How to Get out of Debt When You Have Bad Credit
Debt and bad credit are very close relatives, which should be no surprise since accumulating too much debt is the reason people have bad credit.
Unfortunately, the consequences of bad credit – high interest rate charges on credit cards, auto and home loans, even deposits for housing and utilities – are what keep people in debt. It’s a vicious cycle that feeds on itself and keeps consumers from gaining control of their finances.
A debt consolidation loan is one of the most common solutions to get out of debt when you have bad credit. Debt consolidation means taking out one loan and using it to pay off all your other unsecured debts. Debt consolidation loans simplify the bill-paying process, but they also should make things more affordable because of lower interest rates and lower monthly payments.
Repaying the debt consolidation loan in timely fashion also will help your credit score. Depending on what your current credit score is, it may not take more than a 25-30 point gain to change you from being a “bad credit” consumer to being a “good credit” consumer.
Debt Relief with Bad Credit
The truth is that there are a lot of loan options for people with bad credit and some are even tolerable. The one thing you must realize is that there is penalty for bad credit: You will play higher interest rates – sometimes considerably higher – than someone with good credit.
However, if you successfully repay the loan, and keep up with financial commitments while doing so, your credit score will improve and the cost for borrowing will drop.
Here are some of the places to find debt relief when you have bad credit:
- Start at your bank. If you have a checking or savings account, you have a relationship with the bank. They want your business for the next 25 years. Giving you a personal loan is a step in the right direction for both of you.
- Join a credit union. Their nonprofit status allows them to relax membership rules, loan standards, interest rates and fees. A very good idea for people with bad credit.
- Ask family or friends for a loan. This is simultaneously the best and worst choice. Be responsible and business-like about this and all parties will benefit. Miss a couple of payments and the benefits – not to mention relationships – will disappear quickly
- Debt consolidation loans. Banks or credit unions will give you a one-time loan to pay off all debts, then you make just one monthly payment to them. Be sure the interest rate is lower than what you pay on current debts and the payoff time doesn’t put you deeper in debt.
- Home equity loan. If you have owned your home for several, you could borrow against the equity you have in it. The great thing about this is your credit score is not a factor. These are low-interest loans because the house serves as collateral.
- Peer-to-peer lending. This is a mixed-bag for those with bad credit. Some peer-to-peer places won’t take applications unless your credit score is 640 or higher. Then there are places like Upstart, Prosper, Avant and First Financial that will take people with a 580 score or better. A low credit score could mean excessively high interest rates so be careful with this one.
- Debt Management Programs. If you’re trying to eliminate credit card debt, this is a good place to find help. Any credit score is welcome. This is not a loan, but a good debt management program will reduce your interest rates and lower you monthly payments while also offering credit counseling that should help you long term.
- Credit card loans. If you need a small loan that you can pay off quickly, using a credit card is an option. For example, if your car breaks down or you need a new refrigerator, but lack cash, using the credit card and paying it off with 3-6 months is one choice.
- Debt settlement. If you’ve got bad credit and big bills – at least $15,000 or more – this might be an option. The positive is you might negotiate a deal that allows you to pay less than you actually owe. The bad news is that it will ruin your credit score for seven years and make it very difficult to get a loan of any kind.
- Payday Loans. This is basically a two-week cash advance that should be a last-gasp, emergency-only option, and even then, you should be extremely careful. The typical charge for a payday loan is $15-$20 per $100 borrowed. That’s an annual percentage rate of 399%! That alone is scary, considering the highest interest rate on credit cards is usually 36%.
What Is the Best Loan Option with Bad Credit?
If you have decided that a debt consolidation loan is your best option for dealing with your debt, the next step is to choose a lender. Because everyone’s circumstances are different, it’s impossible to point in one direction and definitively say that you will solve your problem there.
It is possible to put choices in categories. The safest solutions would come from banks, credit unions, peer-to-peer lenders that offer debt consolidation loans or from credit counseling agencies that offer debt management programs. Each one is motivated to help you succeed, not just in eliminating the debt, but in improving your credit score for future opportunities.
Loans from family members, home-equity loans and credit card loans could be good avenues, but only if you are totally committed to repayment. Failure to repay loans to those sources could mean destroying a close relationship with family or friends; foreclosure on your home or seeing interest rates soar on your credit cards.
Debt settlement and payday loans are areas where you must be extremely cautious. Many lenders simply won’t deal with debt settlement companies and negotiations with those that do often take 2-3 years to settle. Beyond that, your credit score will drop, possibly by more than 100 points, and the negative mark is on your credit report for seven years.
If you can’t repay a payday loan, you have dug yourself a really deep hole. You could be faced with liens against your property; wage garnishment; overdraft fees from your bank; and possibly a day in court. At the very least, the lender will “rollover” your loan and add more interest to the balance due. A $300 loan that would have cost $345 if you had paid it back in two weeks, will cost nearly $400 two weeks later and go up from there.
What Happens When You Have Bad Credit?
The definition of bad credit is when you must accept high interest rates and very uncomfortable terms and conditions to borrow any amount of money. Or, worse than that, when lenders take one look at your credit history and completely reject your loan application.
Lenders categorize consumers based on their credit score. They draw a line at “650” or maybe “630” and if your score is below that mark, you have “bad credit” and are unwelcome.
In either case, if you have bad credit, it means you are considered a “high risk” and you will pay a high interest rate for any loan you get.
Risk-based pricing is when lenders adjust interest rates on loans by estimating the risk the borrower may not repay. Someone with bad credit would be considered a high risk and thus receive a high interest rate. A low-risk borrower receives the lowest interest rates.
Every lender has its own formula for calculating risk, but most include credit score, outstanding debts, income, job status and debt-to-income ratio in arriving at the risk factor. Much of that information comes from your credit report.
If lenders gave you unfavorable terms on a loan and used your credit report in making their decision, you should receive a Risk-Based Pricing notice. If you receive one, you may contact the agency that supplied the credit report to verify that all the information in the report was accurate.
If you are overwhelmed by debt and need some relief from monthly payments, you may find that traditional debt help options are not available to you. For example, a debt consolidation company may be unwilling to lend to you, based on your credit score, or will give you a loan, but at such high interest rates that the consolidation loan offers no benefit.
How to Get a Loan with Bad Credit
If you’re not in a situation where you need extra money to get you through an emergency, it would be wise to spend some time cleaning up your credit score before applying for a loan. A 20- or 30-point bump on your credit score could be the difference between being labeled a bad credit risk and good credit risk.
And that will be the difference between paying interest rates so high they strangle your budget and interest rates that are manageable enough to give you some financial flexibility.
If you are conscientious about dealing with debt, any of the suggested choices could lift you out of the “bad credit” category and into a more favorable financial situation. It would help if you commit to on-time payments, making a budget (and sticking to it!) and using credit cards for emergencies only.
Here are some steps that should improve your credit score:
- Clean up your credit report: If the debts are not yours, write a debt dispute letter to creditors, collection agencies and reporting bureaus. Get credit report education and take steps to improving your credit score through on-time payments and paying off old debts.
- Make on-time payments. There might be no faster way to improve a credit score than making your payments on time every month. That is the biggest factor in computing your credit score.
- Keep card balances low. Only use credit cards when absolutely necessary and pay down balances aggressively.
- Don’t close unused cards. It’s great if you stop using a credit card, just don’t close it out. It helps your credit score in two ways: A) It helps on the “length of credit history” portion of your credit score and it improves your debt-to-income ratio.
- Contact a nonprofit credit counseling agency. Credit counselors will review your financial situation and help you set up a manageable budget. Once you get there, they will offer some options on how to pay down debt, which quickly will improve your score.
How Credit Agencies Define Bad Credit
FICO, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, the major credit bureaus and agencies in the U.S., deal in numbers so you won’t get a solid definition from them of what bad credit is. They prefer numeric categories that allow consumers to float from one ranking to another in any given payment period.
Experian, Equifax and TransUnion use the Vantage Score method, which goes from 300 to 850. Experian says it keeps scores for 220 million consumers, almost one-third of which (28%) have bad credit.
Here is a chart produced by Experian with categories broken down by credit score and number of consumers in each category.
From Super-Prime to Sub-Prime to Deep-Prime: Vantage Score Breakdown
- Super-Prime Credit Scores: 781-850 … 48.4 million people
- Prime Credit Scores: 661-780 … 79.2 million people
- Near Prime Credit Scores: 601-660 … 28.6 million people
- Sub-Prime Credit Scores: 500-600 … 50.6 million people
- Deep Sub-Prime Credit Scores: Below 500 … 11 million
FICO, the score most often used by lenders in credit decisions, also ranks consumers on a scale of 300-850, but the FICO scoreboard is a little more stringent.
The top end of the FICO scale is a more inclusive, but the bottom ends is far more demanding, which again emphasizes how bendable the definition is for bad credit. Here is FICO’s scale.
From Excellent to Poor to Bad: FICO Score Breakdowns
- Excellent credit: 750-or higher … 20.4%
- Good credit: 700-749
- Fair credit: 650-699
- Poor credit: 600-649
- Bad credit: Anything below 600 … 20.7%
A FICO survey in 2016 found that 20.4% of consumer were in the exceptional credit category (800-850) and about the same number (20.7%) were in the bad credit range (under 600).
The good news is that the number of people with bad credit has been declining every year since its peak of 25.5% in October 2010. In the six years since then, more than 17.5 million consumers have raised their credit scores above 600.
In fact, in 2016 the national average for FICO scores was 699, the highest in history.