choose to use a debt settlement company, you should not pay any fees until the debt has been settled. Be sure they put in writing how much you pay in fees and how long the process will take. Remember that creditors can refuse to deal with settlement companies.

If you choose a debt consolidation company, be sure to get their fees and interest charges in writing.

Learn More About Debt Settlement
Settlement & Credit Card Companies Tip

Debt Consolidation Calculator

Will debt consolidation lower your monthly payment or save money on interest? Enter the terms on a debt consolidation loan, then enter your current terms for each individual debt. The debt consolidation calculator will calculate the monthly payment and total interest for your debts with and without a debt consolidation loan.


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Author

Staff Writer

Bill Fay is a journalism veteran with a nearly four-decade career in reporting and writing for daily newspapers, magazines and public officials. His focus at Debt.org is on frugal living, veterans' finances, retirement and tax advice. Bill can be reached at bfay@debt.org.

Sources

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  2. Rotter, K. (2017, May 4) How to Get Out of Debt in 2017. Retrieved from https://www.creditsesame.com/blog/debt/debt-free/
  3. NA. (2018, February 26) The Best Debt Consolidation Loans of 2018. Retrieved from https://loans.usnews.com/debt-consolidation
  4. Detweiler, G. (2017, November 9) Will Debt Consolidation Help or Hurt Your Credit? Retrieved from http://blog.credit.com/2017/11/will-debt-consolidation-help-or-hurt-your-credit-64133/
  5. Griffin, R. (2014, July 17) Debt Consolidation Can Help or Hurt Your Credit. Retrieved from http://blog.credit.com/2017/11/will-debt-consolidation-help-or-hurt-your-credit-64133/
  6. NA, (2014, October 7) Do I qualify for a Debt Consolidation Loan? Retrieved from http://blog.readyforzero.com/do-i-qualify-for-a-debt-consolidation/#.Vl9cDbifrGc
  7. NA, (2014, June 18) Should I use a debt settlement service to help me deal with my debt and debt collectors? Retrieved from http://www.consumerfinance.gov/askcfpb/1459/should-i-use-debt-settlement-service-help-me-deal-my-debt-and-debt-collectors.html
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