What Is Debt Consolidation?

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[Photo Credit: Flickr/Garrett Coakley]

Debt consolidation can provide a way for you to get relief from your debt burden, but only if it’s the right solution for you. How do you know if debt consolidation is right for you? Much of this depends on whether you change your spending habits, better manage your finances, and find a reputable company to help you get out of debt.

Before you decide to consolidate your debt, you need to first understand what this process means. To put it simply, debt consolidation is the process of taking your multiple, existing debts, and turning it into one combined debt. Think of it as taking your monthly bills and having only one bill to pay each month.

Debt consolidation is not the same as debt management, nor is it the same as debt settlement. Debt consolidation involves taking out a loan to cover the costs of your debt, paying off what you owe and reducing the number of loans (and payments per month) you have to one. Debt management is when you contract with a company to manage your debt for you. You make one payment each month to the company who then distributes the money among your creditors.

While debt consolidation will pay off your debts, trading several loans for one, debt management involves a company acting as an intermediary to negotiate a payment plan and lower interest rates for all your debts. You still owe on multiple accounts, but the debt management company handles payments on those accounts for you.

With debt settlement, a company negotiates with your creditors so you can make a single “lump sum” payment to resolve your debt. The debt settlement company also manages the monthly payments you make into an escrow-like account that will be used to save enough money to make the lump sum payment.

The Different Types Of Debt Consolidation

There are a number of ways in which you can consolidate your debts, each with its pros and cons:

  • Debt Consolidation Loan: When you take out a debt consolidation loan, this money is used only to pay off your debts. If you’re thinking about applying for a debt consolidation loan, you should keep in mind that a secured loan (one that’s backed by assets, like a house or car that you own) means your possessions may be at risk. Unsecured debt consolidation loans are available, but the trade off in not having to use your car to obtain the loan is a higher interest rate. You may be able to lower the monthly payment on the debt consolidation term by having a longer term. Even though you are making a lower payment, it will take you longer to pay back the debt consolidation loan. An additional consideration is that the debt consolidation loan acts to basically move your debt around from several accounts to one. Unless you change your spending and saving habits, you may find yourself in debt yet again.
  • Credit Card Balance Transfer: Most people have multiple credit cards. For some, transferring existing balances to a card with a low balance transfer interest rate and a higher credit limit works to consolidate their debt. However, saving money isn’t guaranteed with this tactic. You will need to fully research all fees and interest rates and be sure that you’ll be able to keep up with the payments on the credit card you make the transfer to. In addition, you should check to make sure that having a high credit card balance wouldn’t negatively affect your credit score. A balance transfer may result in a high balance that indicates to the credit bureaus that you’re carrying too much debt.
  • Second Mortgage, Home Equity Loan, or Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC): While using your home to get out of debt is an option, it’s a risky one. If you are unable to make the payments on these types of loans, you might lose your home. Home equity loans and credit lines might have lower interest rates, but the trade off might not be worth it. That’s because a second mortgage, home equity loan, or HELOC requires that you use your house or apartment as collateral for the loan. Even late payments may put the ownership of your home in jeopardy.
  • Life Insurance Loans: Just because you can borrow money from your life insurance policy doesn’t mean you should. Most life insurance policies have a quick-cash loan option, but this is something that should only be considered in an emergency. Debt consolidation, while important and urgent to take care of, isn’t an emergency. The tax implications of borrowing from life insurance are one of the biggest, hidden reasons not to get a life insurance loan.
  • Retirement Plan Loans: Borrowing from your retirement can be tricky. Certain retirement plans don’t allow for loans and withdrawing any amount of money can result in penalties and additional taxes that will put you further in debt. Other plans do allow for retirement loans, but you will wind up missing the interest you could be earning on that money. Also, there may be fees involved in taking out a loan on a 401(k) or a 403(b) plan. Another loss to consider: when you are able to pay back your retirement loan, you may not recoup the lost interest.

Not every option for consolidating your debt will be the right one for your financial situation. In getting control over your debt, it may even turn out that there are alternatives you never considered. AmOne’s free service can help you with understanding all of the advantages and disadvantages of debt consolidation and all available solutions. You can call AmOne toll-free at 1-800-781-5187 to speak with one of our knowledgeable financial search specialists. You can also complete our simple, online debt consolidation loan form so we can instantly match up you with the best debt solution for your financial needs.

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