Best Debt Credit Card Consolidation Loans Of March 2022

 

If you’re ready to take control of your finances, debt consolidation can be an effective way to streamline payments and potentially reduce your interest charges. It also may lower your monthly debt payments.

This is because, unlike credit cards, medical loans and other forms of debt, personal loans often come with lower interest rates—especially if you have good to excellent credit. Many lenders also offer direct payments to third-party creditors, so you won’t have to worry about the logistics of consolidating your other debts.

The best personal loans for debt consolidation offer low annual percentage rates (APRs) and flexible repayment terms, while avoiding fees like prepayment penalties, so you can retire debt early without having to pay a fee.

What is a debt consolidation loan?

A debt consolidation loan combines multiple unsecured debts — such as credit cards, medical bills and payday loans — into one fixed monthly payment.

A debt consolidation loan is usually a good idea if the interest rate on the loan is lower than the combined rates on your existing debts. With this lower rate, you’ll save money on interest and potentially pay off your debt faster.

You can use a debt consolidation calculator to estimate your interest savings and new monthly payment, and to compare various loan options.

How to choose the best debt consolidation loan

When deciding between debt consolidation loans, compare these factors.

Annual percentage rates: The loan’s APR represents its true annual cost, as it includes all fees and interest charges. Rates vary based on your credit scores, income and debt-to-income ratio. Use APRs to compare multiple loans. Choose a low rate with monthly payments that fit your budget.

Origination fees: Some lenders charge origination fees to cover the cost of processing your loan. The one-time fee typically ranges from 1% to 10% of the loan amount and is either deducted from your loan proceeds or added to the loan balance. If the fee is deducted from your loan proceeds, you’ll need to request more than the sum of your debts in order to cover the fee and still have enough to pay your creditors.

Avoid loans that include this fee to keep costs down, unless the APR is lower than other no-fee loans.

Lender features: Some lenders offer consumer-friendly features like direct payment to creditors, which means the lender pays off your old debts once your loan closes, saving you that task.

Other features to shop for include free credit score monitoring and hardship programs that temporarily reduce or suspend monthly payments if you face a financial setback, such as a job loss.

How to qualify for a debt consolidation loan

Build your credit: Loan approval is based mainly on your credit score and ability to repay. It may be possible to get a debt consolidation loan with bad credit, but borrowers with excellent credit (720 to 850 FICO) have more loan options and may qualify for lower rates. If you have fair or bad credit (below 690 FICO), it can pay to build your credit before seeking a consolidation loan.

Add a co-signer: Adding a co-signer can help you qualify for a debt consolidation loan that you wouldn’t be able to on your own due to poor credit or low income. There are risks to your co-signer, though, so that person will need to weigh their decision carefully.

Shop around: Compare rates and terms at multiple lenders before applying for a debt consolidation loan. Most online lenders let you pre-qualify with a soft credit inquiry, which has no impact on your credit scores.

Preparing for a debt consolidation loan

Plan ahead: Before your loan is funded, create a budget that allocates a percentage of your income toward debt repayment and track your progress with a budgeting and saving app.

Curb spending: Avoid big expenditures on your credit cards as you pay off debt, but don’t close any of the cards. Canceling credit accounts can hurt your credit score.

Commit to the long-haul: Consolidating debt is a smart choice for many, but it’s important to remember the debt doesn’t disappear — it goes somewhere else. Most debt consolidation loans offer terms of two to seven years, so be prepared to stick to your monthly payments over that time period.

Will debt consolidation hurt my credit score?

Consolidating your debt with a personal loan can help — and hurt — your credit score. When you use the loan to pay off your credit cards, you lower your credit utilization, which measures how much of your credit limit is tied up. Lowering your credit utilization can help your credit.

On the other hand, applying for a loan requires a hard credit check, which can temporarily ding your credit score. And if you turn around and rack up new credit card debt, your credit score will suffer.

How to pre-qualify for a debt consolidation loan

Pre-qualifying for an online loan can get you access to potential loan terms, including the loan’s interest rate. You can pre-qualify with multiple lenders on NerdWallet to compare offers and find the lowest rate.

Other ways to tackle debt

A debt consolidation loan isn’t your only option for getting debt under control.

0% balance transfer credit card: For borrowers with good to excellent credit (690 FICO or higher), transferring debts to a 0% balance transfer card may be a good option, as long as you can pay it off during the introductory period.

» MORE: Personal loans or balance transfer cards: Which is right for you?

Credit counseling: Nonprofit organizations offer credit counseling, which includes helping you create a debt management plan. Similar to other consolidation products, these plans roll your debts into one manageable payment at a reduced interest rate.

Debt payoff strategies: If you’re not sure how to tackle debt, you may not need to consolidate. The debt snowball and debt avalanche methods are two common strategies for paying off debt. The snowball method focuses on paying off your smallest debt first, building momentum as you go. The avalanche focuses on paying off the debt with the highest interest rate first, then applying the savings elsewhere. Both can boost your payoff speed.

Last updated on March 1, 2022

Tips for Comparing Personal Loans for Debt Consolidation

Personal loans often are available online through traditional banks, credit unions and alternative lending platforms so you can apply quickly and conveniently, without having to visit a bank branch. Many of these lenders also offer competitive interest rates and flexible repayment terms, meaning you may be able to save money by consolidating your other debts.

Consider these tips when comparing personal loans:

  • Where possible, prequalify. Many personal loan providers offer prospective borrowers the ability to prequalify for a loan. This means the applicant can submit details about their financing needs, income, housing situation and other relevant information to find out what kind of loan amounts, rates and repayment terms they are likely to qualify for. Even better, this process typically only requires a soft credit inquiry so you can shop around without hurting your credit score. If you think you may benefit from consolidating your debt—but aren’t sure what rates you’ll qualify for—the prequalification process can streamline your search by ruling out lenders with higher rates.
  • Consider the purpose of your loan. While personal loans can be used for a broad range of purposes, they are limited to things like consumer debt consolidation, home improvements, vacations, weddings, funerals, large purchases and other personal expenses. For that reason, lenders often forbid you from using personal loans for postsecondary education expenses, business purposes and illegal activities, at a minimum. When considering a lender, always confirm that debt consolidation is an acceptable use of the loan funds. Even better—determine whether the lender will pay your other creditors directly.
  • Keep an eye out for additional fees. Some lenders offer fee-free personal loans that don’t require borrowers to pay origination fees, late payment fees, prepayment penalties or other common loan costs. However, this is more the exception than the rule, so it’s important to ask about fees when shopping for the best loan terms. This is especially important if you’re trying to save money by consolidating debt because fees can cut into your savings over the life of the loan. Likewise, if a lender charges an origination fee, find out whether it’s built into the APR or taken out of the loan amount prior to funding, as this may impact the loan amount you need to request.
  • Evaluate the lender’s customer support options. If you’ve found a lender that’s prepared to offer the money you need at acceptable terms, there’s one more thing to consider before signing the loan agreement. While customer support may not seem like a big deal in the honeymoon phase of your loan, it can make a huge difference if you encounter issues with payments or face a financial hardship during your repayment period. Review the lender’s customer service resources and read reviews from past and current borrowers to make sure it’s a good fit.

Methodology

We reviewed 15 popular lenders based on 11 data points in the categories of loan details, loan costs, eligibility and accessibility, customer experience and the application process. We chose the 10 best lenders based on the weighting assigned to each category:

  • Loan cost: 35%
  • Loan details: 20%
  • Eligibility and accessibility: 20%
  • Direct payment to creditors: 15%
  • Customer experience: 10%

Within each category, we also considered several characteristics, including available loan amounts, repayment terms, APR ranges and applicable fees. We also looked at minimum credit score requirements, whether each lender accepts co-signers or joint applications and the geographic availability of the lender. Finally, we evaluated the availability of each provider’s customer support team.

Where appropriate, we awarded partial points depending on how well a lender met each criterion.


What Is Debt Consolidation?

Debt consolidation is when a borrower takes out a new loan, usually with more favorable terms (a lower interest rate, lower monthly payment or both) and then uses the loan proceeds to pay off their other individual debts. Debt consolidation loans are commonly used to help pay off credit card balances, auto loans and other personal loans.


How Debt Consolidation Loans Work

To start consolidating debt, apply for a personal loan through your bank or another lender. Once your lender approves you for a debt consolidation loan, it may offer to pay off your other debts automatically—or you will take the cash and pay them off yourself.

After your pre-existing debts are repaid with your new debt consolidation loan funds, you’ll make a single payment on your new loan every month. While debt consolidation often reduces your monthly payment, it accomplishes this by extending the loan period of the consolidated loans. Debt consolidation also streamlines payments and makes it easier to manage finances, like having a single monthly payment due date.


Average Debt Consolidation Loan Rates

Personal loan interest rates depend on several factors, including the borrower’s creditworthiness, lender, loan amount and repayment term. Typically, however, personal loan interest rates range from around 5% to 36%, with the lowest rates reserved for borrowers with excellent credit.


How Does Debt Consolidation Affect Your Credit Score?

Consolidation loans have the potential to affect your credit score in a number of ways. Applying for a loan requires a hard credit check, which can result in a small dip in your credit score. However, the impact of the inquiry on your score will decrease over time and disappear typically after two years. Your credit score may also decrease if you take out a debt consolidation loan, pay off your credit cards and then rack up more debt on those cards.

That said, consolidating loans can be a great way to streamline your payments, reduce your monthly debt service and build healthy financial habits through regular, on-time payments. For that reason, consolidation loans can actually help you improve your credit score over time. What’s more, some lenders even offer credit tools beyond regular lending services to help you manage your credit profile.


Best Ways to Consolidate Debt

The best way to consolidate debt typically varies for each individual and their unique financial situation. Here are some of the best options to consider:

  • Debt consolidation loans. Personal loans are among the most common ways to consolidate multiple debts. This method will help you streamline all your debt payments under one loan.
  • Balance transfer credit cards. Highly qualified borrowers can access no-interest financing through balance transfer credit cards typically for one year to more than 18 months. This debt consolidation method is a great way to streamline your payments while avoiding interest through the promotional period. However, unpaid balances at the end of the promotional period will begin to accrue interest.
  • Home equity. If you have enough equity in your home, you can utilize a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HELOC) to help consolidate your debt. Be careful with this option, though. Because your house secures the loan, the lender can repossess your home if you fail to repay the loan.
  • 401(k) loans. A 401(k) loan is a loan you take out from your own 401(k) account. You typically borrow the greater of $10,000 or 50% of your vested account balance up to $50,000, and you generally have up to five years to repay it.

 

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