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A personal loan for debt consolidation can streamline multiple high-interest debts into one payment and help you pay off debt more quickly.
Here's how to get a debt consolidation loan in five steps.
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1. Check your credit score
Start by checking your credit score. Borrowers with good to excellent credit scores (690 to 850 credit score) are more likely to be approved and get a low interest rate on a debt consolidation loan.
Ideally, the consolidation loan should have a lower annual percentage rate than the combined interest rate on your other debts. A lower rate reduces the overall cost of your debt and can help you get out of debt faster.
If you have bad credit (300 to 629 credit score) and can take some time to build your credit, you may qualify for a lower-rate loan. Here's how:
Catch up on late payments. Late payments are reported to credit bureaus at 30 days past due, which can drop your credit score by as many as 100 points. If you’re within the 30-day window for a debt payment, there's still time to submit it.
Check for credit report errors. Errors on your credit report, like payments applied to the wrong debts or accounts incorrectly marked closed, could be hurting your score. Check your credit reports for free at AnnualCreditReport.com and dispute any mistakes you find.
Repay small debts. Debts owed account for 30% of your credit score. If you can, pay down any high-interest credit cards before you consolidate. This will improve your debt-to-income ratio, which can help you get a lower rate on the consolidation loan.
» COMPARE: Best debt consolidation loans for bad credit
2. List your debts and payments
Make a list of the debts you want to consolidate — credit cards, store credit cards, payday loans and other high-interest debts — and add up the total amount due. You’ll want your debt consolidation loan amount to cover the sum of these debts.
Add up the amount you pay each month toward your debts, and check your budget for any spending adjustments needed to continue debt repayments. The new loan should have a lower rate and a monthly payment that fits within your budget. Commit to a repayment plan with your budget in mind.
Use a debt consolidation calculator to see whether it makes sense to consolidate.
3. Compare loan options
Shop for a loan that’s right for you. Online lenders, credit unions and banks all provide personal loans for debt consolidation.
Online lenders cater to borrowers with all ranges of credit. Most online lenders let you pre-qualify so you can compare personalized rates and terms with no impact to your credit score.
Credit unions are not-for-profit organizations that may offer lower rates to borrowers with fair or bad credit. You must become a member to apply for a loan. Membership is usually quick and affordable, about $5 to $25.
Bank loans work best for those with good or excellent credit. Customers with an existing banking relationship may have an easier time qualifying and may receive special perks like a rate discount or access to higher loan amounts.
Look for lenders that offer direct payment to creditors, which simplifies the consolidation process. After the loan closes, the lender sends your loan proceeds to your creditors at no extra cost.
Consider other features that some lenders offer, like a rate discount for setting up autopay, access to your credit score or free financial education.
4. Apply for a loan
When you’re ready to apply for the loan, gather documents such as proof of identity, proof of address and income verification. Most applications can be completed online and require a hard credit pull. This may temporarily lower your credit score by a few points.
Take the time to read the loan document’s fine print. Look for any origination fees, which can affect the total cost of the loan, and confirm whether the lender reports on-time payments to the three main credit bureaus, which can help build your credit.
5. Close the loan and make payments
Now that you’ve found and been approved for the loan you want, there’s one important step left.
If the lender offers direct payment, it will disburse your loan proceeds among your creditors, paying off your old debts. Check your accounts for a zero balance or call each creditor to ensure the accounts are paid off.
If the lender doesn't pay your creditors, then you’ll repay each debt with the money that’s deposited to your bank account. Do this right away to avoid additional interest on your old debts and to eliminate the temptation to spend the loan money on something else.
Finally, within about 30 days of receiving the debt consolidation loan, make your first payment.