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The holiday season is usually a time to spend. Between dinner parties, shopping for gifts and traveling, it can be hard to keep a tight grip on expenses. But if you’ve been struggling with debt — especially credit card debt — this season could also give you a chance to dig yourself out of that hole. That said, you’ll need to be strategic about it, otherwise, you risk ending up in a worse situation than before.
Are there any advantages to consolidating debt during the holiday season?
During the holiday season, there’s more pressure than usual to spend money, so consolidating debt during this time of the year can be a challenge. But whether the holidays are a better time than any to consolidate debt, will depend on your game plan and particular situation.
“It may be a good time considering the interest rate offers,” says Steve O. Oniya, president and chartered financial consultant at OM Investments — and he may have a point.
Credit card companies tend to offer more generous bonuses and longer periods on their 0 percent introductory rates during the holiday season to attract new customers. A longer 0 percent introductory rate period can give you more time to pay off your credit card debt, while avoiding interest, however, you still need to be strategic about it.
“It’s important for the client to be in a space where they are not using debt continually to finance expenses. Be wary of continuing bad habits on a 0 percent offer because when the term ends, the new high interest rate can start the debt cycle all over again,” he adds.
If you’re considering a debt consolidation loan, on the other hand, Todd Nelson, senior vice president of Strategic Partnerships at LightStream, says that the quicker you act, the better.
“A debt consolidation loan should be used to pay off credit cards or other high interest debts as soon as possible. During the holiday season in particular, it’s important to have as little debt as possible on your variable rate credit cards, since the interest rates you’re being charged can get expensive, fast,” Nelson says.
“And when you do pay down your cards, don’t fall into the habit of running them up again. Only purchase what you know you’ll be able to pay off on time and on budget,” he adds.
What’s the benefit of debt consolidation?
Debt consolidation consists of rolling multiple debts into a single account — hopefully with a lower interest rate. This can help you save money on interest and make it easier to stay on top of your debt. Plus, if done well, it can speed up the repayment process. There are multiple ways to consolidate debt, but two of the most popular options are debt consolidation loans and balance transfer credit cards.
Debt consolidation loans
With a debt consolidation loan, you have the benefit of a fixed amount and interest rate in addition to a set repayment term. This can make it easier to avoid racking up more debt. The fixed interest rate also protects you from future rate increases, which can save you a lot of money long-term — especially in a rising rate environment. Debt consolidation loans also tend to have much lower interest rates than credit cards, so there’s a higher potential to save money.
Balance transfer credit cards
With a balance transfer credit card, on the other hand, you can avoid paying interest altogether as long as you pay the balance in full before the 0 percent introductory rate ends. That said, balance transfer cards do charge a fee for rolling other credit accounts into them, and the interest rate after the introductory period is up will likely be higher than you could secure with a personal loan. Still, there is room to save money in the long run.
Can I consolidate debt with bad credit?
If you have less-than-perfect credit, you’re less likely to be eligible for 0 percent introductory offers or low interest rates on debt consolidation loans. However, you still have options.
Some lenders, like Upstart, base their loan approval on other factors, including your educational background and job history. Likewise, lenders like Prosper not only have a low credit score requirement but also allow you to add a co-borrower on your application. Adding a co-borrower with good or excellent credit can increase your chances of approval, plus securing a good rate.
Another option to dig yourself out of debt if you have poor credit is working with a debt relief company. But this should only be explored if you have $10,000 or more worth of unsecured debt, and can’t afford your current payments. That said, you still need to be cautious.
“Consumers should know that debt relief companies often charge significant fees for their services and that settling a debt will negatively impact their credit,” says Rod Griffin, senior director of Consumer Education and Advocacy at Experian.
“While not always the wrong choice, it should be a last resort because it will hurt credit scores significantly and for a long time. There are many steps a person can take to start getting control of their finances without paying a fee,” he adds.
Seek help from a nonprofit credit counseling agency, such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) before turning to debt settlement. You can also try talking directly with creditors to work out a payment plan, or see if the avalanche or snowball payoff strategies are a feasible option.
The bottom line
The holiday season is just as good as any other time of the year to consolidate debt. While it is true that you may get more competitive offers that can help you save money on interest for longer, you still need to have a strategy in place for it to work.