Credit Card Overwhelmed: Notes on Debt Consolidation

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

“My credit cards are driving me insane,” a friend complained to me over mochas (bought with cash) yesterday morning. “It’s like I can’t stop thinking about how much debt I’m in, because the minute I’ve sent off one minimum payment, I get a bill from a different company.”

I asked her if she had considered debt consolidation, and she replied that she had heard about consolidation loans, but don’t you need to own your home to get them?

The truth is, there are numerous options for those looking to save time, hassle and frustration by combining all their monthly payments into one. Below are a few:

  1. Credit card transfers. This can be an excellent way to go, if – and only if – you are certain that you’ll be able to pay off your balance before the low introductory interest period is over. BEWARE: Watch out as rolling your debt from one card to another can hurt your credit scores.
  2. Home equity. This is the loan type to which my client thought I was referring. For those lucky (or unlucky, depending on how you view things) enough to own a house, this can be a great way to lower your interest and get better payback – and overall – terms for the money you owe. BEWARE: I know too many people who have innocently moved their credit card debt onto their home equity line of credit, only to rack up new credit card debt only months later.
  3. Loans against retirement funds or life insurance policies. Most employers allow this for 401(k) plans, and most insurance companies don’t even require that you pay back the loan – you can deduct the balance from the benefits paid to your beneficiaries. While the latter may not be too happy, this is an option and worthy of a mentioning. BEWARE: Taking money from a 401 K can impact your retirement security. Not to mention many loans are due in full 60-90 days after you leave or are fired from the company.
  4. Nonprofit credit counseling agencies. The employees of these agencies do debt consolidation for a living. They negotiate with credit card companies daily, and will be able to score you the smallest possible fees and most favorable interest rates. BEWARE: Not all credit counseling agencies are the same. Do your homework and make sure that you are working with a reputable company.

These are just a few examples of ways to get control over your debt situation – simple ways to commit to a plan that both eliminates your debt and takes your mind off it. Always remember that many people have had this problem before you – and many have gotten out of it.


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