If your credit score is above 640, a debt consolidation loan (also known as a personal loan) from a bank or online lender could save you from the higher interest rates charged by credit card companies.

If your credit score has gone south of 640, you can still consolidate your debt payments and lower your interest rates with a debt management plan from a non-profit credit counseling agency. You may also qualify for debt relief through a home equity loan or line of credit, student loan consolidation, or other lender described below.

When consolidating credit card debt, the name of the game is to get lower interest rates than those charged by your credit cards. If you have poor credit, have missed payments or just been unlucky enough to rack up a balance on a 29.99% APR credit card, there are a number of options available to you to lower your rates, even if you have bad credit.

The number of cards you have doesn’t matter to credit reporting bureaus nearly as much as the amount of debt you carry on those card. The average person seeking credit card debt help has six cards and carries $17,548 in debt, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

The average interest rate for credit cards in November 2017 was 16.75% according to Bankrate.com.  But many consumers, especially those with sub-prime and deep sub-prime credit scores, face interest rates that are nearly double that figure.

Some banks and a variety of on-line lending sites offer consolidation loans. As with any loan, the terms will largely depend on the applicant’s credit history. Most consumers think first of their credit score, but lenders also scrutinize your debt-to-income ratio.

Where Can I Get a Debt Consolidation Loan with Bad Credit?

Before you decide what sort of consolidation loan to seek, evaluate your options. You could make an appointment with a nonprofit credit counseling agency to research debt consolidation programs, or you could do it on your own. Check your credit score by contacting one of the three rating agencies or using an online tool available through many banks and credit card companies.

Next, add up all your outstanding credit card debts to learn how much you need to repay. A consolidation loan will allow you to pay off your cards and focus on the new loan, which will have a lower interest rates and hopefully more lenient repayment terms.

If your credit score is high enough, you might be able get a consolidation loan from a bank or online lending company. If not, you’ll have to look for alternatives. Here are a few:

Online Lenders

This alternative is a child of the internet. Individuals or groups will offer to finance your consolidation loan. Popular online lenders include Lending Club and Prosper. Online lenders require you to fill out an application and, based on your verified information, will offer you an interest rate for the loan. Acceptance isn’t guaranteed, and interest rates can range as high as 29%. If the loan application checks out and you like the terms, the service will pair you with a private lenders and the loan proceeds.

Consolidating Student Loans

Not all unsecured debt problems spring from credit cards. Student loan debt has soared in recent years along with college costs. Unlike other unsecured debt, student loan debt isn’t dischargeable through bankruptcy, so you have just one choice: repay it. Lenders like non-dischargeable loans and offer borrowers lower rates, but sometimes former students can’t keep up with what they owe. Many students take out multiple loans during college and grad school, and they can have different repayment terms and interest rates. Consolidating to a single, fixed-rate loan can make managing your finances much easier. Remember, not all student loans can be consolidated. Though federal student loans can, private loans are not eligible for consolidation.

Peer to Peer Lending

There is an inherent flexibility with Peer-to-Peer lending that makes it one of the best places to go for people with bad credit seeking a debt consolidation loan. P2P lenders choose who they want to do business with and how much risk they are willing to take. Your credit score still matters – it will dictate how high an interest rate you pay on the loan – but it does not automatically eliminate you from consideration like it would at some commercial banks and credit unions.

Get a Friend or Relative to Cosign

You might be able to find a relative or friend to cosign a consolidation loan. This might be a good alternative for you if your credit score disqualifies you from a bank loan, but it puts the cosigner on the hook if you default. Cosigners should be wary when the agree to this arrangement.

Low Minimum Score Lenders

Some lenders will offer consolidation loans to those with lower minimum credit scores than mainstream lenders. A score less than 640 typically disqualifies you from commercial bank loans, but some lenders will approve loans for borrowers with scores under 600. Keep in mind, that lending is about risk and the bigger risk you are, the more interest the lender will want you to pay.

Home Equity Loan

You might also consider wrapping your debts into a secured loan like a home equity loan. As long as you have collateral that a lender can seize if you default on your loan, the more willing the lender will be to offer financing. Often with collateral such as a home or a car, you can get a better interest rate than on an unsecured loan in a similar amount. But remember, secured loans come with an implicit risk: If you miss payments, the lender can seize the property you used to secure the loan.

Payday Lenders

These are the bottom fishers of the finance industry. They often charge extremely high interest rates on loans that are really just advances on your next paycheck. If you owe $300 on your credit card, a payday loan could give you the money right now. The downside: The interest on the payday loan will be much higher than the interest on the credit card. Even if the payday loan is enough to bring you current on several credit cards by effectively consolidating the debt, the new loan with the payday lender will almost certainly yield worse financial consequences. Payday loans are not a good way to consolidate debt.

How Lenders Evaluate You: Debt-to-Income Ratio

The debt-to-income ratio is determined by adding all your monthly debt payments and dividing that number by your gross monthly income. For example, let’s say you are paying $1,300 a month for your mortgage, $400 a month for a car and $500 a month in other debts. Your monthly pre-tax income is $5,000.

Divide the monthly debt ($2,200) by gross income ($5,000) and your debt-to-income ratio is 44% (2200 ÷ 5000 = .44). That would be a problem for lenders, who typically get skittish when the debt-to-income number climbs above 40%.

How Your Credit Score Impacts Your Interest Rates

Lenders offer different interest rates, usually 5.99% to 32.99%, or other terms based on the risk that the borrower will not repay the loan. It’s known as “risk-based pricing,” and the bottom line is simple: The lower the risk, the better the interest rate terms.

Sometimes the “risk” is too great to qualify for a consolidation loan. For example, Prosper, an online lending company, requires a credit score of 640 or higher.  Lending Tree, another online source requires a 660 or higher.

The average credit score is 695, but 19% of consumers have scores lower than 600 and likely would be turned down for consolidation loan. It’s a catch-22, but there are alternatives, specifically a debt management program.

Debt Consolidation Loan Alternative

Unfortunately, trying to restructure your debt with a consolidation loan sometimes is impossible. Before you throw up your hands, you should call a nonprofit debt management company, whose counselors offer advice on suitable debt relief options.

The credit counselors specialize in helping consumers set up budgets and will ask questions about your income and expenses to help determine the right option foe eliminating debt.

The major benefit to you is that the credit counseling agency can offer a debt management program that can help you get lower interest rates on your credit card debt and try to get late-payment and other fees waived. Not only are your monthly interest rates reduced, credit counseling agencies can also help get debt collectors off your back.

The credit counseling agency also makes payments to participating creditors on your behalf. You make one monthly payment to the counseling agency and they divide the payment among the creditors in an agreed upon manner.

As you make your debt management program payments, you will start re-establishing your credit through regular monthly and on-time payments. In a DMP, you generally will have to close all but one of your credit cards and be on a 3-to-5 year repayment plan. When you make your final payment, you are debt free!

Another option is debt settlement, but there are dangers involved here. A debt settlement agency asks you to stop making payments to creditors. Instead, the debt settlement agency asks for a substantial amount of cash from you or requires you to make monthly payments until you build a sum large enough to offer the creditor a settlement.

When the agency thinks it has enough money, it goes to the creditors and attempts to negotiate a one-time settlement, generally for less than the balance owed. The creditors recover a debt that otherwise might have been uncollectable, and they get to wipe an overdue account off their books.

The consumer walks away with a large debt not just reduced but cleared. It sounds good, but there are drawbacks.

There are substantial fees involved in the process. Worse than that, debt settlements show up on your credit report and lower your credit score. You may also be sued by creditors in this process. It’s not an ideal remedy, especially compared to a DMP.

If your debts grow too large and you’re unable to handle a repayment plan, you might need to consider filing for bankruptcy. Bankruptcy petitions are made to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, and for individuals there are two options, Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Chapter 7 filings eliminate all dischargeable debt, while Chapter 13 filings involve a repayment plan. Both damage your ability to borrow money or use credit. Before doing anything, contact an attorney who specializes in bankruptcy filings.

Bankruptcy always should be the court of last resort. If you have poor credit and are in an ocean of debt, a consolidation process is often the best way to keep from drowning.


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