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Debt Consolidation

Debt consolidation can be the rescuing hero to many financially over-extended Americans. Your first task in deciding if this measure is the right one for you to take in your present situation, is to gather the statements of all your loans and credit cards together and list the names, balances owing, and interest you are paying. Then you will need to determine if you could take out a loan with lower interest than you are already paying. Though the convenience of making one payment a month is tempting, there really is no point in taking out another loan for that purpose alone.

How does a consolidation loan work?

A debt consolidation loan combines your outstanding debts into one loan, which hopefully has a lower interest rate than you are currently paying. These loans are usually offered to homeowners and come in the form of Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOC) or Home Equity Loans (HEL) where your property will be held as security against the loan. The lender will have a lien on your house until you pay off the home equity loan in full. It is essential to shop around to obtain the best rate possible. It is also clear to see how important it is to make sure your credit is in fairly good shape before you apply for one of these loans.

Types of consolidation measures you can take and how they work

Though using your home to secure a consolidation loan is the fastest and easiest way most people go about solving their credit woes, there are other options. Here is a brief explanation of each type of loan:

Home Equity Loan

An added bonus for using this type of loan is that it is tax deductible

Consider utilizing a home equity loan to consolidate your other debts into one. As mentioned above, this can help you overcome debt and free yourself from financial prison, so to speak. You will have just one monthly payment, designed to be lower than the sum of all your previous outstanding debts. As an additional benefit, your lender can oftentimes pay the other debts for you with the funds from a home equity loan. When it comes to out-of-control debt, a home equity loan can be a good solution for many people. An added bonus for using this type of loan is that it is tax deductible.

Low Interest Credit Cards

Low or zero interest credit cards can offer a way to consolidate your debt, especially if you don't own a home. The credit card companies sometimes offer low interest or zero interest loans to lure customers into signing up with their company or to coax competitors' customers into transferring their balances. Be aware, however, that though this may sound like a good idea, many times the credit card companies only offer this option to consumers with very good credit. Also, be diligent about taking into account the terms you are agreeing to. Here are some pitfalls to look out for:

  • Read the fine print on these agreements. Note what interest you will be paying when the offer is up. If the interest is high, make other arrangements before the payoff date arrives.
  • Be sure to make your payments on time. If you are late on just one payment, the credit card company can usually jack up your rates.
  • Look for hidden fees and charges that can make that seemingly low interest higher than it appears.

Personal Debt Consolidation Loan

Personal debt consolidation loans are another way to gather those unruly bills into one manageable payment. This type of debt consolidation loan bundles your existing debts together and presents you with one payment without requiring collateral such as a home. Here are some facts, pros and cons, to consider:

  • As always, make sure the terms of the consolidation loan you are considering don't add up to more than you are presently spending on your current debt.
  • Because there is nothing to secure your loan, expect the lender to increase the interest they will likely charge you.
  • If you have poor credit, expect to pay higher interest. The possibility of the lender turning down your loan is also higher.
  • Shop around for rates and terms. Start with institutions you already do business with and go from there.
  • Many consumers sign up for these loans on the Internet.
  • You can also apply for consolidation loans at banks and credit unions. Credit unions many times offer better rates for their members.

A few things to remember

Take a look at the habits that got you into debt before you consolidate

Each time you apply for a consolidation loan, the lender will likely run your credit report. That will usually mean that an inquiry will be reported to the credit bureau(s). Inquiries take two or more years to naturally drop off your report, and according to the FICO website, inquiries are factored into the "New Credit" category which is 10% of your total FICO score.

You can see that cleaning your credit reports before you apply for a consolidation loan makes a lot of sense. If you prepare in advance, you will avoid both a loan turndown, and unnecessary inquiries showing up on your credit reports.

Be sure to take a look at the habits that got you into debt before you consolidate. Paying off credit card debt by taking out a Home Equity Loan or Home Equity Line of Credit, and then continuing your old charging habits, can put your home at risk.

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