A Comprehensive Guide to Credit Card Consolidation

Couple looking on the laptop for a comprehensive guide to credit card consolidation

This guide to credit card consolidation can make debt easier to pay off. The minimum payment schedules on your credit cards are not designed to get you debt free quickly. In fact, they keep you in debt as long as possible because that increases revenue for the credit card issuer. So, when minimum payments don’t work, credit card consolidation offers you a better way to repay what you owe.

What is credit card consolidation?

Credit card debt consolidation simply refers to the process of combining multiple debts into a single monthly payment. Instead of making payments to all your creditors individually, you roll all your debts into a single, simplified repayment plan. At the same time, you also work to reduce or eliminate the interest charges applied to your debt. This allows you to get out of debt faster because more of each payment you make goes to eliminating principal.

There are three basic options that consolidate credit card debt; you can find more information on each debt relief solution further down this page.

Solution DIY or Assisted How It Works
Credit card balance transfer DIY You transfer the balances from your existing high interest rate credit cards to one with 0% APR on transfers.
Personal debt consolidation loan DIY You take out a loan to pay off all your credit cards, leaving only the loan to repay.
Debt management program Assisted You set up a debt repayment plan that works for your budget with the help of a certified credit counsellor.

Why do these solutions work?

No matter which solution you choose, credit card consolidation works on a simple principle: If you reduce or eliminate interest charges, you speed up how fast you can pay off your debt.

Credit card interest rates eat up over half of every payment you make, and that’s if your rate is around 15%. If you have reward credit cards, rates tend to be higher than 20%. In this case, more than two-thirds of every payment you make goes to accrued monthly interest charges.

Even if you add money onto your minimum payment or make fixed payments, it can take years to reach zero. On minimum payments, it can take decades.

Just test it out with your highest balance. If you don’t know your minimum payment schedule, choose 2%. That’s standard for most credit cards.

Credit card consolidation focuses on minimizing interest charges. That means more of each payment you make can go to paying off the debt you actually owe. This accelerates debt elimination, which means you can get out of debt faster. In addition, you often end up paying less each month than what you pay by keeping your debts separate.

3 Debt Consolidation Options

Option 1: Credit Card Balance Transfer

This is a do-it-yourself option that requires a good to excellent credit score in order to be successful.

  1. You qualify for a balance transfer credit card based on your credit score.
  2. These cards offer 0% APR on balance transfers for a limited amount of time after you open the account.
  3. The better your credit, the longer the 0% APR introductory period.
  4. Once the account is open, you transfer your existing balances.
  5. You usually must pay a balance transfer fee on each balance you move; fees range from $3 to 3% of the balance moved.
  6. With your debt consolidated, you pay it off in the largest chunks possible.
  7. The goal is to eliminate your debt in-full during the interest-free period.

Option 2: Personal Debt Consolidation Loans

This is another do-it-yourself option for consolidation. You need good to excellent credit in order to use this solution effectively.

  1. You apply for an unsecured personal loan through your preferred lender.
  2. They evaluate your credit to determine eligibility and set your interest rate.
  3. You choose a term that offers monthly payments you can afford
    1. A shorter term means higher monthly payments, but lower total costs
    2. Longer terms mean lower monthly payments, but higher total costs because there are more months to apply interest charges.
  4. Once approved, the money gets disbursed to your creditors to pay off your balances.
  5. This leaves only the loan to repay.

Option 3: Debt management program

This is a professionally assisted way to consolidate debt. It’s the only solution that works regardless of your credit score. So, this is the only way to consolidate if you have bad credit.

  1. You request a free debt and budget evaluation from a certified credit counsellor.
  2. They evaluate your debt, credit and budget to see which solutions will work in your situation.
  3. If the DIY solutions listed above aren’t feasible, they check to see if you’re eligible for a debt management program.
  4. As long as you have the means to make a reduced monthly credit card payment, you typically qualify.
  5. If you’re eligible, you and the counsellor determine a consolidated monthly payment that you can afford.
  6. Then, they call each of your creditors to negotiate. The goals are:
    1. Get your creditors to agree to have their debt included in the program
    2. Negotiate to reduce or eliminate interest charges and penalties
  7. Once all your creditors sign off, the program starts
    1. You make one payment to the credit counselling agency each month
    2. They distribute the money amongst your creditors

How to decide which credit card consolidation option is the right one use

Choosing a good option is highly dependent on your unique financial situation. Credit will be a big factor, because do-it-yourself choices aren’t viable with a bad credit score. Your budget and free cash flow matter because they determine what monthly payment you can afford.

Finally, the total amount of debt that you have to repay matters. DIY solutions are often not effective with larger volumes of debt. If you have more than $75,000 or $100,000 of debt to pay off, you probably need help.

Our guide to credit card consolidation can help you improve your financial knowledge. Learn how to improve your spending habits by speaking to one of our trained credit counsellors today.

Related to: Guide to Credit Card Consolidation 

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