What is debt consolidation and is it a good idea?
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According to Experian’s 2021 Credit Status Report, US consumers with credit card debt have an average balance of $5,525, while the average credit card interest rate currently sits at well over 16%.
For people who fall into arrears, high debt and a high annual percentage rate (APR) can combine in the worst possible way, often creating a cycle of high-interest debt repayments that consumers cannot afford. escape. And even for those who can meet their monthly payments, too much credit card debt can prevent them from achieving other financial goals, such as saving for the future.
Either way, debt consolidation offers a way out of credit card debt that is far less serious than bankruptcy. You just need to be ready to create a plan and stick to it until you are debt free. If you want to get rid of your debt for good, read on to find out how debt consolidation can help you.
If you’ve tried budgeting to get out of debt or make more money, but nothing seems to be working, debt consolidation might be the solution you’ve been looking for. With debt consolidation, you will essentially be swapping the loans and credit card balances you have for a new loan product with better rates and terms, thus lowering your monthly payments or making it easier to use more of your money to reduce the principal on the debt, or both.
Essentially, with debt consolidation, you take out a new loan and use the proceeds from that new loan to pay off all your old debts, then make monthly payments on just the new loan. Generally speaking, there are three financial products that consumers use for debt consolidation:
- Debt consolidation loans, also called personal loans, allow you to refinance your debts into a new loan with a fixed rate and a fixed repayment term.
- Credit cards with balance transfer lets you consolidate your debt on a new credit card that offers 0% annual interest for a limited time.
- Home Equity Loans can help you consolidate your debt into a new loan product secured by the value of your home.
Whatever product you decide to use, remember that debt consolidation only really works if you stop taking on more debt. If you’re consolidating your debt with a personal loan or a balance transfer credit card and you keep charging more purchases on other lines of credit, debt consolidation is probably a waste of time.
Debt consolidation may or may not be a good idea. It all depends on how serious you take the process and how disciplined you are in carrying it out.
As an example, let’s say you currently have credit card debt of $5,525 at an APR of 19%. In this scenario, you could be paying $100 a month for this debt for 133 months, or more than 11 years, before it is paid off. During this period, you will pay more than $7,701 in interest.
But what if you consolidate that $5,525 debt into one personal loan? Although personal loans vary, most allow you to borrow money for two to seven years. Personal loans also come with fixed interest rates, fixed repayment terms and fixed monthly payments.
In this example, you may qualify for a 60 month personal loan with an interest rate of 7%. In this case, you would pay off your balance with a monthly payment of $109 for five years (60 months). During this period, you will pay approximately $1,039 in interest payments. That’s a huge savings of over $6,000.
You can also consolidate your debts with a credit card. However, it is important to note that while balance transfer credit cards offer an initial APR of 0% on transferred balances, the longest possible term currently offered is 21 months. After that, your interest rate will revert to the regular APR, which will still be high.
For this reason, a credit card balance transfer is only a good idea when you have an amount of debt that you can pay off during the card’s introductory period. If you need more time to get your debt under control than a balance transfer allows, you should consider a personal loan instead.
Finally, you can also consolidate your debts with a home equity loan that uses your home as collateral. In many cases, this can be a good idea since home equity loans can come with low fixed rates as well as a fixed monthly payment and a fixed repayment term. Remember that you need good credit to get a home equity loan, and you can lose your home if you default.
But, in any of these cases, if after consolidating your debt, you overspend and rack up an additional $5,000 in debt on the same credit card you used before and can only afford to pay $100 in monthly payments on this debt, you end up paying an additional $4,985 in interest. Add that interest to the extra $5,000 in debt and you’ll be worse off than you started out. That’s why it’s so important to stay disciplined and not keep spending more than you have when pursuing debt consolidation.
There are other debt consolidation options you can consider, some of which offer help from third-party companies. For example, you might consider signing up for a debt management plan (DMP), which takes place when a credit repair agency helps you negotiate interest rates and pay off your debts over a period of determined time.
Just note that DMPs aren’t for everyone, and credit repair agencies that offer DMPs can’t do anything you can’t do yourself. Also, a number of credit repair agencies have gotten a bad reputation, so be sure to do plenty of research before going this route.
Another alternative is debt settlement, which is a process that helps you settle your debts for less than you owe. However, it is crucial to know that debt settlement companies ask you to stop making payments on your debts while they are working on your behalf. Unsurprisingly, this can cause massive damage to your credit score that can last for years.
Debt management becomes considerably easier when you have a reasonable interest rate and a monthly payment that matches your income. Essentially, that’s what debt consolidation does – it helps you transfer debts with high interest rates to a new financial product with better terms.
Debt consolidation also has the advantage of allowing you to reduce the monthly payments you make. If you’re currently trying to cope with five or six credit card bills, debt consolidation with a personal loan company or peer-to-peer lender can help you get down to one payment per month.
With that in mind, several factors can determine whether debt consolidation is right for you. These include:
- Your creditworthiness: You will need good credit or better to qualify for a personal loan with the best rates and terms. If your credit is poor, you may not qualify for a new loan with better rates than you currently have.
- Your desire to repay debt: Debt management takes time and effort, and full debt repayment can take years. If you’re not serious about debt consolidation, a debt consolidation loan may not make you better off.
- Your ability to avoid further debt: To be successful in your debt consolidation, you must stop taking on more debt. While you are repaying your debt consolidation loan, you should only use cash or debit. At the very least, you should use credit sparingly.
So, should you consolidate your debts? If you pay off credit cards with high APRs, debt consolidation may be just what you need. Remember that you will only pay off your debts if you make a plan and, most importantly, stick to it. If you take out a personal loan and continue to rack up debt on your credit cards, you could end up worse off in the long run.
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