Debt Consolidation 101: The Crash Course
Marc Eisenson is the author of The Banker's Secret, the book which tells you everything you ever wanted to know about prepaying your mortgage.
Gerri Detweiler is the author of The Ultimate Credit Handbook, a comprehensive guide to your personal credit.
The following article on Debt Consolidation is reprinted with permission from "The Pocket Change Investor."
If you owe money, you're probably paying a pretty penny in interest. You can save a lot by consolidating your debts and then quickly paying them off.
We'd like to show you how. So consider this your personal invitation to "attend" Invest In U's first official course -- Debt Consolidation 101: Strategies for Saving Money and Paying off Your Debts Faster.
The tuition? A mere $4.50, postpaid (Good Advice Press, PO Box 78, Elizaville, NY 12523). There are no prerequisites (other than the willingness to part with the $4.50, of course!), no mid-terms, no oral presentations, and no final paper. You will not be graded, other than on that great permanent record card -- your bank statement. However, a willingness to think clearly about your situation and an interest in changing your ways will be extremely helpful.
Required reading? Debt Consolidation 101, a new 19-page booklet written in our usual easy to follow style. Invest In U's co-directors, Gerri Detweiler, Nancy Castleman, and I took a fresh, hard look at all the ways you could possibly lower your interest rate and cut down on the hassle factor of paying all those bills -- including borrowing from banks, credit unions, family and friends, and even from yourself.
We also investigated borrowing against 401 (k) and other retirement plans, as well as your insurance policy and the equity in your house. It turns out, much as it pains me to have to say it, that some of the lowest interest rates you'll find today are on credit cards. Properly handled, plastic can help repair the damage that plastic has created!
In the booklet, we explain all the pros and cons, and suggest how to pursue each option. But you, my loyal readers, get the crash course right here -- beginning with an:
Important Proviso: None of these options will work if you're going to keep on charging and otherwise spending money you don't have. So if you're just going to use a debt consolidation loan as a way to get more credit, and to string out your term of debt -- forget about it. Don't take this crash course, and don't buy our booklet. You'll just end up deeper in the hole.
The Path Of Least Resistance Can Save The Most
After researching all the options for debt consolidation loans, we've concluded that low- interest-rate cards often come out near or at the top of the list. They can be relatively easy to get -- if your credit history is decent. Most issuers are eager to transfer balances from other cards, and interest rates are often lower than what's available on more traditional debt consolidation loans at banks and credit unions.
Credit card issuers send out a torrent of offers -- well over 2 billion a year. So somewhere in today's pile of junk mail, may be a pre-approved offer for a card that starts with a "teaser" rate of 5.9% for 3 to 6 months, or even for 12 months. Or maybe you'll get it tomorrow.
Another good place to look is in your wallet. A great rate may be only a phone call away. Call your current issuers and tell them you'd like to transfer some of your other debts to their card -- but only if they can give you a competitive rate. If the customer service rep can't help, ask to speak to a supervisor. Be persistent. Chances are, at least one will bite.
Then if you don't have enough credit available, ask for a credit line increase. If you've been paying your bills on time, most issuers will be happy to give you more credit. That's their business!
In addition to carefully perusing the offers that come to you bulk rate, you can find a comprehensive list of low-rate cards at: www.cardtrak.com. Or send $5 to: CardTrak, P.O. Box 1700, Frederick, MD 21702.
Watch Out For:
- Expensive transfer fees. Ask the card issuer to waive any fees before you transfer. They'll often do that in exchange for your balance.
- Higher interest rates. Make sure you won't end up paying more for your transfers than you expected -- sometimes the advertised rate is only for purchases.
- Teaser rates. Take the time to sift through the offers and find one with a steady, low interest rate. You can save the most by strategically transferring your debt to another low introductory rate card whenever the last "teaser" rate is about to expire -- but don't let the constant balance swapping burn you out.
Once You've Consolidated, Stop Charging!
That alone will save you a bundle. For example, let's say you owe $10,000, aside from your mortgage. To make the example easy to follow, we'll assume that the full $10,000 is on one piece of plastic that charges 17%. Transfer the balance to a credit card at 11%, and even if you only send in the minimum required payments, you'll save over $15,000.
That's certainly a nice piece of change, but it'll still take over 28 years to pay it all off that way. What we urge you to do is create a plan for paying off the debt as quickly as possible -- say in 3 to 5 years. The faster you pay it down, the more you'll save. Ask the card issuer, your bank, or your credit union to transfer a fixed payment each month, or even twice a month from your account to pay off the credit card bill.
Our new booklet includes easy to use charts showing just how much to pay in order to achieve that goal -- and how much money will be saved in the process.
Bad Credit Rating?
You can still save a bundle, even if low-rate credit card offers aren't flooding your mailbox. If you have a poor credit history, the following borrowing options might make sense, since they require no credit check. Loans against:
- Retirement savings such as a 401 (k), 403 (b), or profit sharing plans.
- The cash value in an insurance policy.
- Investments, such as stocks and bonds (which are called "margin" loans).
But be warned: None of these options is risk-free. Read our booklet and then speak with your professional advisors before signing on the dotted line for any one of them.
For help improving your credit report, get a copy of the new edition of "The Ultimate Credit Handbook" ($15.95; to order, call 800-255-0899). Written by Gerri Detweiler, this book will show you how to solve your credit problems and take control of your debt. It's a comprehensive, no-nonsense guide.
Two Types Of Loans To Avoid:
The new 125% home equity loans, which offer to lend more than the value of your home and often have very high closing costs -- as much as $5,000 on a $25,000 loan! If you have to sell, chances are you won't be able to get anyone to pay more than your house is worth. (In some parts of the country, you'd be lucky to get 100% of its value.)
Debt consolidation loans from finance companies, which charge very high rates, 23% for example. Customers are attracted because of ads focusing on the low monthly payments. Low payments can be an expensive trap, because they'll stretch your loan out -- over 30 years or more, dramatically increasing your final interest costs.
No Can Do?
Even if you can't bring yourself to go to the effort of getting a consolidation loan or if you can't qualify for one, you can still save big. Develop your own "Payoff Plan" for each of your debts, starting with the one that charges the highest interest rate. You can use "The Banker's Secret Software" ($42.95 postpaid, call 800-255-0899 to order) to see how much you'll save and how soon you'll get out of debt. If you don't have a computer, you can order personalized Banker's Secret Payoff Plans. (We'll send you a data sheet to fill out. The first one is $12.95, and additional ones are only $4.95.)
Here's how "The Banker's Secret Payoff Plan" works: Every month from here on, until the debt is paid off, continue to send in at least as much as you're required to send in right now. For example, on our $10,000, 17% debt, your required payment this month would be $200. If you simply send that amount in every month, as opposed to the ever decreasing amount that will be required in future months (assuming you don't charge anything more), you'll save $15,929, and over 42 years of payments.
Yes, There's Homework!
That's it for our crash course on debt consolidation. Your homework? To stop charging, start consolidating, and keep paying off your bills. You can do it! We have faith in you.
This article was reprinted from issue #20 of "The Pocket Change Investor" ($12.95/yr; Good Advice Press, PO Box 78, Elizaville, NY 12523).
For the complete story on pre-paying, with lots of tables so you can see how much you'll save, read The Banker's Secret by Marc Eisenson. Often called the bible of mortgage pre-payment, it'll save you a pot full of money. For a copy, send $17.95 to Good Advice Press, Box 78, Elizaville, NY 12523. 1-800-255-0899.
The Pocket Change Investor, begun in 1990, is quarterly newsletter published by Marc Eisenson and Nancy Castleman. Each issue focuses on something that costs you and your family a lot of money. Let this team of consumer advocates show you how easy it is to profit from your debts, how to finance your child's education, when to rent ... or buy, and how to teach your youngsters to manage their money.
Financial educator and author Gerri Detweiler has been helping Americans better manage their money for over a decade. In addition to writing The Ultimate Credit Handbook, Detweiler previously served as the executive director of Bankcard Holders of America, and most recently as policy director for the National Council of Individual Investors, both non-profit financial education organizations representing consumers.
To subscribe to The Pocket Change Investor ($12.95 for 1 year, $19.95 for 2) or to get a copy of The Banker's Secret book ($17.95, includes s/h), call 800-255-0899 or fax 914-758-1475 with credit card info. You can send a check for the newsletter and/or book to: Good Advice Press, Box 78, Elizaville, NY 12523.