Updated on December 21, 2021
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by debt, you’re not alone. Household debt continues to rise and stretch many families’ budgets. The good news is, there’s a way out. With research and proper planning, you can put together a plan to eliminate your debt and work toward financial freedom.
If you’re struggling with debt, the first step is to ensure you have a clear view of everything you owe. Organize all your debts in a spreadsheet or monthly budget to see how much you need to pay each month and how much money you have available to make those payments.
If you’re coming up short on cash to make the necessary payments, you’ll want to reach out to lenders to see if you have options to lower your payments, refinance, or otherwise alter the terms of your repayment to avoid late fees or debts going into collections, which will cost you more and hurt your credit.
Even if you’re able to make all your payments, you may still be spending more on interest than necessary. Review the terms of your debts and reach out to lenders to see if there’s a way to lower your interest rates.
If you’re struggling to stay organized or make payments, sometimes debt consolidation can make managing your debt easier.
Debt consolidation is the practice of merging multiple loans or debts into one single loan. While it’s not for everyone, for some who are overburdened with debt, consolidating can help streamline finances by organizing multiple payments into one and often lowering interest rates and/or monthly payments.
Debt consolidation won’t lower the amount of your outstanding debt. However, by giving you lower monthly payments or interest rates, it can help you save over time. Lower monthly payments may allow you to get other accounts up to date, avoid late or missed payment fees, or balance your budget. Lower interest rates may also reduce the overall amount you have to pay back over time.
While there are firms that will work with you specifically on debt consolidation, there are also steps you can take on your own to streamline your debt. These include balance transfers, student loan consolidation, home equity loans, and personal loans.
1. Balance transfers. If you have credit card debt and would like to condense payments into one credit card or possibly lower your interest rate, consider a balance transfer to another credit card with a lower interest rate. Check to ensure the money you’re saving during any introductory period isn’t outweighed by fees and the standard interest rate after the balance transfer rate expires.
For those who qualify, PSECU offers balance transfers with no PSECU balance transfer fee to help you knock out high-interest debt.
2. Federal student loan consolidation. Student loan consolidation is available for eligible borrowers with federal student loans. The federal consolidation program allows you to make one monthly payment and lock in a fixed interest rate instead of a variable rate. The interest on a federal consolidation loan is often lower than on other student loans, depending on when the original loan was disbursed. If you’re interested in pursuing this path, check the federal program rules.
3. Home equity loans. Some people consolidate debt by taking out a home equity loan, also known as a second mortgage. A home equity loan allows you to borrow against a percentage of the equity you have in your home. The amount you may borrow depends on your equity, the home’s market value, and any restrictions by your lender.
A home equity loan can be used to pay off consumer debt such as credit cards and car loans, which tend to have higher interest rates. Like consolidating student loans, consolidating consumer debt with a home equity loan allows you to pay off existing loans and make a single monthly payment. Of course, it’s important to make sure you can manage payments on a second mortgage, as you’re using your home as collateral.
4. Personal loans. If you don’t own a home or don’t have enough equity built up in your home to borrow against it, you have a few other avenues for consolidating consumer debt. One option is to apply for a personal loan and put the amount of the loan toward paying your current higher interest rate debt.
Since debt consolidation isn’t for everyone, how do you know if it’s the right option for you? Below are a few reasons you may consider yourself to be a good candidate for consolidation.
1. You’re ready and prepared to get out of debt. Consolidating loans into a single loan can be the first step toward finally saying goodbye to debt. But consolidation is just a tool for reducing debt – it’s not a magic solution. To take advantage of consolidating loans, you need to be prepared to prioritize paying down debt and committed to avoiding future debt. This means not using the credit cards that were recently paid off with a balance transfer or consolidation loan to make new purchases that can’t be paid off in full.
2. You’re paying sky-high interest rates. Consolidating loans might be a good option if you’re struggling with high interest rates. If you’re currently paying 18-20% interest on one or more credit cards and have the option to transfer those balances to a card with a significantly lower interest rate, doing so can reduce monthly payments and save you money.
3. You want a fixed interest rate. Variable interest rates may seem great, at first. But once the promotional period ends, the rate sometimes jumps. If you’re more comfortable with a fixed rate, you may consider consolidating variable rate debt with a loan that gives you a steady interest rate.
4. You’re OK with trading a longer payment period for lower monthly payments. One of the drawbacks of debt consolidation is that depending on the interest rate and loan terms, you may end up paying more over time. But if you need lower monthly payments now, the idea of paying more in the long run may be acceptable. You might find you’re able to bump up the amount you pay in the future, speeding up the payment process.
5. You’re tired of juggling multiple monthly payments. If you regularly forget to pay bills or struggle to keep track of payments, consolidating can help you get organized and streamline debt.
6. You regularly miss payments or pay late. If having a variety of due dates or multiple bills due each month leads to occasionally missing payments or making late payments, consolidation may help. You’ll still need to remember to pay your bill, but it may be easier to do so with only one.
Although debt consolidation can be the right option for many, for others, it may not be worth it. Below are a few signs that suggest debt consolidation may not be a good choice for you.
1. You’re not ready to face your debt. If you’re not yet committed to avoiding future debt, using a consolidation loan to pay off your current obligations will help you in the short-term, but it won’t lead to lasting changes in the long run. In some cases, people consolidate their loans only to find themselves deep in debt once again a few years later. Until you change your perspective on (and approach to) borrowing money, debt consolidation will only be a temporary fix.
2. Your debt is almost entirely paid off. If you’re nearing the end of payments on your loans, consolidating your debts may simplify your life slightly, but the process of taking out a new loan and paying off your current ones may be more trouble than it’s worth.
3. The interest rate isn’t so great. Consolidating your debt doesn’t always lead to a significantly lower interest rate. For example, under the Federal Student Loan Consolidation program, the interest rate you end up with is the weighted average of the interest rates on your current loans. If your loans have similar rates, consolidating them may not lead to a considerably lower monthly payment. Also, depending on your credit, you may not be able to get the lowest interest rate possible on a personal loan or credit card balance transfer.
4. The fees are high. If you work with a debt consolidation company, you can expect to pay fees, and in some cases, those fees can outweigh any benefits of consolidating your debt.
5. Your minimum payment may be higher each month. Depending on the terms and rate of the consolidation loan, you may end up spending more each month on debt payment. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if it means you’ll be out of debt sooner. But in some cases, it may be easier to simply pay more toward your current individual debts each month.
Before you make any decisions about what to do with your money, it’s essential to understand what risks are involved and what the extent of those risks may be. Debt consolidation isn’t the perfect solution for everyone, and it may cause issues if you aren’t careful. The risks you might face depend significantly on the type of debt consolidation loan you decide to use.
Debt consolidation will have some effect on your credit score, but do debt consolidation loans hurt your credit? The type of effect it has depends on the type of program you choose to use. If you decide to apply for one of our debt consolidation loans, such as a personal loan or home equity loan, we’ll pull your credit report and make what is called a “hard inquiry.”
The hard inquiry and the presence of a new loan on your credit history will likely cause your score to drop a bit. Usually, the drop is temporary, and since you’re working on paying off your loans, it could be worth it in the long run. By the time you’re finished paying off the consolidation loan, your credit score will typically level out.
Depending on your circumstances, debt consolidation may be worthwhile. You may want to consider it if you’re ready to create a budget to get your spending under control and avoid future debt. Just make sure that you fully understand the pros and cons of your options.
Looking for more money management tips? Check out our WalletWorks page for more resources, videos, and financial tips.