Keeping track of your finances can be difficult, especially when you have several payments going in several different directions. If that sounds familiar, a debt consolidation loan could help.
Our guide will break down what you need to know about debt consolidation loans and help you decide whether or not they’re the best option for you.
What are Debt Consolidation Loans?
Debt consolidation loans are used to combine multiple debts, such as credit cards, high-interest loans and medical bills, into an account with one monthly payment and lender. Debt consolidation loans are a type of personal loan.
Applying for and receiving a debt consolidation loan is a multi-step process that requires you to choose your loan terms, finalize your application and repay the loan.
Here are the steps you should take when applying for a debt consolidation loan:
- Meet preapproval terms. Preapproval terms will differ between lenders, but typically they request that you have at least a 580 credit score and no bankruptcies. A lender will perform a soft inquiry on your credit to see if you meet their requirements before quoting you a rate.
- Decide which credit card debts to pay off. Before choosing your loan terms, prioritize which of your credit cards you want to pay off first. This will dictate how much you borrow and the length of the loan.
- Finalize your application. Finalizing your application requires a hard inquiry on your credit report.
- Go through a closing process. If you’re approved, loans are disbursed either directly to your creditors or sent to you by check.
- Start paying off your debt.
There are two types of debt consolidation loans: secured and unsecured. Secured debt consolidation loans use collateral, such as home equity. While secured loans typically have better interest rates, they can be risky. You could face foreclosure if you can’t pay your debt.
Unsecured loans are more common and don’t require any collateral, but they typically have higher interest rates and are more expensive to pay down.
How Do I Qualify for a Consolidation Loan?
To qualify for a debt consolidation loan, you must meet lender requirements.
Lenders often use your credit score to determine your interest rate. Having a high credit score, a lower debt-to-income ratio and a stable income will increase your chances of securing a loan.
Can I get a Debt Consolidation Loan with Poor Credit?
Lenders view people with low credit scores as high risk, so it might be difficult to get approved for a debt consolidation loan if you have poor credit. Those with poor credit who are approved will end up paying higher interest rates.
If you have a low credit score, be cautious about taking out a debt consolidation loan. The interest rate on a debt consolidation loan could be higher than your existing debt, making it more expensive to pay down.
How to Choose the Right Loan
When choosing a debt consolidation company, compare loan terms and interest rates to see how much interest and how many fees you’ll pay overall. This can help you pick the loan option that saves you the most money.
Here’s what you should consider when evaluating a debt consolidation loan:
- Interest rates: Most lenders offer a fixed-rate loan, while some offer both fixed- and variable-rate loans.
- Loan terms and restrictions: Review the loan period length and loan amounts to see whether the amount and repayment timeline meet your needs.
- Fees and penalties: Look at the origination, prepayment and late fees, which can significantly increase the cost of your loan. Some lenders place restrictions on how you use the loan, such as prohibiting consolidations on student loan debt.
Is it a Good Idea to Get a Debt Consolidation Loan?
There are benefits to using a debt consolidation loan, but there are also potential disadvantages. Ultimately, it depends on your personal situation.
If you qualify for a new loan with favorable terms and a lower interest rate than your current debt, it could be a good idea. However, you need to consider your credit scores, income and ability to repay the loan.
- Debt consolidation loans can have lower interest rates than credit cards and other types of debt, depending on your credit range. If you qualify for a low-interest loan, you can reduce your current interest rate and save money on repayment.
- You can lock in a low rate with a fixed-rate debt consolidation loan instead of owing money at variable rates.
- A debt consolidation loan gives you a debt repayment timeline specified in your loan agreement, so you’ll know exactly when you’ll pay off the loan.
- You’ll have payments that are easier to handle if the loan lowers your monthly payments. This means that you’re less likely to be subject to additional fees and higher interest rates that come with missing a payment.
- People with low credit scores may only be given loans with a higher APR than their existing debt.
- You could wind up paying a lot more interest overall, depending on your loan’s interest rate. Although your monthly payment might be lower, your repayment term could be longer.
- A low-interest rate for a debt consolidation loan could just be a “teaser rate” that only lasts for a certain time. After that, your lender may increase the rate you have to pay.
- The loan may also include fees such as application fees, origination fees or prepayment penalties that you would not have to pay if you continued to pay back your current lenders.
- You put your house, car, retirement fund or other assets at risk when you use collateral to secure your loan. If you’re not able to pay your loan, you could face losing those assets.
- You could end up in more debt if you get a consolidation loan and keep making more purchases with credit.
What are Alternatives to Debt Consolidation?
If debt consolidation isn’t your best option, there are other ways to manage your debt.
- Credit cards with an introductory 0 percent APR balance transfer allow you to consolidate your debt on one credit card. Be aware: if you are more than 60 days late on a payment, you face a penalty APR on all balances, including the transferred balance. There’s also usually a balance transfer fee, either as a fixed amount or a percentage of the amount you transfer.
- Creating a budget can help you understand how much you can afford to pay each month toward existing debt.
- Responsible credit card usage can ensure you aren’t allowing your balances to get too high. If you’re spending more than you’re earning, consider adjusting the way you spend to pay off your existing debt.
- Bankruptcy may be an option if you are overwhelmed with debt and see no way to pay it off. However, a bankruptcy can remain on your credit report for up to ten years.
Do Consolidation Loans Hurt Your Credit Score?
A debt consolidation loan could actually help your credit score. If you have a high credit balance, consolidating could lower your utilization rate. Additionally, a lower payment each month could mean more on-time payments.
That being said, how your debt consolidation loan affects your credit score really depends on your ability to make your payments. Having monthly payments due on a loan, in addition to credit cards, could put you in an even more difficult situation.
Managing Multiple Payments, Debt Consolidation Loans, and Your Credit Report
Many consumers turn to a debt consolidation loan because of the challenges they face keeping track of multiple accounts.
Mistakes can happen, but if payments are applied to the wrong account or your accounts are reported more than once, it could make you appear risky to lenders. Mistakes on your credit report can be costly and unfairly affect your credit score if they go unfixed.
Credit repair can be a hassle, especially if you are unfamiliar with the process. At Lexington Law, we do the heavy lifting to make the dispute process easier, by identifying and challenging questionable negative items on your behalf. Although we don’t manage debt consolidation loans directly, our team of credit report consultants can help you navigate the credit repair process.
Should you pay down debt or save for retirement?
While establishing a comprehensive, workable budget is undeniably one of the most important factors in maintaining a healthy financial life, it can also be one of the most difficult. For those who are struggling with personal debt, building a budget can be particularly challenging. When the money coming in has to stretch like a contortionist to cover expenses, it can be hard to determine where to focus — and where to trim.
Sometimes, the battle of the budget can come down to a choice between dealing with the present — and thinking about the future. When your income is running out of stretch, do you pay off your existing debt, or do you start saving for retirement? At the end of the day, the solution to that particular dilemma depends on the type of debt you have and how far you are from retiring.
If you have high-interest debt, pay it down
When considering how to allocate your budget, it’s important to understand the different kinds of debt you may have. Consumer debt can be categorized into two basic types: low-interest debt and high-interest debt, each with its own impact on your credit (and your budget).
In general, low-interest debt consists of long-term or secured loans that carry a single-digit interest rate, such as a mortgage or auto loan. Though no debt is the only real form of good debt, low-interest debt can be useful to carry. For instance, purchasing a home with a low-interest mortgage can actually save you money on housing costs if you do your homework and buy a house well within your price range.
High-interest debt, on the other hand, typically has a hefty double-digit interest rate and shorter loan terms, such as that of a credit card or payday loan. High-interest debt is the most expensive kind of debt to carry from month to month and should always be priority number one when building a budget.
To illustrate why you should focus on high-interest debt above everything else, consider a credit card carrying the average 19% APR and a $10,000 balance. If the balance goes unpaid, that high-interest credit card debt will cost $1,900 a year in interest payments alone. Now, compare that to the stock market’s average annual return of 7%, and it becomes clear that you’ll see significantly more bang for your buck by putting any extra funds into your high-interest debt instead of an investment account.
If you are having trouble paying off your high-interest debt, there may be some steps you can take to make it more manageable. For example, transferring your credit card balances from high-interest cards to ones offering an introductory 0% APR can eliminate interest payments for 12 months or more. While many of the best balance transfer cards won’t charge you an annual fee, they may charge a balance transfer fee, so do your research. You’ll also want to make sure you have a plan to pay off the new card before your introductory period ends.
Most balance transfer offers will require you to have at least fair credit, so if your credit score needs some work, you may not qualify. In this case, refinancing your high-interest debt with a personal loan that has a lower interest rate may be your best bet. Make sure to compare all of the top bad credit loans to find the best interest rate and loan terms.
If you’re nearing retirement, start to save
The closer you get to retirement age, the more important it becomes to ensure you have adequate retirement savings — and the more pressure you may feel to invest every spare penny into your retirement fund. No matter your age, however, paying off your high-interest debt should always remain the priority, as it will always provide the best rate of return (as well as likely provide a credit score boost).
Indeed, no matter how tempting it becomes, you should avoid reallocating money you’ve dedicated to paying off high-interest debt to save for retirement. Instead, the focus should be on re-evaluating your budget to find any additional savings you can. To be successful, you will need to make a strong distinction between want and need — and, perhaps, make some tough lifestyle choices.
Though simply eliminating your daily coffee drink won’t magically provide a solid retirement fund, saving a few bucks by homebrewing while also eliminating a pricey cable bill in favor of an inexpensive streaming service — or, better yet, free library rentals — can add up to big savings over the course of the year. The ideal strategy will involve overhauling every aspect of your lifestyle, combining both large and small cuts to develop a lean budget structured around your long-term goals.
Of course, while you should never allocate debt money to your retirement savings, the reverse is also true. It is almost always a horrible idea to remove money from your retirement account before you hit retirement age — for any reason. Withdrawing early means you will be stuck paying hefty fees for withdrawing money early and, depending on the type of account, you may also have to pay significant taxes.
Aim for both goals by improving income
As you take the necessary steps to pay off debt and save for retirement, you may have already stretched the budget so thin it’s practically transparent. In this case, it is time to consider ways to improve your overall income. Increasing the amount you have coming in not only provides extra savings to put toward your retirement, but may also speed up your journey to becoming debt-free.
The easiest solution may be to look for ways to increase your income through your current job; think about taking on additional shifts or overtime hours to earn some extra cash. Depending on your position — and the time you’ve been with the company — consider asking for a pay raise or promotion, as well.
If you do not have options to make more money at your day job, it may be time to find a second job. Look for opportunities that provide flexible schedules that will accommodate your regular job; many work-from-home positions, for example, can easily fit into most work schedules. Doing neighborhood odd jobs, such as babysitting and dog walking, may also provide a solid income boost without interfering with your existing job.
For some, the need to pay off debt and improve retirement savings can be more than just a source of stress — but a hidden opportunity to begin a new career adventure. Instead of being weighed down by yet more work, use the desire to better your budget as a reason to explore the profit potential of a passion or hobby. Starting a small online store, part-time consulting service, or other small business can be a great way to improve your income and your overall happiness.
While it may sound intimidating, starting a side business can be as simple as putting together a professional looking website and doing a little marketing legwork to spread the word. And no, building a website isn’t as scary — or expensive — as it seems, either. A number of the top website builders now offer simple drag-and-drop interfaces perfect for putting together a professional-looking web page in minutes (without breaking the bank).
How does a loan default affect my credit?
Nobody takes out a loan expecting to default on it. Despite their best intentions, people sometimes find themselves struggling to pay off their loans. These types of struggles happen for many reasons, including job loss, significant debt, or a medical or personal crisis.
Making late payments or having a loan fall into default can add pressure to other personal struggles. Before finding yourself in a desperate situation, understanding how a loan default can impact your credit is necessary to avoid negative consequences.
30 days late
Missing one payment can further lower your credit score. If you can pay the past due amount plus applicable late fees, you may be able to mitigate the damage to your credit, if you make all other payments as expected.
The trouble starts when you (1) miss a payment, (2) do not pay it at all, and (3) continue to miss subsequent payments. If those actions happen, the loan falls into default.
More than 30 days late
Payments that are more than 30 days past due can trigger increasingly serious consequences:
- The loan default may appear on your credit reports. It will likely lower your credit score, which most creditors and lenders use to review credit applications.
- You may receive phone calls and letters from creditors demanding payment.
- If you still do not pay, the account could be sent to collections. The debt collector seeks payment from you, sometimes using aggressive measures.
Then, the collection account can remain on your credit report for up to seven years. This action can damage your creditworthiness for future loan or credit card applications. Also, it may be a deciding factor when obtaining basic necessities, such as utilities or a mobile phone.
Other ways a default can hurt you
Hurting your credit score is reason enough to avoid a loan default. Some of the other actions creditors can take to collect payment or claim collateral are also quite serious:
- If you default on a car loan, the creditor can repossess your car.
- If you default on a mortgage, you could be forced to foreclose on your home.
- In some cases, you could be sued for payment and have a court judgment entered against you.
- You could face bankruptcy.
Any of these additional consequences can plague your credit score for years and hinder your efforts to secure your financial future.
How to avoid a loan default
Your options to avoid a loan default depend upon the type of loan you have and the nature of your personal circumstances. For example:
- For student loans, research deferment or forbearance options. Both options permit you to temporarily stop making payments or pay a lesser amount per month.
- For a mortgage, ask the lender if a loan modification is available. Changing the loan from an adjustable rate to a fixed rate, or extend the life of the loan so your monthly payments are smaller.
Generally, you can avoid a loan default by exercising common sense: buy only what you need and can afford, keep a steady job that earns enough income to cover your expenses, and keep the rest of your debts low.
Clean up your credit
The hard reality is that defaulting on a loan is unpleasant. It can negatively affect your credit profile for years. Through patience and perseverance, you can repair the damage to your credit and improve your standing over time.
Consulting with a credit repair law firm can help you address these issues and get your credit back on track. At Lexington Law, we offer a free credit report summary and consultation. Call us today at 1-855-255-0139.
How to identify credit repair scams
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.
If you have poor or damaged credit and want to repair it, you may have considered using a credit repair service to help. Unfortunately, there are many companies and individuals that want to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers needing help with their credit.
While there are legitimate companies that can help you repair your credit, there are also credit repair scams that are only after your money and your information for identity theft purposes. To keep both safe, we created this guide to help you tell the difference between legitimate credit repair companies and credit repair scams.
Five signs of a credit repair scam
There are many things credit repair companies are not allowed to do or promise customers. If it sounds like it’s too good to be true, it probably is, and you should steer clear of that company. We’ve put together a list of signs you should watch out for when working with credit repair companies.
1. Guaranteed results
Under the Credit Repair Organizations Act (CROA), credit repair companies cannot guarantee results. Here are a few common examples of false promises unethical credit repair companies might make:
- Improvement to your credit score
- Results in a fixed time period
- Removal of all of negative items, even if they are accurate
2. Up-front payment is requested
The CROA prohibits credit repair companies from asking for any payment before they render services. Many scammers know that most consumers don’t know this and, as a result, promise a quick turnaround on credit repair for a large upfront payment.
Some illegitimate credit repair companies may not allow you to cancel unless you pay a fee. All credit repair companies are required by law to give you at least three days to cancel services with them and there is no penalty for canceling.
3. Claims a new identity is needed
A credit repair company can’t promise or offer you a new identity. Anyone offering you a new identity is a fraud. Besides guaranteeing results, scammers may try to promise you a clean slate with a new Employer Identification Number (EIN) or a Credit Privacy Number (CPN).
They tell you to use these numbers on your future credit applications instead of your Social Security Number. We explain more about common credit repair scams below.
4. Don’t explain your legal rights
Credit repair companies should explain your legal rights to you from the beginning. These are a few common things an unethical credit repair company might do.
- Tells you not to contact the credit bureaus directly
- Doesn’t give you a copy of the contract to review before signing
- Fails to inform you that you can repair your credit yourself without the help of a credit repair company
- Leaves out important information from the contract, like the date services will be executed or the amount you will pay
If you feel like the company isn’t telling you everything or refusing to answer your questions, you should seek services elsewhere.
5. Asks you to misrepresent information
Finally, an unlawful credit repair company might ask you to misrepresent your information. This can range from unlawfully using an EIN or CPN number in place of your social security number to claim you are a victim of identity theft when you’re not.
Common credit repair scams
You’ll most likely see credit repair companies illegally promising results. However, it’s important to familiarize yourself with other scams so you understand what is and is not legal. We highlighted a few common ones below.
File segregation schemes
A file segregation scheme is when a company or individual offers to give you an Employee Identification Number (EIN) to use in place of your Social Security Number when you apply for credit. It’s illegal for companies to do this, and it’s illegal for consumers to obtain one to use in place of their Social Security Number.
Credit privacy numbers
Like an EIN, a Credit Privacy Number (CPN) is created by scammers to use in place of your Social Security Number when applying for credit. Simply put, a CPN is a fake Social Security Number. Usually, these are created using somebody else’s identity, and using one can be considered identity theft.
Tradeline renting is when you pay for authorized user status so that the tradeline shows up on your credit reports to improve your score. This doesn’t repair any negative information on your credit, but adding a positive tradeline to your credit report can boost your score.
While this isn’t necessarily illegal, it can get you into trouble. There is nothing wrong with a loved one adding you as an authorized user. However, if you pay to “rent” a tradeline from a stranger, you don’t know how it will impact your credit and it may be a scam to get your money.
What to do if you are scammed
There are a few things you can do if you realize you’ve fallen victim to a credit repair scam. Take a look at your options below.
Can credit repair companies fix your credit?
Yes, a legitimate credit repair company can help you work to remove inaccurate negative items from your record that may be damaging your credit score. Here are ways to recognize a legitimate, expert credit repair company. Although you can work to repair your credit yourself without a credit repair company, ideally a credit repair company would make the process much easier. Here are some signs of a legitimate, expert credit repair company:
- They create a repair strategy custom to your unique situation. A good credit repair company will customize their course of action only after evaluating your credit reports and credit history. Everyone’s credit history is different, and their approach to repairing your credit should reflect that.
- Maintain communication with you during the process. A credit repair company that maintains scheduled calls, emails or any other form of communication with you will help you stay up-to-date with their progress. They shouldn’t keep you in the dark as they’re conducting their services.
- Informs you of your rights from the beginning. At the time of signing, a credit repair company should provide two documents: a disclosure of your right to repair your credit yourself and a detailed contract of services.
- Make realistic claims about their services. Like we said above, credit repair companies cannot guarantee results. A legitimate credit repair company will not guarantee timeframes or point changes, but they can guarantee the delivery of services—access to credit monitoring tools, or letters delivered on your behalf.
How to safely repair your credit
Making payments on time and disputing inaccurate information on your credit reports can help you repair your credit. While you can do this on your own, a professional credit repair firm like Lexington Law Firm will make the process easier and more efficient.
Lexington Law Firm proudly adheres to CROA to make sure we give our clients the best experience possible. For over a decade, we’ve helped clients challenge information that is unfair, inaccurate and unsubstantiated. Give us a call today for a free, personalized credit report consultation.
Reviewed by John Heath, Directing Attorney of Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.
Born and raised in Salt Lake City, John Heath earned his BA from the University of Utah and his Juris Doctor from Ohio Northern University. John has been the Directing Attorney of Lexington Law Firm since 2004. The firm focuses primarily on consumer credit report repair, but also practices family law, criminal law, general consumer litigation and collection defense on behalf of consumer debtors. John is admitted to practice law in Utah, Colorado, Washington D. C., Georgia, Texas and New York.
Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.
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