Consolidating debt shouldn't be taken lightly. You are not eliminating debt, you are restructuring or spreading out the debt, with hopes of being able to pay the debt off with your current or future funds.
Here are 10 steps you need to follow to get that debt consolidated when it's time to rearrange your finances:
Step 1 -- Consider asking for help from a nonprofit consumer credit counseling agency. You've gotten yourself into trouble, turn to an expert to help get you out. These agencies often can help get late fees removed and can help reduce the interest rates that are putting you into the poor house. A good rep at such an agency can become a trusted advisor, just ask lots of questions and know what you are getting into.
Step 2 -- Borrow against your home with a home equity loan. If you have equity tied up in your home, it might be better utilized to consolidate your debts. You might even qualifiy for a tax break on the interest, so check with your tax preparer for those options. But don't base your decision on how it will affect your tax return; base your decision more on how long you will live in the home, and if it makes sense. A trusted real estate loan broker can help you run the numbers and determine if such a loan is right to consolidate your debts. Interest rates on those loans in 2006 are still very favorable, especially when compared with the high interest of credit cards and installment loans. You can either get a home equity loan, where the payments begin right away, or you can get a home equity line of credit, which simply gives you access to your stored equity when you need it.
Step 3 -- Ask your lender to give you a break. Yes, sometimes your best option is to talk with your lenders and see what you can do yourself. Sometimes a banker will renegotiate terms on a loan, or restructure payments, or allow you to only pay interest on a loan. It never hurts to ask. Experts note that banks want to get paid on time, they are not interested in owning real estate or cars or RV's, so often, they are more likely to negotiate in good faith than you might have originally thought.
Step 4 -- Move your money around from one credit card to another. Many cards being offered today have a zero-interest intro rate for 6 to 12 months, and that makes it enticing to transfer your balance from one card to the next. This isn't such a bad idea when you have the means the discipline to pay off the total within the intro period. There are some credit experts who have been known to continually shift funds from one card to the other; personally, my life is way to busy and complicated for this. But at least it's one option to consider to help save on high interest card balances.
Step 5 -- Pay a visit to your local credit union office. One of the great things about these are the lower rates you are eligible for, and then again, you might get some of the best service too since membership has its priveleges. Each credit union has certain occupational or organization membership rules, so ask around what options you might have. Start with the yellow pages in your local city.
Step 6 -- Borrow from your whole life insurance policy (if you have one). I don't know of a whole lot of people who still have whole life policies, actually; but if you have one, they can offer you the chance to borrow money against the equity you've built up in it. But since the policy is meant to help your survivors, you only really need to worry about paying it back if you want to keep the survivors benefit in force. Your insurance agent who sold you the policy will be able to explain your options according to the agreement you signed for insurance coverage.
Step 7 -- Dip into your 401(k) Retirement Fund. Only do this if you're confident that you'll be in your job for the next 2-3 years. If you think you might be at risk for lay-off or downsizing, or if you are planning on applying for a new job, be warned that these types of loans are generally due immediately upon departure. Tax-deductibility is limited, though. You'll be paying interest on your own funds, so this should be done as last resort.
Step 8 -- Beg for loan from your friends, and take a risk on the friendship. But sometimes a close friend or relative will recognize the need and be able and willing to help you consolidate your debt. Don't do it on a handshake, though. Be proactive and work up a written contract that is dated, signed, even notarized, and then do whatever you need to do to repay the loan on time as agreed. Each of us needs all the friends we can get in this world.
Step 9 -- Sell off what you don't need any longer. This is probably one of the scariest things some people face; yet, from personal experience, it actually seems to be one of the best ways consolidate debts and relieve stress at the same time. Getting rid of a large item, perhaps a second car, a boat, a business that is doing poorly, a piece of investment property bought years ago -- holding onto possessions while burdened with worrisome debt seems insane. So letting go of the stuff to extinguish the fires of debt isn't such a bad thing after all. Besides, when you get your finances straightened around, you can always buy back stuff. Losing your peace of mind and worrying over money troubles is too high a price to pay.
Step 10 -- Always follow through. This is actually a series of steps, constant steps, that you will keep your promise with yourself and your lenders, to follow through with your debt consolidation plan, and that you will focus and work hard to improve your spending and budgeting habits. Yes, you got yourself into a tight spot with your debts getting out of control. But now, concentrate and focus on paying off what you owe and reducing your debts after consolidation.
Steve Johnson is the publisher of FindHow2.com, a growing collection of free, online articles covering topics of credit, debt and loan consolidation, and he can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.