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What Is Debt Consolidation?

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Debt consolidation is the process of rolling several debts into one easy-to-manage payment. It’s a strategy you can use to simplify the debt payoff process and save some money on interest. If you’re overwhelmed with multiple high interest debts, it may be just what you need to become debt-free faster.

What is debt consolidation and how does it work?

If you have many unsecured debts to pay off, you can turn them into a single monthly payment through debt consolidation. When you consolidate your debt, you won’t have to manage different payments, interest rates, payment dates and payback periods. You’ll eliminate confusion and make the process of repaying debt more manageable.

While there are several debt consolidation strategies at your disposal, a debt consolidation loan is a popular option. A debt consolidation loan is a personal loan you use to combine multiple debts with a new one, ideally with a lower interest rate and more favorable terms. You’ll receive a lump sum of cash to pay off your debts, and then make a single monthly payment on your new loan. (Some lenders can pay off your creditors directly, however.)

You can use debt consolidation to pay off consumer debt such as:

  • Credit cards
  • Medical bills
  • Utility bills
  • Payday loans
  • Taxes
  • Collection bills

Once you figure out all the unsecured debt you owe, use our debt consolidation loan calculator to get an idea of how long it will take you to repay them. The calculator compares the cost of all your debts versus the cost for a debt consolidation loan. It can help you determine how much money you can potentially save.

Pros and cons of debt consolidation

Pros:

Cons:

  • One monthly debt bill: Since you’ll only have to make one monthly debt payment rather than several, you’ll find the debt payoff process to be much easier.
  • May save money on interest: If you have high interest rates on your existing debts, consolidating them to a lower interest rate can allow you to save money over time.
  • Lower monthly payments: With debt consolidation, you can reduce your monthly payments through a lower interest rate and, if you choose, a longer repayment term.
  • Can pay off debt faster: A lower interest rate and a single debt bill can allow you to become debt-free faster than if you were to keep your multiple debt payments.

  • Potential fees: Some lenders charge an origination fee to take out a loan. Others may charge you a prepayment penalty if you pay off your debt early.
  • Can be hard to qualify: Traditional debt consolidation loans are unsecured personal loans, which require great credit to receive the best interest rates.
  • Does not solve an overspending problem: While debt consolidation can be a helpful strategy, it won’t help you control your spending and stay out of debt.

Where to find debt consolidation loans

Banks, credit unions and online lenders all offer debt consolidation loans. You might start your search for a loan with your current bank or by looking up lenders in your area who offer debt consolidation loans. But don’t overlook online lenders. They have lower overhead costs compared to lenders with brick-and-mortar locations and can pass those savings on to borrowers.

Loan marketplaces such as LendingTree can be especially helpful when you’re exploring lenders. By filling out a simple form, you can be matched with up to five lenders. You might also check out MagnifyMoney’s personal loan marketplace. Here are a few options you’ll find there.

Debt consolidation loan lenders
 

FreedomPlus

Learn more

Peerform

Learn more

SoFi

Learn more

APR

5.99%-29.99%

5.99%-25.05%

5.99%-18.72%

Terms

24 to 60 months

36 or 60 months

24 to 84 months

Borrowing limits

$7,500 to $40,000

$4,000 to $25,000

$5,000 to $100,000

Origination fee

0.00% - 4.99%

1.00% - 5.00%

No origination fee

Minimum credit score requirement

Varies

600

680

How to compare debt consolidation lenders

To understand your loan options, you’ll want to prequalify with several lenders. This process only requires you to provide basic information about yourself, your finances and the loan you want. Prequalifying will give you an idea of the kinds of loan terms you may get when you formally apply.

As you review lenders and offers, pay attention to such factors as:

  • Interest rates
  • Borrowing limits
  • Repayment terms
  • Fee structures
  • Minimum credit score requirements

Is debt consolidation worth it?

Debt consolidation may be a good idea if…

  • You have good credit: Lenders reserve the best loan terms, such as low interest rates, to borrowers with strong credit profiles. A lower rate could translate to a lower overall cost of borrowing.
  • Consolidating would make repayment cheaper: Debt consolidation is generally used to make repayment cheaper. That means accessing a loan with fewer fees and a lower interest rate. However, you might also choose a shorter-term loan to minimize interest charges.
  • You have other bills to worry about first: Debt consolidation may also make sense if you want lower monthly payments, such as by picking a longer-term loan. Although this would increase your total borrowing costs, it could allow you to focus on other financial priorities by freeing up some cash each month.
  • You’re tired of juggling multiple loans: If you have several credit card and loan bills to worry about, debt consolidation could make your life easier. By combining your debts, you’ll only have one monthly payment to worry about.

Debt consolidation may be a bad idea if…

  • You have bad credit: Borrowers with poor credit may find it difficult to find an affordable loan to consolidate debt. However, if you’re facing super-high interest rates, such as those offered on payday loans, a debt consolidation loan may yet be more affordable.
  • You’ll only rack up more debt: Debt consolidation can be a great way to wipe out credit card debt. But if freeing up your credit lines only means you’ll rack up more credit card debt, then consolidation may not make sense. You don’t want to bury yourself deeper into debt.
  • It wouldn’t save you money: Lenders commonly charge an origination fee equal to 1% to 8% of your loan amount. Tack on potential prepayment penalties from your old creditors, and you may find debt consolidation won’t save you money after all. Take these factors into account when exploring your options.

3 debt consolidation alternatives

Balance transfer credit card

A common alternative to a debt consolidation loan is a balance transfer. With this repayment strategy, you’ll take out a balance transfer card and move your existing credit card debt onto it. The benefit of a balance transfer card is that they commonly come with a promotional 0% APR. You can avoid interest charges by repaying your debt in full during the promotional period.

However, if you don’t repay your debt in full, you’ll be responsible for all of the interest that accrued. There’s also a balance transfer fee you’ll typically pay; it’ll be a percentage of the balance you transfer. That said, this strategy is one of the best for consumers who can aggressively repay what they owe and are sure the balance transfer fees they’ll pay will be offset by the amount they save on interest.

Pros

Cons

  • Move your debt to a better credit card: Depending on the card you get approved for, you may be able to move your debt to a card with a lower interest rate and more favorable terms.
  • Interest savings: You can consolidate your credit card debt into a single credit card with a 0% or low promotional APR that can save you money on interest.
  • Can help your credit: If you use your credit transfer card to reduce your credit utilization ratio, pay down debt faster and lower your balance to zero, you can improve your credit.

  • Balance transfer fee: While balance transfer fees vary, most credit cards charge 3% of the balance.
  • Promotional APRs expire quickly: These APRs last about 12 to 21 months. After this period, the card will function like a typical credit card and the interest rate will go back up.
  • Can add to debt: If you have a spending problem, a balance transfer card can make it worse and put you in more debt by freeing up your old credit lines.

Home equity loan

A home equity loan allows you to borrow against the equity you have in your home. Other factors such as your outstanding mortgage balance, home’s value and your credit health will affect your loan eligibility and amount.

Because you use your home as collateral, you’ll find home equity loans come with better terms than you may find on an unsecured loan such as a personal loan. However, you’ll find a longer application process as well as closing costs. You should be able to reliably make payments in full and on time each month, too. Otherwise, you risk losing your property.

Pros

Cons

  • Fixed interest rates: That means predictable monthly payments throughout repayment.
  • Lower interest rates: With collateral, a home equity loan will generally be more affordable.
  • Larger loan amounts: Depending on your available equity, you could access a large loan amount.
  • Your home is collateral: If you fail to repay your home equity loan, you could lose your property.
  • Closing costs: Expect to pay about 2% to 5% in fees.
  • Slow application process: It can take several weeks to receive loan approval and funds.
  • Need home equity: New homeowners, for example, may find they don’t yet have enough equity to qualify.

401(k) loan

With a 401(k) loan, you borrow money from your retirement savings and repay them over time with interest. Your monthly payments, including interest, go right back into your retirement account. Unlike with a 401(k) withdrawal, where you permanently remove money from savings, you won’t have to pay taxes or penalties on a 401(k) loan unless you default.

You can access this type of loan through the retirement plan offered by your employer. Often, you’ll have up to five years to repay the loan amount. If you leave or lose your job, though, you’ll be required to repay the full loan amount within a short period.

Pros

Cons

  • Low-cost borrowing: Since the interest you pay goes right back into savings, a 401(k) loan can be affordable.
  • No credit check: This loan also doesn’t appear as a debt on your credit report.
  • Lost savings: You’ll miss out on the money you would have earned on your borrowed amount.
  • May suddenly need to repay the full loan amount: If you lose or leave your job, you’ll be asked to quickly repay the loan.
  • Taxes and penalty, if you default: If you’re under 59 ½, you’ll pay certain fees for defaulting.

Debt settlement

Debt settlement involves negotiating with your creditors to settle for less than what you owe. You can hire a debt settlement company to negotiate with creditors on your behalf, though that may be a risky move. That’s because some debt settlement companies will ask you to stop making payments in order to starve creditors into negotiating over a payoff amount; you’re also liable to pay fees.

Pros

Cons

  • Potential to reduce your debt: Debt settlement can lower the amount of debt you owe to various creditors.
  • One deposit every month: If you hire a debt settlement company, you’ll deposit money into a special account every month. As your balance goes up, they’ll contact your creditors to negotiate lower settlement amounts.
  • Can pay off debt faster: With debt settlement, you may be able to settle your debt in only 24 to 48 months.

  • No guarantees: Your creditors are under no obligation to negotiate over your debt.
  • Your credit will take a hit: When you settle a debt, your credit report will show that a debt was paid off for less than the full amount.
  • High fee: If you opt for a debt settlement company, you may owe them a fee of 15% of your total debt once it settles.
  • Tax consequences: You may have to pay taxes on the portion of your debt that is forgiven by creditors.

Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy is a legal process where your assets are used to pay off debts (Chapter 7) or you repay debt via a debt repayment plan (Chapter 13). Since bankruptcy comes with long-term legal and financial consequences, it’s wise to consult a bankruptcy lawyer before pursuing it.

Pros

Cons

  • Relief from collection activity: Once you file for bankruptcy, most debt collectors will stop contacting you.
  • Chance to discharge your debts: If you are overwhelmed with debt, bankruptcy can allow you to wipe them out.
  • A short process: Chapter 7 bankruptcy only takes 4 months, on average.

  • May lose some of your assets: If you opt for Chapter 7, you may lose your home and other assets.
  • Negative long-term impact to your credit: While Chapter 7 bankruptcy stays on your credit report for 10 years, Chapter 13 remains for seven years.
  • Strict qualifications: You’ll have to meet certain income criteria if you wish to pursue Chapter 7. If you don’t qualify, Chapter 13 may be your only option.

Debt consolidation can be a great way for you to take control of your debt and improve your finances. However, it is not right for everyone so it’s important to do your research before you take the plunge.

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Debt Consolidation 101: What It Is, How It Works and Where to Find Loans

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Written By

Juggling debts with different payment due dates, amounts and interest rates can be a headache. It can get even worse when you’re tight on money and don’t know when you’ll be debt-free.

Debt consolidation is one way to simplify your finances. By merging multiple credit card bills and loans into one monthly payment with more favorable terms, debt consolidation can help get you out of the red faster and/or make your monthly payments more manageable.

Here’s a look at how debt consolidation works, how it may affect your credit and different ways you may consolidate your debt.

How does debt consolidation work?

Debt consolidation involves taking out a new loan (often a debt consolidation loan) and using it to pay off other unsecured consumer debts, such as credit card bills. The new loan should have more favorable terms, such as a lower APR, to make repaying your debt more affordable or simply easier.

There are several products you may choose from to consolidate your debt:

How debt consolidation may help improve your credit score

  • It can help you pay down your debt sooner. A consolidation loan with a fixed term or an expiration date on a promotional period can be a powerful motivator to repaying your old debts sooner. Less debt can increase your credit score, making you more liable to qualify for better loan products later. The amount you owe on your accounts compared to your income determines 30% of your FICO® Score, a type of credit score commonly used by lenders.
  • Thanks to flexible terms, you can build a history of regular, on-time payments. If you’ve struggled with making payments in the past, you could choose a longer repayment term for lower, more manageable monthly payments in the future. Positive payment history is the most significant factor in calculating your FICO Score, at a whopping 35%. Showing a history of payments that are on-time and in full makes you come across as a more reliable borrower.
  • May lower your credit utilization ratio, if you use a loan to do so. The more revolving debt you pay off, the less you’re using from the total amount of revolving credit available to you, which helps lower your credit utilization ratio. This ratio determines 30% of your credit score. Ideally, you should keep your ratio at under 30%.

Where to find debt consolidation loans

You can apply for a debt consolidation loan through a variety of lenders, including banks, credit unions and online lenders. You may explore lenders using our debt consolidation marketplace.

To help you kickstart your search, you can review the below three lenders.

Debt consolidation loan lenders
 

Peerform

Learn more

Best Egg

Learn more

Upstart

Learn more

APR

5.99% to 25.05%

5.99% to 29.99%

8.13% to 35.99%

Terms

36 or 60 months

36 or 60 months

36 & 60 months

Borrowing limits

$4,000 to $25,000

$2,000 to $35,000

$1,000 to $50,000

Origination fee

1.00% - 5.00%

0.99% - 5.99%

Up to 8.00%

Minimum credit score requirement

600

700

600

Are there debt consolidation loans for bad credit?

While you can get a debt consolidation loan for bad credit (below 670), as long as you have enough money for the minimum monthly payments, it may not be worth your while. The worse your credit, the higher your interest rate can be and the more you will have to pay, including origination and other fees, to consolidate your debt.

Keep this in mind as you shop for lenders willing to consider factors beyond your credit score such as your job history or education. Some of your best bets could be online lenders who could offer more flexible terms, or credit unions whose interest rates are capped at 18%. Tapping into your home equity or getting a secured loan (see above) are some other options, but keep in mind the risk of losing your assets if you default on your payments.

Is debt consolidation a good idea? How to decide for yourself

Depending on your individual circumstances, such as your monthly income, type of debts, credit score, and willingness to change your spending habits, debt consolidation may or may not be a good idea.

When debt consolidation is a good option …

  • The reasons behind the financial decisions that led you into debt are clear and you’re committed to ensuring it won’t happen again.
  • You’ve met with a credit counselor or financial advisor to put together a realistic budget (or are confident in your ability to do so on your own)
  • All your other options to get out of debt have been researched and explored
  • Committing to the monthly payments and terms of the consolidation loan are achievable
  • You’re saving money compared to what you were paying previously on all your debts

When debt consolidation might not be the right option …

  • Decreasing your expenses might not be possible and you might rack up balances on old credit lines
  • You’d need a secured loan for good interest rates but you’re risk-averse or worry you won’t be able to keep up with payments
  • Savings are negligible or nonexistent after paying the interest rate and associated fees of a debt consolidation loan

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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Debt Settlement: How It Works, FAQs And More

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Written By

Household debt statistics ebb and flow over the years, but debt never completely goes away. As of January 2020, 41.2% of U.S. households have credit card debt. The average among American households carrying a balance is $9,333.

But whether you’re buried under credit card, medical or another type of debt, one option you might be considering is debt settlement. This form of debt relief can help you erase your unpaid balances – but it isn’t guaranteed and can mean costly consequences for both your credit and wallet.

What is debt settlement?

Debt settlement is the process of hiring a company to negotiate with your creditors to reduce or erase your balances. You may also do it yourself. (More on that below.)

When you hire a debt settlement company, you’ll be asked to deposit a certain amount of money in a savings or escrow account each month. (The account will belong to you.) As you build your savings, the debt settlement company will generally advise you to stay delinquent with your creditors. That means you’ll continue to accrue fees, such as for late payment on your debts – hurting your credit in the meantime.

Once your savings account accumulates a high enough balance, the debt settlement company will begin negotiating with your creditors to settle the debt. If your creditors agree to settle, the payoff amount will be taken out of the savings account.

Fees

Fees for debt settlement programs can be difficult to find on company websites. However, most consumers can expect fees to range from 15% to 25% of the total debt they enroll in the program. Fees are charged against successfully settled debts, but may also include fees for any third-party managed savings account that is part of the program.

Pros and cons of debt settlement

Is debt settlement a good idea

Pros

Cons

  • Can reduce your total balances due
  • Simplifies monthly bill payment
  • May help you avoid bankruptcy
  • Could take less time to finalize than Chapter 13
  • Fees can be costly
  • You generally need to be behind on payments and remain delinquent, accumulating late fees
  • Remaining behind on payments will negatively impact your credit
  • No guarantee that your creditors will accept the settlement offer
  • Canceled debt may be treated as taxable income

Working with a debt settlement company

  • Evaluate debt settlement companies. This starts by comparing the fees and claims of each company. Debt settlement can be risky as it isn’t guaranteed, so it’s critical to compare fees. Additionally, since there is no guarantee that a creditor will accept the settlement, it’s a good idea to review each company’s claims to ensure you’re dealing with one that sets reasonable expectations.Next, evaluate the company’s process as well as their terms to make sure you qualify. For any company you work with, you should retain control over the funds. Some companies begin making settlement agreements as soon as the funds build up, others wait.
  • Research debt settlement companies. After you’ve narrowed down your choices, check on the company’s compliance and other user experiences. You can visit the Better Business Bureau and ensure the companies are members of the American Fair Credit Council and the International Association of Professional Debt Arbitrators.
  • Establish agreement/account. Upon selecting a company to work with, visit their website to open an account. Be prepared to give your name, phone number, email address and the total amount of credit card debt.
  • Start saving money according to your plan. Once the company reviews your debt, they will propose a savings plan that you should follow. This will require you to make a single deposit into an account usually managed by a third party.
  • Saved funds are disbursed. When the company begins making settlement agreements, the funds will be distributed from the account, paying off both debts and settlement company fees.

How to settle debt on your own

1. Figure out which accounts are past due

If you’ve secured money through a loan, savings or inheritance and you want to leverage that to settle your debt, you don’t have to hire a debt settlement company. Instead, you can take care of it yourself or hire a lawyer to handle the negotiations.

For a debt settlement offer to be appealing to creditors, you likely need to be behind on payments. Rather than stopping payments on your current debt, make a list of the debts you are already behind on.

Next check the statute of limitations on that past-due debt. If you have debt that’s past the statute of limitations, then you can no longer be sued by the creditor to collect. If you decide to make a partial payment on debts that are past the statute of limitations, it might restart the clock on the statute.

2. Save money, and determine how much you can pay

Before contacting your creditors to make a settlement offer, determine what kind of lump sum or payment plan agreement you can stick to. The goal is not only to pay off the settled debts but to stay current with all your other bills and ensure you have enough of a cushion to deal with potential emergencies.

If you don’t have a lump sum of money to offer for debt settlement

3. Contact your creditors

Creditors need to agree to reduce your debt balance as part of your settlement offer. To find out which creditors are amenable to debt reduction, contact all those whose payments you’ve fallen behind on. Because you want everything documented, this contact should be made in writing, although you can call the company as well.

In some cases, this debt may have already been transferred to a collection agency. If that’s the case, verify which collection agency has taken the debt and contact them.

4. Write a debt settlement letter

Once you know which creditors are willing to settle, write a debt settlement letter spelling out the details of the agreement. This letter should include:

  • The account number
  • The reason you want to settle the debt
  • The current balance
  • The proposed settlement amount or restructured payment plan
  • The deadline for the settlement payment or starting date for the payment plan

Sample debt settlement letters

Alternatives to debt settlement

Debt management plans

Nonprofit credit counseling organizations often offer what’s called a debt management plan. This is a strategy in which the credit counseling agency works with creditors to reduce your interest rates and create payment plans that work with your budget. You then make a single monthly payment to the agency and have a payoff date within three to five years.

A debt management plan may come with a monthly fee as well as a setup fee. However, these fees may be worthwhile, as the credit counseling agency will work to have late fees and other kinds of fees waived on your debt.

Debt consolidation

If you don’t like the idea of keeping your debts unpaid for debt settlement, you can instead consider debt consolidation. You can accomplish this by either:

  • Working with a nonprofit credit counselor to create a debt management plan; or
  • Getting a personal loan, balance transfer card or equity loan to pay off all creditors, thus reducing your repayments to a single lender and due date.

Bankruptcy

Debt settlement is often chosen as a way to avoid bankruptcy, but in some situations, bankruptcy could be a better option.

  • With Chapter 13 bankruptcy, a three- to five-year payment plan can mean that your debts are settled and your secured assets protected with a court-approved payment plan and possibly lower debt balances.
  • With Chapter 7 bankruptcy, many unsecured debts can be discharged without payment, so you might save even more money. Since credit cards are unsecured debt, Chapter 7 can be a better choice than credit card debt settlement.

With either type of bankruptcy, collection actions are stopped, along with garnishments. This can provide a welcome relief to those being hounded by debt collectors.

FAQ: Debt settlement

A debt that’s been settled will show as such for up to seven years on your credit report. In addition, late payments of 30 days or more can remain on your credit report for up to seven years.

Because debt settlement generally requires you to remain past due on payments, it can have a detrimental effect on credit. Missing more than one payment, which is typical for debt settlement, can have an even greater impact.

Taking a settlement in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing, although it will show up on your credit report. There can be tax consequences on the forgiven debt, so make sure you’re ready to pay those. Settlements also generally require you to be past due on payments, which also has a negative effect on your credit score.

Debt settlement companies often claim reductions of 30% to 70%. This does not include fees paid to the settlement company.

To qualify for debt settlement, a creditor generally must be enduring a financial hardship that has put them behind on payments. They must also meet the company’s debt balance requirements.

Debt settlement companies often claim to have an advantage with creditors by handling a large volume of customer debt through bulk negotiations. This could mean you have better odds of having your agreement accepted when you use one. However, you may save money by handling it on your own.

Avoid companies that charge in advance or that guarantee results. Check the Better Business Bureau for complaints and make sure the company is compliant with the Federal Trade Commission.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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