A personal loan may also help improve your credit score. One of the major factors in determining your FICO® Score is your utilization ratio: the combined balances on all your credit cards as a percentage of the overall credit limits on the cards. The lower your utilization rate, the better. Moving card balances to a personal loan might lower your utilization ratio.
Before you consolidate credit cards, make sure you have a clear payment plan that can help you tackle your debt. Beware of simply moving your debt from credit cards to another form of debt; it may feel like you’re suddenly debt-free but you are definitely not. You’ve simply reorganized your debt and it should become more manageable now. If you fail to make sizeable, consistent payments toward your debt, you could find yourself back in the same cycle of debt. Also, when selecting your consolidation method — for example, an intro 0% APR credit card, personal loan, etc. — be sure to look closely at the fees you may be charged. The fees are typically outweighed by the amount you save in interest, but it’s a good idea to review them.
Traditional debt consolidation companies review your debts, income and credit score. If you qualify for a debt consolidation loan, they will discuss terms with you which will include the repayment period, the interest rate and the monthly payment. After you are issued a check, you will pay off all of your individual credit cards and owe one monthly payment to the credit consolidation company. One of the downsides of working with a traditional debt consolidator is that your credit card accounts are open and available for use. You may be tempted to continue using your cards and could wind up doubling your debt. Consider the following tips if you decide to work with a traditional debt consolidation company and take out a brand new loan:
If you don’t pay a medical bill or a cell phone bill, your account may be referred to a collection agency. Once it is with an agency, they can register that debt with the credit bureau, which can have a big negative impact on your score. Most negative information will stay on your credit bureau for 7 years. Positive information will stay on your credit bureau forever, so long as you keep the account open. If you close an account with positive information, then it will typically stay on your report for about 10 years, until that account completely disappears from your credit bureau and score. If you don’t use your credit card (and therefore no payment is due), your score will not improve. You have to use credit in order to get a good score.
With credit consolidation, you take out a new loan and use it to pay off smaller loans. Because you now only have one loan, you have one monthly payment. However, taking out a big loan can be tricky. If your credit score is not high, you may not qualify for a consolidation loan. If you do qualify, you may not qualify for competitive interest rates. Additionally, whenever you take out a new loan, there are loan origination fees which can run into the thousands. Finally, if you are able to secure a debt consolidation loan with a low monthly payment, it may be at the expense of the repayment period: you may be paying the loan for a decade or longer.
Next, estimate your monthly spending habits for other expenses such as gas, groceries and entertainment. Create a limit, based on your income, of what you can spend in each of the different categories of expenses. For example, if you tend to spend $400 a month on groceries, try to stick to $300 a month on groceries by making changes like buying generic brands, using coupons, and resisting impulse purchases.