How to Consolidate Credit Card Debt

Credit card debt is on the rise. Millions of Americans are in over their heads. They’re losing sleep, losing control, and worried about what the future will hold. But there are solutions, and consolidation is one of the best.

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Consolidation works by “consolidating” multiple debts into one. It’s the perfect solution for mounting debt, one that doesn’t destroy your credit score, liquidate your assets, or make it difficult to acquire mortgages and personal loans in the future.

With that said, let’s look at some of the best ways to consolidate credit card debt.

Option 1: Do It Yourself

The idea of debt consolidation essentially boils down to acquiring a large, low-interest loan and using that to repay multiple high-interest debts. If your credit score is high enough, you can get that loan yourself, clear your credit card debts, and then focus on repaying the loan.

Do It Yourself Consolidation Explained

The average credit card APR is close to 20%. If you have a balance of $10,000 and a monthly payment of $300, this APR will cost you over $4,700 in total interest and your debt will be repaid in just over 4 years. If you were to acquire a $10,000 personal loan at a respectable rate of 8% over the same 4 years, you’ll pay just under $1,800 in interest.

That’s a saving of nearly $3,000 over 4 years, and it’s based on an 8% rate (lower rates are available) and on the assumption that you don’t accumulate any credit card penalty fees or penalty APRs, which are very common on rolling balances.

Pros

  • You Will Save Money: As noted above, this process could save you a lot of money over the long-term and will also free up some additional cash in the short-term.
  • Complete Control: You don’t have to worry about company fees and service charges; you don’t need to concern yourself with hidden terms. With this credit card consolidation option, you are in complete control.
  • Easy on Your Credit Score: While your credit score will take an initial hit because of the loan inquiry and the new account, as soon as you use that loan to clear your credit card debts you should see an improvement. Just remember to keep those cleared cards active, otherwise, your credit utilization ratio will drop.

Cons

  • Good Credit Needed: For this option to be viable, you will need an excellent score. Anything less and you may struggle to be accepted for a low-interest loan. Let’s be honest, if you’re struggling with growing credit card debt, the odds of you having a flawless credit score are pretty slim.
  • On Your Own: While there are benefits to doing everything by yourself, it can also be a little time consuming, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can be intimidating.

Option 2: Work with a Debt Management Company

Credit counseling agencies can help you manage your debt by working with your creditors. A new payment structure will be created, and your money will go straight to the agency, after which it will be released to your creditors.

Debt Management Consolidation Explained

To begin the process, search for reputable debt management services in your area. They will assess your situation and determine if you are a good fit for the program. Some charge fees, some don’t, but all will serve as an intermediary between you and your creditors.

Every month you will make a single payment and the money will then go to your creditors. The agency will negotiate reduced payments by bringing the interest rates down and removing fees, therefore making these debts cheaper and more manageable.

Pros 

  • Professional Help: Get quality support from an experienced debt management company, one that will assume control and take the stress away.
  • Cheap: This is one of the cheapest and most cost-effective ways to clear your credit card debt, greatly reducing your total interest repayments.

Cons

  • Fees: Some debt management companies charge fees for their services, although these tend to be nominal and you’ll still save more money in the long-term.
  • Canceled Contract: If you fail to make one of the agreed-upon repayments, your creditors may cancel the improved contract and revert back to the previous terms, erasing all the agency’s hard work.

Option 3: Balance Transfer

A balance transfer is a promotion offered on new credit cards. It invites you to move your balance from your current card to a new one, and in exchange, it offers a period of 0% interest. 

You will need to pay a balance transfer fee, and this is typically charged at between 3 and 5% of the total transfer amount, but it’s often one of the cheapest and easiest ways to consolidate credit card debt.

Balance Transfer Consolidation Explained

As an example of how balance transfers work, let’s imagine that you have three credit cards, each with a maxed-out balance of $10,000 and an APR of 20%. If you’re repaying $300 a month, that’s $900 a month and in 4 years and 2 months, you’ll pay around $14,000 in interest to clear the full $30,000.

Alternatively, you can move all three balances onto a single balance transfer card with a $30,000 limit. Immediately, that balance could grow to $31,500. If you continue paying $900 a month and the balance transfer period lasts for 18 months, the balance will be just $15,300 when interest begins to accrue again. And if you use that 18-month period to initiate a debt repayment strategy, you could clear it in full and avoid paying any interest.

Pros 

  • Multiple Balances Can be Consolidated: You can consolidate multiple credit card balances, providing you’re not moving them to the same creditor.
  • No Interest Repayment: If you plan it properly, you can repay your balance in full before accruing any interest.
  • Available to Everyone: Credit cards are generally easier to acquire than low-interest personal loans and you won’t need an excellent credit score to get a good one.

Cons  

  • Higher Interest: The interest rate and fees may be higher once the 0% balance transfer period ends. If you use the intro period to avoid repayments and not to clear your debt, you could find yourself in serious trouble when interest begins to accumulate again.
  • Large Limits May be Difficult: The bigger your current credit card balances are, the harder it will be to get a balance transfer card with a large enough limit.
  • Fees: Although it’s a great option for consolidating credit card debt, it’s not completely free, as you’ll pay an initial balance transfer fee.

Option 4: Debt Consolidation Loans

Some companies offer specific loans tailored toward debt consolidation. These options work a lot like personal loans, as they are large loans designed with consolidation in mind. However, there are a few key differences, including the fact you don’t need an excellent credit score.

Debt Consolidation Loans Explained

The ultimate goal of debt consolidation loans is not to save you money in the long-term or to reduce the debt period. In fact, it does the opposite. The goal is to reduce your monthly payment and give you a smaller rate of interest, but it does this while increasing the loan period, which means you ultimately pay more money over the term.

Pros

 

  • More Money Every Month: Your monthly payments will be reduced, freeing up some extra cash to use every month.
  • Cleared Debts: Your credit card debts will be cleared in one fell swoop, potentially giving you some financial breathing space.

 

Cons

  • Longer Period: The total length of your debt will be extended, which means you’ll be stuck with the debt for a prolonged period.
  • Cost: While you’ll save some money every month, you’ll do so at the cost of an increased overall balance. Depending on your credit score, you could find yourself paying thousands more in total repayments.

Other Credit Card Debt Consolidation Solutions

If you have a supportive and financially-free family, you can ask them for the money to clear your debts and then promise to repay them in time. 

Of course, this option isn’t without its problems. Firstly, there’s the old adage that you should never lend money to friends or family. It may seem pretty heartless, but it’s a saying steeped in experience. It causes problems, as that debt is right at the bottom of the borrower’s list of priorities and if they’re skipping payments and begging for relief, while at the same time buying new clothes and going out every night, it can anger the borrower.

To avoid these issues, agree to pay them in monthly installments, offer a little interest, and get everything in writing. Make that debt your priority, because by skipping your payments you’ll be hurting your finances and your relationships.

Don’t guilt-trip a friend or family member into lending you money. Don’t ask them unless you have a very close relationship with them, have known them a long time, and know they can easily afford to lend you money. The last thing you want is for them to leave themselves short or to acquire debt just to help you out.

Alternatively, if you own a significant amount of home equity, you can opt for a home equity loan. This will give you a sizeable loan charged at a small rate of interest. It will take longer to repay your mortgage, but by reducing your debt demands you’ll save more money in the long-term.