What is debt consolidation? | The bank rate


Even if you work hard to manage your money the right way, paying off high interest debt each month can make it difficult to reach your financial goals. No matter how much you owe, it can take months or even years to get out of debt.

Consolidation is one way to manage multiple debt payments. Debt consolidation is a form of money management where you pay off existing debt by taking out a new loan, usually through a debt consolidation loan, a credit card with balance transfer, or a debt consolidation loan. ” a student loan, home equity loan or HELOC refinance. Here’s what you need to know about debt consolidation, and which method might be right for you.

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Definition of debt consolidation

Debt consolidation is the process of merging multiple debts into one debt. Instead of making separate payments to multiple credit card issuers or lenders each month, you consolidate them into one payment from a single lender, ideally at a lower interest rate.

You can use debt consolidation to merge several types of debt, including:

  • Credit card
  • Medical debt
  • Personal loans
  • Student loans
  • Auto loans
  • Payday loans

While debt consolidation won’t erase your balance, the strategy can make paying off debt easier and less expensive. If you get a low interest rate, you could save hundreds or even thousands of dollars in interest. Managing a single payment can also make it easier to control your bills and avoid late payments, which can hurt your credit.

Types of debt consolidation

No matter what type of debt you are consolidating, if you are looking for how to consolidate debt, there are a number of options to choose from.

Debt Consolidation Loan

Debt consolidation loans are personal loans that combine several loans into one fixed monthly payment. Debt consolidation loans generally have terms of between one and 10 years, and many of them will allow you to consolidate up to $ 50,000.

This option only makes sense if the interest rate on your new loan is lower than the interest rates on your previous loans.

Best for: Borrowers who want a fixed repayment schedule.

Balance Transfer Credit Card

If you have more than one credit card debt, a balance transfer credit card can help you pay off your debt and lower your interest rate. Like a debt consolidation loan, a balance transfer credit card transfers multiple streams of high interest credit card debt to one credit card with a lower interest rate.

Most balance transfer credit cards offer an introductory 0% APR period, which typically lasts 12 to 21 months. If you manage to pay off all or most of your debt during the introductory period, you could potentially save thousands of dollars in interest payments.

However, if you have a large unpaid balance after the period ends, you might find yourself in more debt down the road, as balance transfer credit cards tend to have higher interest rates than other forms. debt consolidation.

Best for: Borrowers who can afford to pay off their credit cards quickly.

Student loan refinancing

If you have high-interest student debt, refinancing your student loans could help you get a lower interest rate. Student loan refinancing allows borrowers to consolidate federal and private student loans into one fixed monthly payment on better terms.

While refinancing can be a great way to consolidate your student loans, you will still need to meet the eligibility criteria. Plus, if you refinance federal student loans, you’ll lose federal protections and benefits, like income-tested repayment and deferral options.

Best for: Borrowers with High Interest Private Student Loans.

Home equity loan

A home equity loan, often referred to as a second mortgage, allows you to leverage the existing equity in your home. Most home equity loans have repayment periods of between five and 30 years, and you can usually borrow up to 85% of your home’s value, less any outstanding mortgage balances.

Home equity loans tend to have lower interest rates than credit cards and personal loans because they are secured by your home. The downside is that your home is at risk of foreclosure if you don’t pay off the loan.

Best for: Borrowers with a lot of equity in their home and a stable income.

Home equity line of credit

A Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) is a home equity loan that acts like a revolving line of credit. Like a credit card, a HELOC allows you to withdraw funds as needed with a variable interest rate. A HELOC also taps into the equity in your home, so the amount you can borrow depends on the equity in your home.

A HELOC is a long-term loan, with an average drawdown period – the period during which you can withdraw funds – of 10 years. The repayment period can be up to 20 years, during which time you can no longer borrow against your line of credit.

Best for: Borrowers with a lot of equity in their home who want a long repayment period.

How to consolidate your debt

If you are trying to figure out how to consolidate your debt, the process is quite similar no matter what form of debt consolidation you use. It is important to understand that debt consolidation is different from debt settlement. With debt consolidation, you will use the funds from your new debt consolidation loan to pay off all of your existing debt in full.

Once you have secured the funds for your personal loan, home equity line of credit, or other debt consolidation loan, you can begin the debt consolidation process. Use these funds to pay off all of your existing debts. You will then have only one monthly loan payment, generally with an interest rate lower than all the interest rates of your previous loans.

Pros and Cons of Debt Consolidation

Debt consolidation is not the right choice for everyone; before consolidating your debt, think about the pros and cons.


  • Pay less total interest. If you can consolidate multiple debts with double-digit interest rates into one loan with an interest rate of less than 10%, you could save hundreds of dollars on your loan.
  • Simplify the debt repayment process. It can be difficult to keep track of multiple credit card or loan payments each month, especially if they are due on different dates. Taking out a debt consolidation loan makes it easier to plan your month and control your payments.
  • Improve Your Credit Score. You might see an increase in your credit score if you consolidate your debt. Paying off credit cards with a debt consolidation could lower your credit utilization rate, and your payment history could improve if a debt consolidation loan helps you make more payments on time.

The inconvenients

  • Pay the upfront fees. Any form of debt consolidation can incur fees, including origination fees, balance transfer fees, or closing costs. You’ll want to weigh these fees against the potential savings before you apply.
  • Put guarantees at risk. If you are using any type of secured loan to secure your debt, such as a home equity loan or HELOC, that collateral is subject to foreclosure in the event of late payment.
  • Could increase the total cost of debt. Your savings potential with a debt consolidation loan largely depends on how your loan is structured. If you have a similar interest rate but choose a longer repayment term, for example, you will ultimately pay more interest over time.

When debt consolidation is a good decision

Debt consolidation works best when the debt you have incurred is primarily from a past situation that no longer applies to your life. Examples could include past medical debts, student loans, or debts that you racked up before taking control of your life.

In this case, debt consolidation can make a lot of sense. You can take those existing debts that often come with high interest rates and combine them into one monthly payment. You may also qualify for a lower interest rate, especially if you use a secured loan like a home equity loan or home equity line of credit.

When you shouldn’t be considering consolidating your debt

Debt consolidation can help you save money on interest and pay off your debt faster, but it doesn’t solve the underlying reason for your debt. Before consolidating, consider the internal and external factors that led to your current situation.

It’s possible to consolidate debt if you’ve been through debt consolidation before, but it’s not ideal. Debt consolidation works much better when you have corrected the underlying reason why you got into debt in the first place. Making sure these root causes are addressed will help make debt consolidation a successful experience for you.

Key points to remember

If you are interested in debt consolidation, make sure you consider the underlying reasons for how you got into debt. If you’re in a more stable situation but have debt earlier in your life, debt consolidation can make a lot of sense. Take the time to consider all of your options and get quotes from several lenders, including credit unions, online banks, and other lenders. Compare interest rates, fees and terms before finalizing your decision.

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Nancy I. Romero