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What is Debt Consolidation and Why Should Millennials Care?

Debt consolidation can simplify your life and help you gain more control of your finances by consolidating some of your monthly bills into a single loan.

By Karen Lynch | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor

4 Min Read | January 17, 2020 in Money

 

At-A-Glance

Millennials spend about a third of their monthly income repaying a mixture of debt—student loans, credit cards, mortgages, and more.

Consolidating some of this debt into a single loan could simplify personal finances, lower monthly payments, and help lead you out of debt.

Watch out for obstacles and pitfalls, though; debt consolidation only works for some people and some types of debt.

Here’s a startling number: American millennials spend about a third of their monthly income repaying debt, according to a report from a leading financial services company.

 

So, if you’re a millennial, you’re probably juggling multiple debts, including these top five:

  • Personal student loans (21% of millennials)
  • Credit cards (20%)
  • Mortgages (11%)
  • Loans for your family’s education (7%)
  • Car loans (6%)1

 

No wonder you might be tempted to consolidate at least some of this debt into a single loan with a lower monthly payment. But what is debt consolidation, exactly, and could it really make your life easier?

 

What is Debt Consolidation?

Consolidating your debt usually means rolling up several credit card balances, outstanding loans, and other debts into a single personal loan. Because personal loans tend to carry lower interest rates and have longer repayment terms than some of your other debt, this restructuring can leave you with one, lower payment every month. But it’s not as simple as it sounds.

 

Let’s run through the basics.

 

Why Consolidate Debt?

Lenders cite three primary reasons for debt consolidation:

  • Simplification. Simplify managing multiple debts—all with different interest rates, monthly payment levels, due dates, etc.—into a single payment each month.
  • Lower payments. Reduce your monthly payment, by lowering the interest rates you currently pay and extending your repayment terms, which gives you more breathing room to pay off your debt.
  • Better credit score. Improve your credit score in the long term, with a better mix of installment and revolving debt and a successful record of making your payments.2

 

Why Not Consolidate Debt?

Debt consolidation isn’t rocket science, but it isn’t simple, either. Among the arguments against consolidating your debt:

  • Only people with relatively good credit scores should even consider applying.
  • Only some debts, such as credit card balances, are good candidates for consolidation—but probably not secured debt, such as car loans or mortgages.
  • You might actually end up paying more money in the end due to longer repayment terms (plus fees).3

 

Who Can Apply?

The worse your financial situation is, the less likely it is that debt consolidation will solve your problem. If your credit score, debt-to-income ratio, or other facets of your financial profile aren’t up to snuff, banks could decline to lend to you. Or, any loan they write could come at such a high rate of interest that it doesn’t help your situation.

 

What Debt Can Be Consolidated?

Debt consolidation is usually used for unsecured debt (think: credit card debt, medical bills, personal loans, payday loans), rather than secured debt (think: home mortgages and auto loans, both of which tend to have lower interest rates than personal loans because they’re secured by your home and your car, respectively).

 

Most student debt also carries lower interest rates, arguing against rolling it into a personal loan.4 However, you can sometimes simplify your finances by combining two mortgages into one, for instance, or rolling up multiple student loans into a single student loan.

 

When? After Ruling Out Some Practical Alternatives

Before pursuing debt consolidation, ask yourself if it’s really necessary. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recommends you first make a concerted effort to adjust your spending to the point where you can pay your current bills, and avoid taking out a new loan. You could also reach out to your creditors to negotiate better terms.5

 

Where? Banks, Fintechs, Balance Transfer Credit Cards

Debt consolidation loans, including personal loans and home equity loans, can be arranged primarily through banks or fintechs. An alternative is a 0% balance transfer credit card, if the balances you carry on your cards are actually your biggest headache.

 

Another type of debt consolidation is available through debt relief companies, which will help you develop debt management plans and debt settlement plans that don’t involve loans. Instead, they renegotiate with creditors on your behalf to settle or change the terms of your existing debt.

 

How to Consolidate Debt?

If you’re considering debt consolidation, see our article, “How to Consolidate Debt: 9 Steps to Regain Control.”

 

What, Me Worry?

Consolidating your debt might be the best thing for you. If that’s the case, you should congratulate yourself for taking a big step to manage your personal finances. And yet, don’t lapse into a false sense of financial wellbeing, thinking that your debt is paid off. It’s not, it’s only restructured.

 

If your spending remains above your means, consolidation could land you in a worse position. You could end up with a big monthly consolidated loan payment plus a growing number of new bills as you continue spending on your credit cards, store cards, and other accounts.

 

How’d It Turn Out for Others?

In a survey by U.S. News & World Report, more than 60% of respondents who had consolidated their debt said it was a good choice, delivering some combined effect of lower monthly payments, better credit scores, and lower debt. What’s more, 68% of respondents said they’d changed their spending habits for the better after consolidating.6 Of course, that leaves nearly a third who may not have fared as well.

The 6 W’s of Debt Consolidation

What? Usually a matter of rolling up several debts into one bigger loan with a single, lower monthly payment.  

Who? For people who are having trouble managing their debt, but who still have a relatively good financial profile.

When? You might give debt consolidation a try if you simply cannot adjust your spending enough to pay your current bills—or if you haven’t been able to negotiate new payment terms directly with your creditors.

Where? Banks, fintechs, and debt relief companies are the main sources.

Why? You could simplify your personal finance, make lower monthly payments, and improve your credit score.

Why Not? You could end up paying more in the long term.

 

The Takeaway

What is debt consolidation? Is it for you? You could simplify your life, gain more control of your finances, and start getting out of debt by consolidating some of your monthly bills into a single loan. But experts say to proceed with caution; debt consolidation isn’t the right fit for everyone.

Karen Lynch

Karen Lynch is a journalist who has covered global business, technology, finance, and related public policy issues for more than 30 years.

 

All Credit Intel content is written by freelance authors and commissioned and paid for by American Express. 

The material made available for you on this website, Credit Intel, is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax or financial advice. If you have questions, please consult your own professional legal, tax and financial advisors.