The journey to become debt-free can be smooth for some — but for many of us, it includes bumps, twists and turns. However, strategies exist to help you navigate your way to living a debt-free life.
A debt consolidation loan is one strategy to help you get a handle on your debt. You can potentially gather your debts into one place, shorten your loan term and possibly get a better interest rate. It all comes down to whether it’s right for your specific financial situation.
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How does consolidating debt with a personal loan work?
A debt consolidation loan can help you roll your existing debts into one new fixed monthly repayment. The goal is that your new loan offers a lower interest rate than you’re currently paying on other loans and/or better loan terms.
To take advantage of a debt consolidation loan, you will need to apply for a personal loan and select “debt consolidation” as the purpose on your application. The lender will transfer your approved funds into your bank account, which you then use to pay off your open debts — whether that is credit card balances, bills or other loans.
After paying off your debts, you’re left with one single loan to repay.
Debt Consolidation Savings Calculator
Calculate how much you could save by consolidating your debt
Fill out the form and click “Calculate” to see your estimated savings and new monthly payment.
You’ll save an estimate of !
Year(s) to pay off
Total interest paid
Total balance paid
You currently have a total debt balance of $ with an average rate of %. By consolidating them into a new loan at 9% APR with a -year term, you’d pay approximately $ per month. Your estimated total savings would be .
Your total monthly payments is not enough to cover the interest. Your loan(s) will never be paid off.
When finding the right debt consolidation loan for your financial situation, it’s important to compare a variety of different loans and lenders. Consider the following factors:
APR. Interest rates and fees combine to show you the annual percentage rate of your loan, which is the true cost of your loan. Compare a variety of loan APR’s to see how much you could save over time by paying different rates and fees.
Loan amounts. Bundling together your debts is part of the appeal of debt consolidation, since you’ll be able to make one single monthly repayment instead of multiple payments. Find a lender who is willing to offer you the amount you need in order to bundle all of your debts together.
Fees. Origination fees, early repayment penalties, late and returned payment fees — these can all eat away at how much you can save when moving your debts to one single loan. Compare the fees offered by lenders and see if you can negotiate out of any.
Borrower reviews. Reviews can help you evaluate a provider’s marketing and customer service against real-life customer experiences, providing insight into what you can expect from a lender.
4 questions to ask when comparing offers
Narrow down your loan options by asking yourself these questions:
Do I qualify with this lender? People with good or excellent credit scores tend to more easily qualify for personal loans with competitive rates. You’ll likely need to meet eligibility that includes a maximum debt-to-income ratio and a minimum credit score, annual income and length of credit history.
What’s the repayment term? Since the goal of a debt consolidation loan is to combine your debts into one single payment, your loan term represents when you’re ultimately free of your debts. How long you take to repay your loan will affect your monthly payment and the total cost of your loan. A longer term generally results in lower monthly repayments, but a higher loan cost.
What’s the APR? Lenders charge a percentage of your loan balance as interest in exchange for allowing you to borrow money. They commonly advertise an APR, which includes both interest and mandatory fees. The APR is a better representation of your total loan cost than your interest rate alone. Even a seemingly small difference in percentage can significantly affect the total interest you pay, especially if you’re borrowing a large amount.
What other fees might I be charged? Outside of your APR, you could face a range of fees. Some lenders even charge you extra for paying off your loan early. Read the terms and conditions of any loan contract before signing so you understand any fees or charges you may incur.
How much will a debt consolidation loan cost me?
Ideally, a debt consolidation loan won’t cost you anything you weren’t already going to pay in interest with your existing loans.
While some debt consolidation loans come with origination fees — usually 1% to 5% of your loan amount that’s often deducted before you receive the money — it’s possible to find a consolidation loan offering no upfront fees.
When weighing consolidation loans, your APR and monthly repayments are two other costs to consider. Typically, you need to have excellent credit and a low debt-to-income ratio to qualify for the lowest APRs that range from 4% to 12%.
You might be concerned about immediate costs. If this is the case, a loan with a longer loan term could meet your needs. You’ll end up paying more over the life of your loan, because your interest accumulates over a longer term. However, your monthly repayments can be significantly lower than with a shorter term.
5 tips to get a low interest rate
Consider these tips to get a better rate when consolidating your debt with a loan:
Shop around. Don’t just look at local banks. Online lenders can offer lower rates, faster application processing and even peer-to-peer lending opportunities. Don’t limit yourself to only the online world or companies with physical locations.
Know your credit score and review your credit report. Generally, you need a credit score of 650 or higher to get a good deal on a loan. Check your credit report to make sure there aren’t errors that are hurting your credit score.
Pay down your debt. Try to keep your debt-to-income ratio under 20% to get the best rates and terms. Lenders will generally not give out loans to borrowers who have a DTI of 43% or higher.
Get preapproved. Preapproval allows you to see how much you can borrow and approximate your interest rate before committing to an offer. It’s also a good way to make sure you meet a lender’s eligibility requirements.
Apply only for what you need. Asking for more than you need can land you with a higher APR and will increase the cost of your loan, since you’ll pay interest on the amount you borrow.
Pros and cons of using a debt consolidation loan
One payment. Bundling together all of your debts into one place can relieve the hassle that comes with managing multiple monthly repayments.
Potential overall savings. When you consolidate to a loan with a lower APR, you can save money on unnecessary interest and fees across multiple loans.
Earlier payoff. Depending on your term and APR, you might find that you’re able to pay off your overall debt more quickly than by keeping them separate.
No intro period. Unlike balance transfer credit cards, debt consolidation loans don’t offer low or 0% introductory interest rate periods, which means you’ll incur interest immediately with a loan.
Temptation to spend. With your credit cards and general cash flow freed up, you could be tempted to shop, thereby increasing and extending your debt.
Does not eliminate debt. By consolidating your debt, you’re simply shifting existing balances to a new form — however it is one that can hopefully save you money and time.
Balance transfer credit card vs. debt consolidation loan
Balance transfer credit cards can offer exciting perks, like 0% or low interest for a specified number of months on transferred balances. However, once the intro period is up, you’ll face a higher revert APR.
Here’s how balance transfer credit cards compare to debt consolidation loans.
Balance transfer credit card
Debt consolidation loan
Low or 0% interest on transferred debt within an intro period, and typically 12.99% to 36% thereafter.
As low as 3% APR throughout your full loan term.
Intro periods can range from 3 to 12 months, sometimes longer, after which your APR reverts to a higher purchase rate.
Generally 3 to 7 years.
Typically 1% to 5% of each transferred balance.
Typically no upfront fees, though lenders may charge origination fees of 1% to 5% of the loan amount.
Impact on credit score
Short-term drop in score due to hard pull on credit to approve you for the credit card. Potential increase in credit score over time if you keep your other cards open to maintain low credit utilization ratio.
Short-term drop in score due to hard pull on credit to approve you for the loan. Likely to increase credit score in the long run, because other credit balances are paid off with the loan.
So, what’s better?
A balance transfer credit card could be a suitable way to consolidate debt if you’re certain you’ll pay off your consolidated balance within the introductory interest rate period.
If you need more time, a debt consolidation loan could be a better deal because the interest rate is lower.
Russell consolidates to save his budget
Imagine this scenario: Russell is carrying two credit cards — one that he’s nearly maxed out to pay emergency bills and another filled with general spending — along with a low interest rate loan. With a new job and a determination to get his debt under control, Russell looks into a debt consolidation loan. Original credit accounts
Credit card 1
Credit card 2
Russell saves $661.90 by consolidating his debt to a three-year term personal loan offering a fixed 9% APR.
A personal loan could help you consolidate multiple debts into one single monthly repayment — potentially one with lower rates and fees or shorter terms than you’re paying now. Before you apply for a loan, compare multiple lenders to find one that works best for your financial situation.
It depends on your credit profile and eligibility. Lenders look at your total existing debt, your overall creditworthiness and even the type of credit accounts you hold when considering your approved loan amount, rates and terms.
Many lenders allow you to get pre-approved for a loan without doing a hard pull on your credit score, allowing you the chance to see potential offers without knocking your credit score.
If your debt totals more than $35,000, you may have trouble finding a loan to consolidate your debt into one place. Some lenders offer up to $100,000, however it may be harder to find this loan amount.
Your particular financial circumstances will dictate whether or not a debt consolidation loan is a good tool. The better your credit is, the more competitive a debt consolidation loan offer will likely be.
A debt counselling service or even a budget and some calculations can help you figure out if a consolidation loan will simplify your current debts or save you money.
As a tool, yes. It comes down to finding a legitimate lender.
You’ll find many reputable lenders offering debt consolidation. Look for privacy and security policies on a lender’s website, and read user reviews to get a feel for any lenders you’re considering.
Low credit doesn’t necessarily stop you from getting a debt consolidation loan. Certain lenders offer bad credit personal loans, but you likely won’t be eligible for the best rates unless you have a good to excellent credit score.
It might. Your current APR, monthly repayments and total interest can decrease with the right debt consolidation loan — ultimately saving you money.
However, these loans are often in terms of three to seven years. This may be longer than it would take to pay off one or more of your individual debts. Even if it is, it’s worth considering the amount of money you’d save and the convenience of having your debt in one place before ruling out a debt consolidation loan.
Rhys Subitch is a writer and editor at finder.com who tackles topics across the site. With half a decade of experience researching, editing and writing for a Fortune 500 company, university and several independent publications, Rhys brings readers the most up-to-date and curated info on all things finance.
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