Managing all of your debts, with multiple due dates, interest rates and minimum payment amounts, can be a lot to keep track of. Missing one payment can hurt your credit score and your chances of borrowing money in the future.

That’s why rolling all your monthly bills into a single payment with a new personal loan for debt consolidation can be a good way to simplify your financial life, keep your credit strong and make it easier to repay what you owe each month. Of course, you should continue to pay all your bills on time until you’ve simplified the payment setup with your new loan.

How a personal loan works for debt consolidation

A personal loan is a debt product that can be used for almost anything. You’ll receive the funds in a lump sum and make monthly payments over a set period. Furthermore, personal loans are usually unsecured, meaning they aren’t backed by collateral and don’t put you at risk of losing your asset.

Some consumers get personal loans and use the proceeds solely to consolidate debt, which is why you’ll often hear the term “debt consolidation loan.” Using a personal loan to consolidate debt involves paying off all your credit cards, loans and other debt with the loan proceeds and making one manageable payment toward your loan each month until it’s paid off.

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Example

To illustrate, assume you have the following credit cards:

  • Card 1 carries an APR of 15 percent, the minimum monthly payment is $25, and the outstanding balance is $500. (Time to payoff: 24 months; Total interest paid: $78)
  • Card 2 carries an APR of 17 percent, the minimum monthly payment is $30, and the outstanding balance is $750. (Time to payoff: 32 months; Total interest paid: $182)
  • Card 3 carries an APR of 19 percent, the minimum monthly payment is $35, and the outstanding balance is $1,000. (Time to payoff: 39 months; Total interest paid: $341)

If you take out a personal loan for $2,250 with a 36-month term and 10 percent interest rate, your monthly payment will be $73, slightly lower than you’re already paying. Furthermore, you’ll only pay $363.64 in interest over the loan term — a decrease of $237.36.

A personal loan can also help your accounts in good standing and preserve your credit rating if you have many types of debt. Falling behind on any of your payments, whether for a credit card or student loan, can crush your credit score. It could also hinder your chances of borrowing money or getting competitive terms on debt products in the future.

Pros of debt consolidation with a personal loan

There are several benefits to consolidating debt with a personal loan that makes this an attractive option:

  • One monthly payment: It can be difficult to keep track of multiple monthly debt payments. A debt consolidation loan simplifies your finances and allows you to make a single monthly payment.
  • Lower interest rates: Personal loans often come with higher rates than secured debt, but they may have lower rates than credit cards.
  • Pay debt off faster: With a lower interest rate, you may be able to save money and pay your debt off sooner with a personal loan.
  • Improve your credit score: Using a personal loan to consolidate debt can improve your credit score by increasing your available credit, which reduces your credit utilization ratio.

Cons of debt consolidation with a personal loan

While a debt consolidation loan has its perks, there are also downsides you should consider:

  • Potentially high interest rates: Personal loans usually have lower interest rates than credit cards, but personal loan rates can exceed 30 percent for borrowers with poor credit.
  • Extra up-front costs: When you take out a personal loan, you may be subject to loan origination fees. Other common fees can include prepayment penalties and late payment fees.
  • Could encourage more spending: Debt consolidation doesn’t solve the root problem of why you got into debt. If you consolidate your credit card debt with a personal loan, you might be encouraged to raise new debt.

When to get a personal loan for debt consolidation

High-interest debt, such as credit card debt, might make you a good candidate for a debt consolidation loan since personal loans tend to have lower interest rates than credit cards. You might be a good candidate for a personal loan if:

  • You have strong credit: The better your credit, the more likely you are to qualify for a loan at the lowest interest rate The lower your interest rate, the less you have to pay on top of the money you borrow.
  • You have significant — but controlled — debt: If your debt is large but you can make at least minimum monthly payments, a personal loan might work best for you.
  • Your spending is in check: A personal loan won’t help if you don’t have a handle on your spending. It could put you in even more debt. Before you get a personal loan, review your finances to make sure you can afford the loan and pay your debt.

When not to get a personal loan for debt consolidation

Although a personal loan for debt consolidation can help you save money and get out of debt faster, it may not always be the best choice. Here are some instances where a loan would not be a good idea:

  • Your credit score is low: It’s possible to qualify for a personal loan if you don’t have great credit. Unfortunately, it’s highly likely that you’ll only qualify for steep interest rates, possibly making the costs of consolidating outweigh the benefits.  
  • You don’t qualify for lower interest rates:  If the personal loan rates you’re offered are higher than what you’re paying on your debt now, try alternative methods for tackling your debt. Once your credit improves, you may qualify for debt consolidation loans with better terms.
  • You’re struggling to afford your minimum monthly payments: You could get a more affordable monthly payment by consolidating. However, if money’s already tight and you’re living check to check, there’s a chance you could struggle to make timely payments on a personal loan. So, consider running the numbers before applying to determine if taking out a debt consolidation loan is sensible or if you’re better off asking your lenders or creditors to enroll in a hardship program (if available).

Other ways to consolidate debt

If a debt consolidation personal loan doesn’t work for you, there are a few ways to consolidate debt.

Home equity loan

If you own your home and owe less on your mortgage than the house is worth, you may be able to take out a home equity loan and use it to pay off your outstanding debt. A home equity loan is a type of second mortgage that allows you to borrow against your home’s equity. You can use the lump sum you receive from your home equity loan to pay off all your outstanding debt and then make a single payment on the new loan each month.

For home equity loans, your home is collateral. As a result, the lender views your loan as less risky, meaning interest rates are typically lower than unsecured loans such as personal loans. However, you could lose your home if you fall behind or fail to make payments on your home equity loan. Calculate your home’s equity to see if you’d qualify to borrow enough to cover your outstanding debt.

Balance transfer credit cards

You could try a balance transfer credit card if you want to manage a few credit card balances. Many cards offer 0 percent APR for a set amount of time, usually from 12 to 21 months.

This is a good way to move all your existing credit card debt into one manageable monthly payment. Remember that if you have a lot of credit card debt, you might not get approved for a balance transfer that’s the full amount you need to move over. That means you could be paying off your new card balance and any cards that couldn’t get moved over.

If you don’t pay a balance transfer credit card off before the 0 percent APR period ends, the card issuer starts charging interest.

Debt payment strategies

You might have to manage your debt differently if you don’t qualify for a new loan or credit card transfer. If you haven’t done so, start by organizing your debt on a spreadsheet. Write out every lender you owe money to, your current interest rate, how much you owe and your monthly due date. From there, you can try a couple of debt management methods:

  • Debt snowball: This method focuses on paying your smallest debt off first. While making minimum payments on every other debt, you put all your extra cash toward the debt with the lowest balance. Once that’s paid off, you focus on putting all your extra money toward the next-lowest balance. Do this until all your debt is paid in full. The upside is that you’ll see results fast. The downside is that you might pay more interest on other debt with higher rates.
  • Debt avalanche: This method first focuses on paying off the debt with the highest interest rate. You make minimum payments on all your other debts and then put all your extra cash toward the debt with the highest interest rate. Do this until the debt is paid off, and then move on to the debt with the next-highest interest rate until all your debt is paid in full. While you might save more money by paying higher-interest debt off first, you might not see results as fast as you would with the debt snowball method.

The bottom line

A personal loan could be a great way to consolidate your debt, but it’s not necessarily the right method for everyone. Review your debt situation and see if a personal loan would work best. If not, try methods such as a home equity loan or balance transfer or a debt management strategy.

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