No matter how well you plan, at times you can find yourself the victim of unfortunate financial circumstances. Whether it be the economy or some other financial hardship, at some point you may look for a way to ease your monthly payment burden. It may lead you to wonder: should I consolidate my debt? And if I decide to consolidate my debt, how can I do so in a way that is safe, affordable, and beneficial to me in the long run? While the financial landscape may appear to be daunting at first, the answers to your debt consolidation questions and concerns can be fairly straightforward.
“When someone comes to me and says ‘I need help to consolidate my debt’ I first ask them to fill out a financial profile that lists all of their monthly payments, the balances they owe, and the interest rates they’re paying on each loan or credit card,” says financial advisor and business writer Carl Walins. “Then when they’ve got all the information laid out on paper, we can begin to prioritize their debt. We look for opportunities to quickly pay off small loans with high interest rates and to consolidate larger loans or cards into a single credit card or loan that offers a lower rate”.
For example, Walins says when you ask yourself “should I consolidate my debt?” you should look at your credit cards immediately, since these traditionally carry the highest annual percentage rates. First determine whether or not you have the opportunity to reduce your APR by combining the balances of several higher-rate cards onto a single, lower-rate card. If you have three credit cards with a balance of $1,000 and rates of 17.5 percent, 18 percent and 20 percent, you might consider transferring those balances to a single card that has an interest rate of 14 percent. Clearly you will save a significant amount of money in annual interest payments by moving to the lower-rate card — provided that the 14 percent rate isn’t a short-term “teaser” that will expire and shoot up to a much higher rate before you pay off the balances.
Walins also advises that you may consider a debt consolidation loan in order to pay off higher-interest debt. He says that lenders may offer you a much lower rate based on your credit history, and if so you may consider taking one loan to pay off several other outstanding amounts that bear a higher interest rate. Using the credit card examples, you may find that you can get a $3,000 unsecured personal loan at a rate of 11.5%. Securing that loan would allow you to payoff the high-interest credit cards and reduce your monthly payment burden.
But Walins warns about one of of the pitfalls of debt consolidation. “When someone comes to me and says ‘please help me consolidate my debt’ and we are able to pay off those high-interest cards, I tell them to cut up all but one of those cards and to save it for emergency use only. Those credit cards with zero balances can me a temptation that you just don’t want to fall victim to”.