Key takeaways

  • Debt consolidation may allow you to repay your debt faster and at a lower cost, simplifying your finances and — in some cases — boosting your credit score.
  • Upfront costs may eat into the savings that debt consolidation can present, especially if the interest rate you qualify for is higher than the average rate of your existing debts.
  • If you have a good credit score or better, want to simplify your finances, prefer fixed payments and can afford the monthly cost, debt consolidation may be a good option for you.

While a certain amount of debt can be healthy, there are many pressures that come along with carrying debt balances. In some cases, you may need to look for ways to rework your debt to gain additional room in your budget, get a better rate or simply reorganize it so that you pay less overall. 

Some options for overcoming debt include working with creditors to settle the debt, using a home equity line of credit or getting a debt consolidation loan. Debt consolidation is the process of combining several debts into one new loan, sometimes with a lower interest rate. There are pros and cons associated with debt consolidation. It could simplify your finances and help you get out of debt faster, but the upfront costs may be steep.

Debt consolidation is often the best way to get out of debt. It offers a number of benefits if used correctly, with the biggest among them being that you may be able to save thousands of dollars by paying off your debt faster, securing a lower rate or both.

1. Faster debt repayment

Taking out a debt consolidation loan may help put you on a faster track to total payoff, especially if you have significant revolving debt, including credit card balances that you carry from month to month. Credit cards don’t have a set timeline for paying off a balance, but a consolidation loan has fixed monthly payments with a clear beginning and end to the loan.

Takeaway: Repaying your debt faster means you may pay less interest overall. In addition, the quicker your debt is paid off, the sooner you can start putting more money toward other goals, such as an emergency or retirement fund.

2. Lower interest rates

As of February 2024, the average credit card rate is 20.72 percent. Meanwhile, the average personal loan rate is 12.10 percent. Of course, rates vary depending on your credit score, loan amount, and term length, but you’re likely to get a lower interest rate with a debt consolidation loan than what you’re currently paying on your credit card.

Takeaway: Debt consolidation loans for consumers with good to excellent credit typically have significantly lower interest rates than the average credit card.

3. Simplified finances

When you consolidate all your debt, you no longer have to worry about multiple due dates each month because you only have one monthly payment. Furthermore, the payment is the same each month, so you know exactly how much money to set aside.

Takeaway: Because you use the loan funds to pay off other debts, debt consolidation can turn two or three payments into a single payment. This can simplify budgeting and create fewer opportunities to miss payments.

4. Fixed repayment schedule

If you use a personal loan to pay off your debt, you’ll know exactly how much is due each month and when your last payment will be. If you pay only the minimum with a high interest credit card, it could be years before you pay it in full.

Takeaway: With a fixed repayment schedule, your payment and interest rate remain the same for the length of the loan, and there’s no unexpected fluctuation in your monthly debt payment.

5. Boost credit

While a debt consolidation loan may temporarily lower your credit score by a few points due to the hard credit inquiry, over time it will likely improve your score. That’s because it’ll be easier to make on-time payments. Your payment history accounts for 35 percent of your credit score, so paying a single monthly bill when it’s due should significantly raise your score.

Additionally, if any of your old debt was from credit cards and you keep your cards open, you’ll have both a better credit utilization ratio and a stronger history with credit. Amounts owed account for 30 percent of your credit score, while the length of your credit history accounts for 15 percent. These two categories could lower your score should you close your cards after paying them off. Keep them open to help your credit score.

Takeaway: Consolidating debt can improve your credit score. This is particularly true if you make your loan payments on time, as payment history is the most important factor in calculating your score.

There are also some downsides to debt consolidation to consider before taking out a loan.

1. It won’t solve financial problems on its own

Consolidating debt does not guarantee you won’t go into debt again. If you have a history of living beyond your means, you might do so again once you feel free of debt. To help avoid this, make yourself a realistic budget and stick to it. You should also start building an emergency fund that can be used to pay for financial surprises so you don’t have to rely on credit cards.

Takeaway: Consolidation can help you pay debt off, but it will not eliminate the underlying habits and behaviors. You can prevent more debt from accumulating by laying the groundwork for a healthy financial future.

2. There may be upfront costs

Some debt consolidation loans come with fees. These may include:

Before taking out a debt consolidation loan, ask about any fees, including ones for making late payments or paying your loan off early. Depending on your lender, these fees could be hundreds if not thousands of dollars. While paying these fees may still be worth it, you’ll want to include them in deciding if debt consolidation makes sense for you.

Takeaway: Do your research and read the fine print carefully when considering debt consolidation loan lenders to make sure you understand their full costs.

3. You may pay a higher rate

Your debt consolidation loan could come at a higher rate than what you currently pay on your debts. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including your current credit score. If it’s on the lower end, the risk of default is higher and you’ll likely pay more for credit and be able to borrow less.

Additional reasons you might pay more in interest include the loan amount and the loan term. Extending your loan term could lower your monthly payment, but you may end up paying more interest in the long run.

As you consider debt consolidation, weigh your immediate needs with your long-term goals to find the best solution or consider other debt consolidation alternatives.

Takeaway: Consolidation does not always reduce the interest rate on your debt, particularly if your credit score is less than ideal.

4. Missing payments will set you back even further

If you miss one of your monthly loan payments, you’ll likely have to pay a late payment fee. In addition, if a payment is returned due to insufficient funds, some lenders will charge you a returned payment fee. These fees can greatly increase your borrowing costs.

Also, since lenders typically report a late payment to the credit bureaus after it becomes 30 days past due, your credit score can suffer serious damage. This can make it harder for you to qualify for future loans and get the best interest rate.

Enroll in the lender’s automatic payment program if it has one to reduce your chances of missing a payment.

Takeaway: Make sure you can afford the monthly payments before you take out a debt consolidation loan. Missing a payment can lead to late fees and a lower credit score.

The answer to this question depends on your circumstances. That said, here are some scenarios where you might be a good candidate.

  1. You have a good credit score: If you have a good credit score — at least 670 — you’ll have a better chance of securing a lower interest rate than you have on your current debt, which could save you money.
  2. You prefer fixed payments: If you prefer your interest rate, repayment term and monthly payment to be fixed, a debt consolidation loan might be right for you.
  3. You want one monthly payment: Taking out a debt consolidation loan could be a good idea if you don’t like keeping track of multiple payments.
  4. You can afford to repay the loan: A debt consolidation loan will only benefit you if you can afford to repay it. You’ll risk getting into a deeper debt cycle if you’re not 100 percent sure you’ll be able to afford the monthly payment down the road.

Bottom line

While debt consolidation can be an attractive option, remember there are both benefits and drawbacks. It’s possible to streamline your monthly debt payments into a single payment, lower your interest rate, improve your credit health and pay pesky revolving balances off faster. Still, you may also have to pay fees for a consolidation loan, and there is no guarantee that you’ll get a lower rate than you currently have.

Debt consolidation can feel like immediate relief, but it may not resolve the problem if underlying issues such as sticking to a budget remain unaddressed. You can also use a debt consolidation calculator to determine if taking out a loan makes financial sense for your situation.

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