Debt consolidation can help you pay off several debts at once and save money on interest. However, like most financial decisions, it’s important to take it one step at a time.
Here’s a guide to help make it happen:
1. Check your credit report
If you don’t have a current copy of your credit report, go to annualcreditreport.com. You’re eligible to receive a free report from all three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) every 12 months if requested.1 By knowing where your credit stands, you can either move forward with confidence or work to improve your credit score.
2. Take inventory of your debt
If you know which debts you want to pay off, add them up. It can help to have an approximate loan amount in mind. If you’re not sure, make a list of the balances and interest rates on all your outstanding debt. This can give you a snapshot of which accounts require the most attention.
3. Research debt consolidation options
There are several ways to consolidate debt, including personal loans, home equity loans and credit card balance transfers.2 Here’s a chart to help you compare some potential pros and cons of each option:
|Debt Consolidation Type||Positives||Negatives|
|Personal loan||Fixed interest rate; fixed monthly payment; potential to earn rewards||Could have origination fees (State based); longer term to repay debt|
|Home equity loan||Fixed interest rate; long repayment terms; interest paid could be tax deductible||Reduction in equity; closing costs and fees; risk of foreclosure if you default on loan|
|Credit card balance transfer||Low interest rate; access to perks and rewards; save money on interest||Introductory rates could end after 6-18 months; balance transfer fees; risk of spending more and adding to debt|
4. Research debt consolidation companies
Being selective can have its benefits. Look for lenders who not only provide the solutions you need, but also have positive customer feedback. For example, check out their online reviews. Next, look up their Better Business Bureau page. You can also ask family and friends if they have a company that they recommend.
5. Get your personal documents ready
Most lenders ask for similar information in their applications. Get the following documents ready to speed up the process: proof of identity, proof of residence, proof of income and Social Security card.
6. Apply for a debt consolidation loan
If you feel good about your preparation, it’s time to check and see if you're prequalified. Whether you apply in person or online, some companies will be able to give you an answer within minutes. If you get approved, you can move forward with getting your funds. Most lenders provide a paper check, but some offer direct deposit as well. If your application is denied, take a look at why it was turned down. You might learn how to improve your chances of getting a loan approved if you choose to apply again in the future.
7. Pay off your debts
Once your funds are available, contact your creditors and pay off the debts you selected. As you pay off each account, be sure to request an official “Paid in Full” letter from the lender. This letter will certify your zero balance and the date that the outstanding balance was satisfied.
Focus on the future
After a long happy dance, it’s important to focus on your new loan. To truly get out of debt, you’ll need to make your payments in full and on time. If you stick to the plan, you’ll be on your way to another “paid in full” letter.
1. Central Source LLC. “All About Credit Reports. Annualcreditreport.com. https://www.annualcreditreport.com/yourRights.action (accessed January 25, 2018).
2. Debt.org. “Debt Consolidation.” Debt.org. https://www.debt.org/consolidation/ (accessed January 25, 2017).