What is Debt Consolidation?
When you are neck-deep in debt – a really tough situation to be in – and see no light at the end of the tunnel, debt consolidation just might be a way out. This involves putting together all personal unsecured debts and paying them off by way of monthly installments.
It is also possible to consolidation debt by taking a debt consolidation loan, which can be used to pay off all debts in one go. Subsequently, the consolidation loan can be repaid rather than dividing payments to numerous creditors.
Types of Debt Consolidation
Debt consolidation happens in the following ways by combining all the debtor’s high-interest rate debts into a solitary, low-interest loan. Once these debts are combined, the debtor gets the relief of reduced monthly payments.
Balance Transfers on Credit Cards
A credit card balance transfer allows you to transfer multiple credit card balances onto a single card, at lower interest rates ideally. However, these reduced interest rates on balance transfers are often of a promotional type that may expire after a certain time. That’s why it always makes sense to get to know firsthand when the reduced rate will expire before choosing the balance transfer option or else you will start paying regular interest rates after the term expires.
Moreover, if a balance transfer option is selected as a loan for debt consolidation, the credit card’s credit limit must be large enough to accommodate the full credit card debt. It also needs to be borne in mind that with your credit utilization going up, your personal credit score could be affected adversely because you are exerting excessive debt pressure on one particular card.
Home Equity Loans
You get a home equity loan by using home equity as collateral. This, in other words, means that a reasonable amount of equity must be present at home along with good credit so that you qualify for such a loan. The interest rates of these loans are lower, but on the flip side, your home is at stake for settling your credit card debts. Thus, if you are unable to pay, your home becomes vulnerable to foreclosure. That’s why it’s not generally the best idea to use a home equity loan for debt consolidation.
Loans for Debt Consolidation
These loans are available from credit unions and banks for combining all your debts only. These loans vary in nature and call for careful selection. These loans come with lower interest rates than the rates you’re paying currently. However, be careful that a bank may lower your monthly payment by increasing the total period of repayment.
You can open a window for a personal loan for debt consolidation also, provided it’s large enough. This loan would be an unsecured one with fixed payments over a pre-determined time period. Once the loan is approved, it may be used to consolidate your full debt burden. However, getting a personal loan depends heavily on the strength of your credit score. In case you have weak or bad credit, a loan may still be available albeit at higher interest rates, or may not be granted at all.
MIlitary Debt Consolidation
For armed forces personnel, there is legal protection from their credit worries. Despite such protection, a considerable number of military personnel suffer from severe financial hardships. Their hardships are enhanced because of the provisions of Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which says that any military personnel who doesn’t pay their bills “brings discredit to the US armed forces” and he or she is at a risk of losing their security clearance, promotions, and could even face a court martial for it.
According to the provisions of The Service Members Civil Relief Act, a military personnel may start by examining the rate of interest they are paying on their current bills, particularly credit card bills and compare it with the interest rates being charged for a personal loan.
Since a personal loan usually has a lower rate of interest, going this route makes sense since he or she stands to save money right away, if they have the required collateral to back the loan. These loans can be taken from credit unions, banks and online lending platforms for consolidating multiple pending bills and paying them off in one go. That would leave the debtor with a single monthly payment that ought to be generally less than what they were paying for all bills that he consolidated.
Recognizing the financial hardships defense personnel face, most banks and other financial institutions offer much lower interest rates of even 5.99%, based on the applicant’s credit score. Moreover, The Military Lending Act of 2007 has capped the personal loans interest rate at 36%. This is also applicable for the benefit of retired defense personnel.
If you wish to avoid a personal loan, you are also at liberty to utilize the help of a non-profit credit counseling agency where a counselor could help you set up a monthly budget followed by debt-relief option recommendations.
401(k) Debt Consolidation
For those having a retirement account that’s employer-sponsored, it never makes sense to dip into it because this can seriously affect your post-retirement life. However, this stands to be an option if you can’t resort to balance transfers or other loans.
Even though this loan doesn’t appear on your credit report, your inability to repay it will result in substantial penalty along with taxes on any unpaid balance, leaving you struggling with an additional debt burden. A 401(k) loan is typically due in 5 years unless you are pink slipped lose or quit. In such cases, it becomes due in 60 days.
Dipping into your 401(k) account never really makes sense and is generally a last and desperate attempt by many to get out of a debt trap. Rather, it should be treated more like a lockbox which needs to be funded aggressively, monitored judiciously and rebalanced annually. To reiterate, never, ever prematurely dip into your 401(k) if you have other options available.
Even though loans from a 401k account cost less, you will have to explain why you need it so badly. Any withdrawals before the age of 59 years and 6 months attract a 10% penalty, receivable by the federal government and you will have to pay taxes on the amount you claim along with withholding. For instance, if you want to withdraw $20,000 from your 401k account, you will end up paying something around $28,000 which comprises the 10% penalty and 25% withholding charge to get it in hand.
This 10% penalty charge, however, may be waived even if you are younger than 59 years and 6 months if you are borrowing to buy your first house, paying for medical expenses due to a sudden disability, expenses for higher-education for self or your offspring, paying to avoid foreclosure or eviction, getting your house repaired after a natural calamity has damaged it, for funeral expenses of a spouse, parent or child, or your employment is terminated when you are 55 years of age.
In sum, it should only be immediate and a serious financial requirement that should compel you to withdraw from your 401k account and where it is impossible for you to resort to a commercial lender for financial aid under any circumstances.
Consolidate By Credit Counseling
Debt consolidation is also possible through a credit counseling agency that offers you a DMP or debt management plan. The Debt Management Program helps eliminate debt, increases the debtor’s credit score and relieves the stress from their personal financial problems. The counselor negotiates with all the concerned lenders to reduce interest rates being currently paid, waiver of late payment fees as also the amount of the monthly installment so that the entire debt is paid off within three to five years.
Your debts consolidate because you come under a single payment method wherein you pay the agency each month, which in turn disburses the funds to your creditors. However, under this plan, your credit cards will stand frozen until the DMP is completed.
The advantage of consumer credit counseling is that it hardly costs anything. There is usually an initial fee to start the DMP followed by a management fee of at best $25 payable monthly.
However, it must be taken into consideration that most methods adopted in the debt consolidation process don’t actually make the debtor absolutely debt free. All they do is move your debts from one lender to another.
Consolidation By Way of Debt Settlement
By resorting to the services of a debt settlement company, it is also possible to consolidate debt. This way, the debt actually gets reduced instead of just being moved around. Here, instead of paying your lenders, you transfer money on a monthly basis to an escrow account till a reasonable amount accumulates in that account. Once this happens, the debt settlement firm contacts any one of your creditors to start settlement negotiations and ultimately reduce your debt by 40 to 50 percent.
However, this service comes for a hefty fee that all debt settlement companies, being for-profit organizations charge their clients and which may range between 15% and 25%. However, in spite of this, it stands to be better option for coming out ahead. The only noticeable downside is that debt settlement severely damages your personal credit score.
Why Go For Debt Consolidation?
By consolidating your debt, you are simply rolling all your high-interest debts into a solitary, low-interest payment option. It reduces and reorganizes the total debt so that you can repay it faster. However, it cannot be said that debt consolidation is a silver bullet for your debt problems because neither it doesn’t take care of wild spending habits that go on to create debt.
Moreover, it’s also not a solution when you’re completely submerged in debt which you can’t pay off in spite of reduced payments. Thus, debt consolidation works only in cases of manageable debts which can reorganize multiple bills having varying interest rates and payment schedules.
The sheer convenience of debt consolidation lies in the fact that you pay multiple debts as one payment; get to pre-schedule which exact day in the month on which the payment will be made and therefore, avoid confusion about who needs to get paid and when; get a guarantee from your debt consolidator that you will be absolutely debt-free within a specified time; get educated on how to stay debt-free for the rest of your life, start saving again for the future, build emergency funds; and set practical financial goals for yourself.
The Debt Consolidation Method
Debt consolidation may be done in two basic ways: the debtor may walk down the avenue for a credit card that has 0% interest or a balance-transfer to which all your debts may be transferred and the balance paid in full during the pre-determined promotional period.
Obtaining a personal loan at a fixed-rate the loan funds may be used to repay the debt in one transaction. The loan may subsequently be repaid in installments over a certain period of time.
However, one needs to bear the following in mind when consolidating a debt:
- The total debt isn’t in excess of 50% of the debtor’s income
- Your personal credit score is high enough for you to get a reduced-interest loan for debt consolidation or a 0% credit card
- The debtor’s cash flow should consistently cover payments towards your debt
- You have a plan ready to prevent getting into debt again
The process of debt consolidation begins with an objective assessment of all unsecured debts that include credit cards outstanding, personal loans, and medical debts but excludes mortgages, student, or auto loans. The total debt amount is then compared with the debtor’s gross annual income. If it happens to be lower than half his or her total income and they have confidence that they can repay it within the next 60 months, their debt consolidation is bound to work.
This, for example, is an ideal situation for debt consolidation the debtor has 4 credit cards with interest rates varying between 18.99% and 24.99%. Since he or she makes timely payments, their credit standing is good. They would stand to qualify for a loan for debt consolidation at around 7%, which definitely is a much lower rate of interest.
Getting a Debt Consolidation Loan
A debt consolidation loan works for those who are drowning in debt hopelessly and simply can’t negotiate any further reduced rates of interest with their credit card issuers or creditors. It also works for the few who are unable to meet the high rates of interest, hefty monthly installments, and multiple unpaid bills. If combined with suitable credit counseling as also a well thought out debt repayment plan, a debt may be paid off at a fraction of its original value and allow you to walk away absolutely debt-free.
Look at your full credit card outstanding along with their individual interest rates. Then work out how long its going to take you to repay it all at the current rate. Compare this to the consolidation loan’s length that you’re thinking of taking. The average 60-month loan for debt consolidation, even at lower rates of interest than the credit card, is likely to cost more in the long run than if you paid off your card faster.
It also needs to be checked what the monthly payment on a loan for debt consolidation is going to be. Check if you are paying that much towards your credit card debt already. If the payment for the loan is more than what you are paying towards your debt while it also fits in with your budget, you could pump more funds into paying off your credit card debts. However, should the loan payment be less than what you are paying towards your credit cards, you will most probably end up paying more interest in the long run, because your loan term will most likely be longer.
Debt Consolidation Pros & Cons
Debt consolidation as is often seen, is a suitable option to regain control over your finances, enhance your credit rating, and help you save yourself from bankruptcy. On the flip side, however, it comes with certain downsides and risks. Thus, it becomes extremely important to study and understand its pros and cons before selecting it as a solution to your debt situation.
- All your debt payments pertaining to credit cards get rolled into one monthly payment. This, in turn, makes it easier for you to manage your debts within your budget because you just have to make one payment that covers all your unsecured debt.
- The rates of interest that apply to your outstanding is considerably lower. Credit cards generally tend to have high-interest rates in excess of 20 percent. Therefore, the appropriate option for debt consolidation typically reduces the interest rates applicable to your debts to about 10 percent or even less.
- You get the privilege of paying off your debts much faster. This is due to the fact that the interest rates are lower, and each payment made erodes your primary debt instead of draining away on additional interest charges. This makes it possible for you to pay off the full debt within a few years or maybe even less, instead of decades altogether it would take if you stick to a schedule of minimum payment.
- You get to bypass credit damage. As you consolidate your debt, you actually stay ahead of credit damage. Consequently, you avoid any potential damage to your credit score that comes with missed or late card payments as also with defaulted accounts. By doing this, you also manage to avoid bankruptcy, which may make your credit score drop to below 600 and make you vulnerable to non-receipt of other types of financing.
- If the debtor uses credit before paying off the consolidated debt, he gets into a deeper debt trap. With some existing options, certain existing accounts may have zero balances making them usable from the first day. This may tempt the debtor to start using their cards again. Even if their accounts stand frozen because they have already been placed in a debt management program, this person may still be in possession of other credit cards and be in a position to open and use new accounts. Accumulating further debt before the consolidated debt is eliminated can be dangerous and irrational!
- If the payoff plan isn’t working, it will be back to square one. Once the debt is consolidated, the debtor needs to stick strictly with this payment plan and ensure that all payments are made on time. Otherwise, they definitely risk damaging their credit and is most likely going to face penalties. In certain cases, if the creditors erased penalties while adding interest when you consolidated, this will be taken into account again if you fail to keep making payments.
- The question that now arises is once the debts are paid off, will the debtor manage to stay debt-free for the rest of their life? This is where another major problem of debt consolidation comes to light. Debt consolidation loans are completely incapable of changing the basic behaviors of debtors who hit the debt trap in the very first place. Instead, what it actually does is to add another unwanted creditor to the debtor’s existing pile, thus enhancing the chances of the debtor of getting into additional debt to repay more debt.
Debt consolidation comes into play when you spend more than what you make; your card’s debt keeps growing and not shrinking; the interest payments on your card debts exceed the amount spent every month; you’re even finding making minimum payments difficult; your debts extend to more than five credit cards; your interest rates are more than 18.99% on your outstanding card balances; and your credit score is dropping alarmingly.
Thus, it’s extremely important to remember that after paying off all your credit card debts, you will be using your cards again without considering your budget, you will be in the same situation again. Debt consolidation will help you get a loan to pay off your outstanding card debts but if you’re going to charge up those cards recklessly again—then you apparently have not learned your lesson.
Non-profit debt consolidation is the process by which the consolidation is done by a non-profit debt consolidating company, also called a non-profit credit consolidation company that works for the client’s benefit without prioritizing its own profits or commissions.
Debt consolidation programs are formulated to help those neck deep in debt for consolidating their bill payments and ultimately becoming absolutely debt free for the rest of their lives.