Personal Loan Debt Relief: Understanding Your Options
Personal loans can provide quick access to funds when you need them. However, taking on too much personal loan debt can become overwhelming. If you find yourself struggling to keep up with personal loan payments, know that you have options for finding relief. This article will discuss common strategies for dealing with personal loan debt, including the pros and cons of each approach.
Debt Consolidation Loans
One way to tackle personal loan debt is through a debt consolidation loan. This type of loan allows you to roll multiple debts, including personal loans, into one new loan with one monthly payment.The potential benefits of debt consolidation loans include:
- Lower interest rate – By consolidating debt at a lower rate, more of your payment goes toward principal rather than interest.
- Single payment – One monthly bill can be easier to manage than multiple payments.
- Fixed payment – Your monthly payment stays the same over the loan term.
- Fixed term – Having an end date can help you stay focused on becoming debt-free.
However, debt consolidation loans have risks, such as:
- Closing costs and fees – You may have to pay charges to take out the loan.
- Collateral required – The loan may require you to put up an asset, like your home, as security.
- Credit damage if you default – Failing to pay could hurt your credit score.
- Prepayment penalties – You may face fees if trying to pay off the loan early.
- Tax implications if lender forgives part of debt – The IRS may count forgiven amounts as taxable income.
Before pursuing a debt consolidation loan, be sure to shop around and compare offers from multiple lenders. Crunch the numbers to see if consolidation makes sense for your situation.
Balance Transfer Credit Cards
Another option is moving personal loan balances over to a balance transfer credit card. These cards offer a 0% introductory APR for a set period, often 12-21 months.Benefits of balance transfer cards include:
- 0% APR period – No interest is charged during the intro period, so your payments go entirely toward the principal.
- Potential credit limit increase – You may be able to transfer balances well above your current card limits.
- Consolidation – Combine multiple debts onto one card for simplicity.
However, these cards come with some catches, such as:
- Balance transfer fees – You typically pay a 3-5% fee to transfer each balance.
- Eventual expiration of 0% APR – Interest kicks in after the intro period ends.
- Ongoing card usage could negate benefits – New purchases may still accrue interest.
- Credit damage if you miss payments – This can defeat the purpose of transferring balances.
As with any credit card, be sure to read the fine print so you understand the terms and avoid surprises.
Debt Management Plans
Non-profit credit counseling agencies can set up debt management plans (DMPs) to help negotiate with your creditors. Here’s how they work:
- You make one payment to the agency each month.
- They distribute payments to your creditors.
- Creditors may agree to lower interest rates or waive fees.
- Terms can range from 4-5 years.
DMPs can help you:
- Get out of debt faster by reducing interest.
- Avoid late fees and over limit fees.
- Consolidate multiple payments.
- Stop collection calls from creditors.
However, DMPs also come with drawbacks:
- Monthly service fees to the agency.
- Possible negative impact to your credit.
- Creditors may not agree to new terms.
- Long program length of 4-5 years.
- Limited ability to use credit while enrolled.
As with any debt relief program, be sure to vet the agency thoroughly before enrolling in a DMP.
Debt settlement involves negotiating with creditors to pay a lump sum that is less than the total amount owed. A debt settlement company handles the negotiations on your behalf.Here’s a quick rundown of how debt settlement works:
- You stop making payments to creditors and instead save up in a dedicated account.
- The settlement company negotiates with creditors on your behalf once you have sufficient funds.
- If a settlement is reached, the funds are used to pay the negotiated amount.
- The remaining debt is forgiven.
Debt settlement could help you:
- Settle debts for less than you owe.
- Become debt-free faster than other options.
- Avoid bankruptcy.
However, there are also significant drawbacks and risks:
- Upfront and ongoing fees to the settlement company.
- Possible tax implications if debt is forgiven.
- Severe damage to your credit score.
- Continued collections efforts and possible lawsuits from creditors.
- Settling all your debts is not guaranteed.
Thoroughly research any debt settlement company before agreeing to their services. Make sure you understand all costs and risks involved.
As a last resort, personal bankruptcy may be an option if you truly cannot repay your debts. The two most common types of consumer bankruptcy are:
- Chapter 7 – Debt is wiped out entirely through liquidation of assets.
- Chapter 13 – A repayment plan is established under court supervision.
Bankruptcy offers the benefit of a fresh financial start. Collections, wage garnishment, and lawsuits from creditors must stop when you file.However, bankruptcy also comes with significant downsides, such as:
- Damage to credit – Scores can drop 200 points or more.
- Asset liquidation – You may have to sell property to pay debts.
- Costs – Attorney and court filing fees must be paid upfront.
- Future limitations – It may be difficult to obtain loans, mortgages, etc.
- Tax implications if debt is canceled.
Bankruptcy should be viewed as an absolute last resort after all other options have been exhausted. Be sure to consult with a bankruptcy attorney before making any filing decisions.
If you want to take debt relief into your own hands, a few DIY approaches include:
- Debt snowball – Focus on paying off debts small to large. Knocking out those small wins can build momentum.
- Debt avalanche – Pay off debts in order of highest interest rate first regardless of balance size. This saves the most on interest.
- Budgeting and expense tracking – Understanding where your money goes is key to freeing up cash to pay down debt.
- Lifestyle changes – Cutting expenses through steps like downsizing your home, lowering utilities, or limiting dining out can make a big dent.
- Side income – Bringing in extra money through a side gig gives you more cash to put toward debt.
The DIY route takes discipline, but can help you gain control without relying on other companies or programs.
Questions to Ask Before Pursuing Debt Relief
- Will this actually save me money in the long run? Calculate total costs.
- What are the risks and downsides? Consider credit damage and other consequences.
- Are there hidden fees or fine print I should know about? Get specifics in writing.
- Am I able to meet program requirements and terms? Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
- How long until I can become debt free? Make sure the timeline works for your goals.
- What alternatives make the most sense for my situation? Evaluate all options.
The Bottom Line
If personal loan debt has become unmanageable, know that you have options. Steps like consolidation loans, balance transfers, debt management plans, debt settlement, bankruptcy, and DIY relief strategies can all provide solutions.The key is finding the right approach based on your specific circumstances. Thoroughly research any company you consider working with and understand the pros, cons, costs, and risks before moving forward.With time, discipline, and the right debt relief strategy, you can take control of personal loan debt and work your way back to financial freedom.