Should you consolidate your debts?

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If you are struggling to keep up with your loan payments, consolidating your debts is one option to help you take back control. Here is how it works and when you should do it.

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What is debt consolidation?

Debt consolidation works by  combining multiple debts, like credit card bills and loans. You take out a single loan at a lower interest rate to pay them off. It's a way to reduce your debt and reorganise it to make it easier to manage and affordable to pay off.

For example, if you have three loans and two credit cards that total £15,000 in debt, you could get a single £15,000 loan to pay off your debts. Then you repay the £15,000 loan in one single monthly repayment.

debt consolidation infographic

How can I consolidate my debt?

There are two ways to consolidate debt, both of which concentrate your debt payments into one monthly bill:

What is a debt consolidation loan?

Like any other loan, a debt consolidation loan is available in two forms:

Unsecured loan: This is a personal loan that does not require an asset, such as your home, to act as a security for the loan.

Secured loan: This is a loan in which you attach an asset, like your car or home, as security for the loan. If you're unable to repay your loan, the provider can repossess the asset to sell it and recoup the loan.

Most personal loans can be used for debt consolidation, but it's important to check with your provider before you take out a loan.

But before you apply for a debt consolidation loan, read the following:

  • Work out how much you owe: Add up all of your outstanding debts by checking the balance for each and include any charges you may need to pay. .

  • Choose between secured or unsecured: If you need to borrow over £25,000 you may need to choose a secured loan, otherwise pick unsecured. Remember with a secured loan you could lose your home if you can’t make the repayments. 

  • Decide how long you need to pay: Try to avoid extending your borrowing for any longer than you need to because this will end up costing you more money. 

  • Look for the cheapest interest rate: Rates vary depending on how much you need to borrow and for how long, but there are lots of lenders and loans to choose from so make sure you shop around. 

What debts can be consolidated?

You can consolidate any debts that can be paid off early, including:

  • Credit cards

  • Loans

  • Tax arrears

  • Debt collection agency debt

  • Overdrafts

  • Payday loans

  • Bailiff debt

  • Outstanding utility bills

What is a debt consolidation loan?

This is a personal loan you can use to pay off your debts; there are two main types:

  • Secured: Where the loan is secured against something you own, often your home.

  • Unsecured: Where the lender has no claim on your belongings or property.

Most personal loans can be used for debt consolidation but double check before you apply because not all do.

What is the difference between secured and unsecured loans?

Are there any better alternatives?

Yes, there could be, so shop around and compare your options before you apply for a debt consolidation loan. Calculate all of the costs involved and compare how much each option will cost you and factor in the time it will take to repay a loan. Here are some alternatives to consider:  

  • Use your savings: If you have savings you could save money by using them to pay off some of your borrowing. This will usually be the best option for clearing your debts. Here is how to work out if it is right for you.

  • 0% money transfers: They work by transferring money from a credit card into your bank account. You have to pay a small transfer fee (around 4%) but then have a set amount of time to pay off the balance interest free. These will only work if you can clear the balance in the 0% period, as otherwise you’ll be hit with interest charges. 

  • Peer to peer loans: They work by borrowing money from other people online. Rates will depend on your credit rating and how much you want to borrow and they are more risky than traditional loans.

How to get a debt consolidation loan with bad credit?

Debt consolidation loans are open to people with bad credit, although there may be fewer lenders you can borrow from. It's also likely that you'll pay a higher interest than you would with a standard consolidation loan.

The process is the same as it would be if you had good credit. Lenders, who are willing to lend to people with less than great credit scores, will consider more than just your credit score when assessing the affordability for a loan. Other things a lender might look for include your income, your regular outgoings, and any assets you own.

When should you consolidate your debts?

Consolidating is not always the best option, especially if it will increase how much money you owe, extend the period you’re repaying a debt for, or make your payments unmanageable.

You should only consolidate if the solution you have found is:

  • Still affordable each month

  • At a lower interest rate

  • Does not extend your loan term unnecessarily

Check the total cost

The best way to work out if consolidating will save you money is to work out the total cost of your existing borrowing vs. the total cost of consolidating your debts.

For example, if you owe £10,000 in total, spread over two loans and a credit card, here is how consolidating could work:

  • £5,000 loan charging 11.9% APR with 3 years left to pay. Paying £164.40 a month, total cost £5,918.27.

  • £3,000 loan charging 7.9% APR with 1 year left to pay. Paying £260.45 a month, total cost £3,125.39.

  • £2,000 on a credit card charging 18.9% APR, which will take 2 years to pay off. Paying £100 a month, total cost £2,380.

All three added together would give you:

  • Total monthly payments = £524.85

  • Total cost = £11,423.66

If you borrowed £10,000 to pay off these debts over three years at a rate of 3.9% APR the new amounts would be:

  • Total monthly payments = £294.49

  • Total cost = £10,601.75

In this example consolidating would reduce your monthly payments by £230.36 in the first year and over the three years save you £821.91 in interest charges.

Applying for the loan

Once you have found the right loan, or have chosen another way to consolidate your debts, you need to apply for the loan.

You need to show that you can afford the monthly payments, but if your loan is for debt consolidation you can usually specify this during the application.

This means you do not need to include the payments you make to your existing borrowing when giving details of your bills.

Find out more about how to manage your loan

What happens next?

A lender will tell you how much you can borrow and at what rate. If you decide to accept this and  your application has been approved you need to set up the repayments on your new loan and arrange to pay off your old borrowing.

One of the biggest risks facing borrowers who have consolidated their debts is that they take on more short-term borrowing, increasing how much they owe, so try to avoid this.

Other steps can you take to reduce your debt

One of the best ways to cut your debts is to spend less and free up more of your money to pay off what you owe.

Writing (and sticking) to a budget that covers all your income and outgoings is a good place to start and you can use our ultimate financial checklist to find more areas you can save. Check in on your budget regularly and update it as your financial situation changes. 

If you are struggling with managing your debt ...

Struggling to cope with you financial worries is a horrible situation to be in, but no debt is unmanageable and there are places you can turn to for help:

  • StepChange offers free advice and helps you arrange a debt management plan (DMP)

  • Citizens Advice (England) has advice on getting help with different types of debt during lockdown

  • National Debtline is another charity that offers free and independent debt advice over the phone and online

  • PayPlan is an independent provider of free DMPs

If you think you have been mistreated by a bank, lender or insurance provider and it has failed to resolve your dispute, contact the free Financial Ombudsman Service. The service is free, independent and can compel businesses to compensate anyone who has lost money.

Debt consolidation FAQs

Can I get a debt consolidation loan with bad credit?

Yes but it may cost more. If you took out your existing loans before you had bad credit they may be cheaper.

How many debts can I consolidate?

As many as you like. If you can borrow enough to pay off what you owe there is no limit to the number of debts you can consolidate.

Will a debt consolidation loan affect my credit score?

Yes, your debt consolidation loan will appear on your credit record, but once you have paid off your old borrowing those loans will show as settled.

Are my debts paid off automatically?

No, you will be sent the money and will then need to pay off each of your debts using the money.

Who can get a debt consolidation loan?

As with all loans, the lender will check you can afford the payments and your credit record before you apply.

Need a loan? Compare loan lenders side by side to find one that is cheap to pay back, lets you borrow what you need and has repayments you can afford.

About Salman Haqqi

Salman is our personal finance editor with over 10 years’ experience as a journalist. He has previously written for Finder and regularly provides his expert view on financial and consumer spending issues for local and national press.

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