Consolidating credit card debt is a great way for a consumer to lower their monthly payments and potentially pay off outstanding credit bills faster.
However, it is only successful when it is done correctly.
While using a consolidation service is ideal, there are other ways to consolidate debt without paying outrageous third-party fees.
How to Consolidate Your Outstanding Credit Card Debt
1. Consider Balance Transfers
If you have a credit card with no balance and a lower interest rate, see about transferring other credit card balances to a single card. Credit Karma advises to do some research and make sure there are no introductory interest rates that will skyrocket after the transfer.
2. Be Aware of the Fees
If you opt for a balance transfer to consolidate credit card debt, be sure there are no fees associated with that transfer. Some cards charge to transfer from one bank to another, but then also charge an annual fee on top of interest. Some cards could cost as much as three to five percent of the balance transferred, which will add up.
3. Consider a Personal Loan for Private Consolidation
Calculate your total credit card debt and see if you can qualify for a personal loan to consolidate those debts. Go to a local financial institution and explain that you are seeking a loan for consolidation. Applying in person may increase the likelihood you will be approved despite high outstanding debts.
4. Consider How Much You Can Pay Each Month
Most importantly, you must consider how much you can afford to pay. Obviously, you are consolidating because you cannot afford your current payments; therefore, you need a lower monthly payment.
You must be serious about paying off your debt. Nerd Wallet recommends calculating it all out and seeing if you could pay off your credit cards within five years. Also, they only support credit card consolidation if the total unsecured debt is less than half of your gross income.
5. Focus on High-Interest Debt First
High-interest debts are the hardest to pay off and take the longest. Therefore, prioritize your debts based on the high interest first; not the highest balance. If you can only transfer or cover certain debts with a private consolidation loan, the high-interest ones should be tackled first to avoid paying extra in interest.
6. Do Not Add-on To Your Existing Debt
While you are paying off your debts and consolidating, do not accumulate more credit card debt. Your credit cards should be put away, and you should rely on your cash for expenses.
7. Keep Your Accounts Open Even if Paid Off
Once you have paid off a credit card (either by transferring or through a loan), keep that credit card account open. Having an open and paid off credit card account may help improve your credit score. If your score is already damaged from excess debt, this is even more crucial.
Bottom line, play it smart when you are consolidating credit card debt. You have options out there, but you must make sure you can afford it, it makes fiscal sense, and you do your research first.