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Debt Consolidation Options Beyond SBA Loans

So, you’re drowning in debt. Credit cards, medical bills, personal loans – it’s all piling up, and the interest rates are killing you. You’ve heard about debt consolidation loans, but maybe you don‘t qualify for an SBA loan or it’s just not the right fit. Don’t panic, there are other options out there. Let’s dive in and explore some alternatives that could help you get your finances back on track.

Balance Transfer Credit Cards

One popular option is a balance transfer credit card. Here’s how it works: you open a new credit card with a low or even 0% introductory APR. Then, you transfer your high-interest debts onto this new card. Voila! You‘re now paying little to no interest on that debt for a set period, usually 12-18 months.Sounds great, right? Well, there are a few things to keep in mind:

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  1. You generally need good to excellent credit to qualify for the best balance transfer offers.
  2. There’s often a balance transfer fee, typically 3-5% of the amount you’re transferring.
  3. That sweet intro APR doesn’t last forever. Once it ends, the regular APR kicks in, which could be high.
  4. You need to have a plan to pay off the debt before the intro period ends. Otherwise, you’re back to square one.

But, if you can snag a good offer and have the discipline to pay it off quickly, a balance transfer card can be a smart way to consolidate and save on interest.

Home Equity Loans & HELOCs

Do you own a home? If so, you might be able to tap into your home‘s equity to consolidate debt. There are two main options here: a home equity loan and a home equity line of credit (HELOC).With a home equity loan, you borrow a lump sum against the equity in your home and pay it back over a set term, usually 5-15 years. The interest rate is fixed, so your payments stay the same.A HELOC, on the other hand, is more like a credit card. You’re approved for a certain amount that you can borrow against as needed over a draw period, often 10 years. During this time, you typically only pay interest on what you’ve borrowed. After the draw period, you enter the repayment phase, where you pay back the principal plus interest over another 10-20 years. The interest rate on a HELOC is usually variable, so your payments can fluctuate.The big advantage of these options is that the interest rates are often lower than personal loans or credit cards because your home serves as collateral. But, that’s also the big risk – if you can‘t make the payments, you could lose your home. Plus, there are closing costs to consider.Let’s look at an example. Say you have $30,000 in credit card debt at an average APR of 18%. If you qualify for a home equity loan at 6% APR for 10 years, your monthly payment would be around $333. Over the life of the loan, you’d pay about $9,960 in interest. Compare that to the credit card debt, where you’d pay around $24,305 in interest over the same period making minimum payments. That’s a savings of over $14,000!But remember, this only works if you don’t rack up new debt and you stay disciplined with the payments. Missing payments on a home equity loan or HELOC can have serious consequences.

Debt Management Plans

If your credit isn’t great or you’re feeling overwhelmed, a debt management plan (DMP) through a non-profit credit counseling agency could be a lifeline. With a DMP, you make one monthly payment to the agency, which then distributes it to your creditors. The agency may also be able to negotiate lower interest rates and waive certain fees.DMPs typically last 3-5 years and come with a modest monthly fee. They’re designed for unsecured debts like credit cards, not mortgages or car loans. And while a DMP itself doesn‘t directly impact your credit score, closing accounts can cause your score to dip temporarily.The key is to work with a reputable, non-profit agency. Look for one that’s a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) or Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA). Avoid for-profit debt settlement companies that make lofty promises – they often charge high fees and can leave you in worse shape.

Debt Settlement

Speaking of debt settlement, this is an option, but it should be a last resort before bankruptcy. With debt settlement, you stop making payments to your creditors and instead save up funds in a separate account. Once you have enough, typically 50-75% of what you owe, a debt settlement company negotiates with your creditors to accept a lump sum payment and forgive the rest.Sounds too good to be true? Well, it often is. Here are the downsides:

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  1. Debt settlement companies often charge high fees, usually a percentage of your total debt or the amount settled.
  2. Your credit score will take a major hit from missed payments and accounts in collections.
  3. Forgiven debt over $600 may be taxable as income.
  4. There’s no guarantee creditors will agree to settle. They may instead sue you for the debt.
  5. The process can take 2-4 years, during which interest and fees continue to pile up.

Let’s say you have $50,000 in debt and the settlement company charges a 25% fee. If they settle for 50% of what you owe, you‘d pay $25,000 to your creditors and $12,500 to the settlement company. That’s $37,500 total – a savings of $12,500 from what you originally owed. But, your credit would be in shambles, and that $12,500 in forgiven debt would likely be taxable.Debt settlement is risky. It‘s really a last-ditch effort to avoid bankruptcy. If you’re considering it, consult with a non-profit credit counselor or bankruptcy attorney first to understand all your options.

Bankruptcy

And that brings us to the “B” word – bankruptcy. It’s a scary thought, but sometimes it‘s the best path forward. There are two main types for individuals: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13.With Chapter 7, your non-exempt assets (things like investments or valuable collections) are sold off by a trustee to pay your creditors. Many unsecured debts, like credit cards and medical bills, are then discharged, meaning you’re no longer legally obligated to pay them. The process takes 4-6 months.Chapter 13, on the other hand, is more like a repayment plan. You keep your assets, but you pay back a portion of your debts over 3-5 years. Some debts may be discharged at the end of the plan.Both types of bankruptcy will tank your credit score initially. A Chapter 7 stays on your credit report for 10 years, while a Chapter 13 falls off after 7. But, many people see their scores rebound within a year or two as they start rebuilding credit.Of course, bankruptcy has other consequences. It can make it harder to get approved for loans or rent an apartment. Certain debts, like student loans and most taxes, can’t be discharged. And there are filing fees and attorney costs to consider.But, if you‘re drowning in debt with no realistic way to pay it off, bankruptcy can provide a fresh start. It’s a tough decision, but sometimes it’s the best choice. If you‘re considering it, consult with a bankruptcy attorney to understand the process and implications.

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