Debt Consolidation: A Helpful Guide
Debt can feel overwhelming. Between credit cards, student loans, medical bills, and other debts, it can be hard to keep track of all the payments and balances you owe. If you find yourself struggling under the weight of high-interest debt, debt consolidation may be an option to help simplify and streamline your finances.At Delancey Street, we understand how stressful debt can be. That’s why we put together this helpful guide on debt consolidation – what it is, how it works, the pros and cons, and whether it’s the right choice for your situation.
What is Debt Consolidation?
Debt consolidation simply means combining multiple debts into one new loan, often at a lower interest rate. For example, you might take out a debt consolidation loan to pay off five different credit cards. Now instead of tracking and paying five cards each month, you just have one monthly loan payment.Consolidating debt can take different forms:
- Debt consolidation loan – This is a personal loan used specifically to pay off other debts. The loan amount covers your total debts, and you pay it back in fixed monthly payments over a set repayment term.
- Balance transfer credit card – With this type of card, you transfer high-interest balances from other cards onto the new card, ideally one with a 0% intro APR for a set period. You pay off the balance before the intro rate expires.
- Home equity loan – This allows you to borrow against the equity in your home and use the funds to repay debts. You pay back the home equity loan in fixed monthly payments.
No matter the method, the goal is to simplify multiple payments and hopefully save money on interest too.
How Does Debt Consolidation Work?
Here are the basic steps to consolidate debt with a personal loan:
- Apply for a debt consolidation loan from a lender like a bank, credit union, or online lender. Make sure to compare interest rates and fees first to find the best loan for your situation.
- Get approved for the loan. The lender will deposit the loan amount directly into your bank account.
- Use the loan funds to pay off your existing debts, such as credit cards, medical bills, or student loans. Make sure to close any paid off accounts.
- You now just have one monthly payment to make on the debt consolidation loan until it’s fully repaid. Stick to your payment schedule to pay off the loan on time and avoid late fees.
It’s that easy! The key is getting a low interest rate on the consolidation loan so you save money on interest compared to higher-rate debts like credit cards.
Pros of Debt Consolidation
There are many potential benefits to consolidating your debts with a personal loan:
- Simpler finances – Make just one payment instead of many each month. Easier to track and budget.
- Lower interest rate – The interest on a debt consolidation loan may be much lower than high-rate credit card debt, saving you money.
- Fixed payment – Your monthly loan payment stays the same until the debt is repaid.
- Set repayment term – Loans have a set end date, unlike credit cards. Motivating to pay off!
- Improve credit score – Can boost your credit by lowering credit utilization and showing responsible payment history.
- Pay off debt faster – The interest savings allow you to pay extra each month and repay debt sooner.
- Consolidate federal student loans – Certain federal loans can be consolidated to simplify repayment.
For many folks struggling with debt, consolidation offers a light at the end of the tunnel!
Cons of Debt Consolidation
However, debt consolidation also comes with some potential downsides to consider:
- Fees and closing costs – Loans may charge origination fees, application fees, or closing costs. Factor these into the total cost.
- Credit check required – Applying for a consolidation loan requires a hard inquiry on your credit report. Too many inquiries can ding your score.
- Higher interest rate possible – If your credit score is low, you may not qualify for the lowest interest rates on a consolidation loan.
- Longer repayment term – While your payment may be lower, a longer loan term means you pay more interest over time.
- Temptation to overspend – Some borrowers end up back in debt because they overspend after consolidating. Stick to a budget!
- Doesn’t address overspending habits – Consolidation alone won’t fix bad spending habits that led to debt in the first place.
While debt consolidation can be a smart money move, it’s not a cure-all. Make sure you address the root causes of overspending so you don’t end up deeper in debt.
Is Debt Consolidation Right for You?
So how do you know if debt consolidation is the right move? Here are some signs it could help:
- You have high-interest debt like credit cards or payday loans
- You have multiple debts and struggle to make many different payments
- Your credit score has improved since you took out your original debts
- You have a plan to control overspending moving forward
- You can qualify for a consolidation loan with a lower interest rate
On the other hand, avoid consolidation if:
- You only have a small amount of debt you can pay off quickly
- You plan to rack up more debt and overspend after consolidating
- You can’t qualify for a lower interest rate than your current debts
- You recently filed for bankruptcy or have deep credit issues
Talk to a credit counseling agency if you need advice on managing debt and improving your finances. They can help you determine if debt consolidation is your best path forward.
Alternatives to Debt Consolidation
If consolidation doesn’t seem right for you, here are a few other options to consider:
- Debt snowball method – Focus on paying off debts one by one, starting with the smallest balance. Gives motivation as you eliminate each debt!
- Balance transfer card – Transfer high-interest balances to a card with a 0% intro APR to save on interest for a time. Watch out for balance transfer fees.
- Debt management plan – Work with a credit counseling agency to negotiate lower interest rates and consolidate payments.
- Debt settlement – The lender agrees to let you pay a lump sum that is less than the total balance. This has major credit impacts.
- Bankruptcy – As a last resort, Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy discharges many debts. But it remains on your credit report for years.
Tips for Managing Debt Consolidation
If you move forward with a debt consolidation loan, keep these tips in mind:
- Make payments on time every month to avoid fees and credit score damage. Set up autopay if it helps!
- Don’t close credit cards – this can hurt your credit utilization ratio. Just stop using them temporarily.
- Create a budget to avoid overspending and racking up new debt. Tracking spending is key.
- Make more than the minimum payment when possible to pay off the loan faster and save on interest.
- Have a plan to build savings and achieve financial goals once the debt is paid off.
- Celebrate each debt milestone! Watching the balance decrease keeps you motivated.
Summing It All Up
Dealing with debt is hard, but debt consolidation can streamline finances and help you regain control. Simplifying payments into one lower-interest loan makes repayment more manageable. But consolidation alone won’t fix overspending habits. Address the root causes of debt with budgeting and financial discipline.We hope this guide gave you a solid understanding of debt consolidation pros, cons, alternatives, and tips. Reach out anytime if you need guidance on managing debt or improving your financial situation. Delancey Street is here to help get your finances on track!