Have your bills gotten so out of control you don’t know which way to turn? Are things so bad you’re about to freeze your credit cards in a block of ice, cancel your Netflix subscription and swear to never eat out again?
These things could certainly help but most experts say that if your goal is to pay off your debts, you need to have a more comprehensive plan. One of the most popular of these is debt consolidation, where you roll all your debts into a single loan.
Debt consolidation can feel very helpful because it would make your debt feel more manageable. However, it’s not a panacea or an ideal solution for everyone. It works best if you have high-interest-rate debts like credit cards. A study done by NerdWallet last year found that U.S.households with credit card debt owed an average of $16,748. If you owe this much or more – at high-interest rates – then debt consolidation might be a good option. But there are for secrets you need to know to do it successfully.
1. Secret #1: Have a realistic budget
The most basic type of budget has three critical parts. They are money for debt payments, contributions to retirement savings, and money for an emergency fund. However, if you want to have a successful budget you need to avoid adding additional debt by including money for infrequent expenses, such as your car licensing fees. It’s also important to include money to cover those times of the year when expenses get high, like the holidays.
You also need to leave some money for fun. The mistake many people make is to cut their spending down to practically nothing for so long that they then go out and do something extravagant. To have a realistic budget means leaving enough money available to spend on those things that you love and value.
Secret #2: Stop using your credit cards
One of the most cardinal rules of debt consolidation is to stop using your credit cards while paying off your debts. You could cut them up, stash them away, or freeze them in ice. These may seem like extreme methods but they can be effective. You should also write down why you want to be debt-free and how often you will make payments. Set periodic reminders to check your progress.
However, don’t make the mistake of closing your credit card accounts. This will only damage your credit score. In fact, you need to put a small charge on one of your cards every few months, and then pay it off on time and in full. This is to keep the account active.
Secret #3: Be sure to compare options
Some of the balance transfer cards give you as much as 15 to 21 months interest-free – after which you will be charged a double-digit interest rate. Most of them also charge balance transfer fees and you’ll need a good credit score and a high income to qualify. If you think you’d like to take advantage of one of these cards you can increase your chances of qualifying for one by adding up all of your potential sources of income. This should include the money in your 401(k) and in your savings account. Then, list this amount on your application instead of just your salary.
Personal debt consolidation loans generally have lower interest rates than credit cards and let you borrow more money. Your interest rate will depend on your credit score and how much debt you have. The way this works is that the lender will send the money directly to your creditors, which removes the temptation to spend it instead of using it to pay off your debts. However, only some lenders – such as Wells Fargo, Discover, and FreedomPlus – offer this option.
Just be sure to check out all possible debt consolidation options before selecting one.
Secret #4: Enlist some moral support
You may find it hard to talk about your debts with family members or friends, but getting support from your peers can be a powerful motivator.
Support groups are available on the Internet, or you might use some close family members to help keep you on track in achieving your goal of being debt-free. Online lenders like Payoff and Prosper will even provide tailored recommendations and apps to help you stay motivated.
Debt consolidation can be a powerful tool for getting your debts paid off. But make no mistake about this. It takes time and more than a little self-discipline. Develop a realistic budget, put those credit cards away, check out the various debt consolidation options available, and be sure to get some moral support. Do this, and you should have no problem achieving your goal of being debt free.