Debt consolidation involves rolling your debts into a single payment. There are several ways to consolidate, and each can save you money in interest, help you pay off debts faster and simplify your finances. It could even lead to getting out of debt just a little faster than you would otherwise — especially if you’re able to score a lower average interest rate.

1. Balance transfer credit card

The best balance transfer cards often come with zero interest or a very low interest rate for an introductory period of up to 18 months. These allow you to move the balances from high-interest rate credit cards and other debts to the new card. The idea is to pay the entire balance before the promotional APR period ends. Otherwise, you risk racking up even more interest than you started with.

You’ll need a balance transfer card with a credit limit that is high enough to accommodate the balances you’re rolling over and an annual percentage rate (APR) low enough to make it worthwhile. Use a credit card balance transfer calculator to see how long it will take you to pay off your balances.

Pros

  • Quicker and easier to get than many other loans.
  • Potential to save money if the debt is paid during the intro period.
  • No collateral is required, so there is no risk of losing assets.

Cons

  • Does not address poor spending habits.
  • A typical fee of 3%-5% of the amount transferred on top of the balance.
  • APR after the intro period is likely higher than other loans.
  • Hard pull on your credit report.

Using a balance transfer credit card is best for those who are disciplined and will avoid using their existing credit cards once the balances have been shifted to the new card. If you choose to use a balance transfer credit card, have a plan to pay off the debt before the credit card’s introductory rate expires.

2. Home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC)

Your home equity is the difference between the appraised value of your home and how much you owe on your mortgage. If you’re a homeowner with enough equity and a good credit history, you can borrow some of that equity at an affordable rate to consolidate your debts.

Your options for borrowing from home equity include home equity loans, which give you a lump sum of money at a fixed rate, and HELOCs, which give you a credit line to draw from at a variable rate. Both act as second mortgages, which means you’ll add an additional monthly payment to your plate. Still, they can be good options for debt consolidation if you have enough equity to qualify.

Pros

  • Fixed rate and fixed monthly interest for home equity loans.
  • Larger loan amounts.
  • Long repayment terms.
  • Lower interest rates than credit cards or personal loans.
  • Variable rates for HELOCs.

Cons

  • Home is the collateral that secures the debt.
  • Interest on the loan is not tax deductible.
  • Longer funding timelines on average.
  • Longer repayment timeline can mean higher costs overall.

HELOCs are often best for those who have significant equity in their home and prefer a long repayment timeline. Before opening a HELOC, shop for the most competitive interest rate. It’s also important to be disciplined about using a HELOC and repayment of the debt.

3. Debt consolidation loan

A debt consolidation loan can be a smart way to consolidate debt if you qualify for a low interest rate, enough funds to cover your debts and a comfortable repayment term. These loans are unsecured, so your rate and borrowing limit hinge on your credit profile.

You’ll use all or a portion of the loan proceeds to pay off the balances for debts you want to consolidate. Like a balance transfer credit card, instead of paying each creditor monthly, you’ll now make a single monthly payment on the personal loan to streamline the debt payoff process.

Pros

  • Collateral is not required.
  • Funding and approval can be fast from many lenders.
  • Loan amounts range from $1,000 to $100,000.
  • Lower interest rates than credit cards in many cases.

Cons

  • Loans can come with fees for origination, late payments and prepaying early.
  • Low rates require excellent credit.
  • Scams are rampant in the debt consolidation loan marketplace.

Debt consolidation loans are generally a good option for those who have good to excellent credit. This is generally considered a credit score in at least the mid-600s and a history of making on-time payments. That being said, bad credit personal loans exist — but the interest rates may be too high to make consolidation worthwhile.

4. Peer-to-peer loan

Peer-to-peer (P2P) lending platforms pair borrowers and individual investors for unsecured loans that generally range from $25,000 to $50,000. Like personal loans, P2P loans are unsecured, so your credit history is a key factor. The higher your credit score, the lower the interest rate and the more you can borrow.

In addition, eligibility requirements for P2P loans are not always as strict as other types. Some P2P lenders allow applicants to qualify with a lower credit score. Before using this type of loan, compare the fees and interest rates with other options.

Pros

  • Application, approval and funding is generally fast.
  • Initial application uses a soft credit check.
  • Lower credit scores may still qualify.

Cons

  • Fees may apply.
  • High interest rates with bad credit.
  • Less time to repay the loan than with credit cards and home equity loans.
  • Potentially higher monthly payments because of shorter repayment terms.
  • Rates are generally higher than those on home equity loans.

P2P loans may be a good fit if you have a lower credit score or limited credit history. But like with a debt consolidation loan, ensure that the total amount you pay is less than what you are already paying your current creditors.

5. Debt management plan

If you want debt consolidation options that don’t require taking out a loan or applying for a balance transfer credit card, a debt management plan could be right for you — especially as an alternative to bankruptcy.

With a debt management plan, you work with a nonprofit credit counseling agency or a debt relief company to negotiate with creditors and draft a payoff plan. You close all credit card accounts and make one monthly payment to the agency, which pays the creditors. You still receive all billing statements from your creditors, so it’s easy to track how fast your debt is being paid off.

Pros

  • Credit score can improve over time.
  • Free options from some organizations if you need it.
  • Some of the best loan rates.

Cons

  • Credit score will generally lower for a while.
  • Many nonprofit organizations have strict requirements on how you use money while you go through the plan.

Debt management plans are typically a good choice for those who are deep in debt and need help structuring repayment. But you will need to find out whether your debt qualifies for this type of plan.

How to avoid falling into debt

“You need to identify where the debt came from,” says Celeste Collins, executive director of OnTrack WNC Financial Education & Counseling in North Carolina. “How did this balance get there? You need a comprehensive cash flow plan and to get serious about paying this down.”

Once you’re out of debt, you can avoid it with a few financial rules.

  • Set a budget and stick to it.
  • Live within your means.
  • Avoid impulse purchases.
  • Shop around for the lowest price before making a big purchase.
  • If you use a credit card, pay off the balance each month to avoid interest charges.
  • Keep your finances organized and keep a close eye on your bank balances.
  • Stay away from “buy now, pay later” and “interest-free financing” offers.
  • Save money and try to set aside a certain percentage of your income each month.

How to choose a debt consolidation option

There is no shortage of debt consolidation options. When considering which strategies could work for you, analyze each lender’s interest rates, loan terms and fees. If possible, avoid subprime lenders that cater to consumers with bad credit — these lenders offer the highest interest rates and unforgiving loan terms. Even if your credit score is lower, it’s worth shopping around with traditional lenders first.

Always calculate the total cost of your current debts and compare it against the total cost of any consolidation method. This way, you’ll avoid spending more and ensure you’re choosing the best debt consolidation option for your finances.