So you’ve got a mountain of debt and you’re looking for a way out. Sweeping it all up into a debt consolidation loan seems like the most painless way to solve the problem,but before you sign on the dotted line,you need to know whether going through with debt consolidation is going to really help you or not.
The Benefits of Debt Consolidation
1) Instead of writing checks for all your separate bills every month (and remembering to write the bills),you have one bill to pay. If you have trouble remembering due dates and getting all your bills paid on time,debt consolidation can make your life a lot simpler.
Remember,every late payment can cost up to $40 or more,and late payments also do significant damage to your credit rating. Enough damage to your credit rating,and you’ll find your interest rates soaring.
2) If your credit is still good,you can probably get a lower rate on a debt consolidation loan than what you’re currently paying (especially if you have a lot of credit card debt). With the lower interest rate,more of your hard-earned money will go to paying down principle,so you’ll be out of debt sooner.
The Drawbacks of Debt Consolidation
1) A debt consolidation loan won’t change your spending habits.Debt consolidation can fix the symptom: too much debt,but it can’t fix the underlying cause: You spend more than you earn. Unless you do debt consolidation along with a major change in how you spend (and,hopefully,earn) money,you will continue to rack up more debt.
2) If you do continue to rack up more debt,you will end up in more trouble than before you consolidated your debts.This second drawback to debt consolidation is a bit odd,but it happens to thousands of people: Debt consolidation can seem to make the debt problem disappear,but as soon as it’s “gone” they create a new debt disaster.
The recently-unburdened are suddenly paying less and are finally current on their bills. After all the debt-ridden days are over,it’s hard not to celebrate… by spending more money. So debt consolidation’s benefits can turn into major problems because they take the pressure off. For some of us,it’s the pressure of our existing debts that keeps our spending in line. Remove that pressure,and we go right back to overspending.
3) Getting a bad debt consolidation loan.Here is a short list of things to avoid in any debt consolidation loan.
– Variable rate. This means the interest rate can change any time. Which means that you could end up paying more than you do now.
– Two-cycle average daily balance. A credit card term that is not your friend.
– 20-day billing cycle (versus the standard 30-day billing cycle). Another credit card term that is not your friend.
– Finance company loans. Wolves in sheeps’ clothing.
– Any lender that offers you a large (over $5000) loan without a significant credit check,on the condition that you make a hefty fee up front.
4) Falling for a debt consolidation scam.These aren’t just “bad” loans – they’re full-fledged fraud. The tricks include:
– Pretending to be a non-profit debt counseling service. If the lender won’t send you a copy of their IRS approval of non-profit status letter,move on.
– Saying they will negotiate a debt consolidation loan for you,so you can use the money to pay off your debts. They tell you to start sending them money every month. You send it. They don’t pay your creditors. You get deeper (MUCH deeper) in debt.
– Contacting you by mail or email,offering you the best deal you’ve ever heard of. If it sounds too good to be true,it is. Respectable finance firms do not send unsolicited email,or even direct mail. They get word of mouth referrals.
5) Getting a fair debt consolidation loan,but not changing your spending/saving/earning habits.This is the double-whammy of con #2. For example,say you take out 80% of the equity in your home to pay off your scorchingly high-interest credit cards. But then,instead of rigorously keeping to the budget you made up,you continue to buy things and you give in to all the new low interest credit card offers that come in the mail. You swear to yourself that the big raise will come any day and your income will double.
Instead,you get fired. Within two months (remember,you never saved any money) you can just barely pay your mortgage,much less your home equity loan,much less your new credit card bills. After a few late payments,the new credit card interest rates vault up to 30% or more,and you stop paying them altogether,along with the home equity loan. The bank can now take your house.
Compared to this scenario,it would have been better to have stayed under the old “mountain” of debt (which now,comparatively,looks like a small hill) and learned the slow,hard lessons of frugal living and finding happiness in life in ways that don’t require spending.