At a Glance
Debt consolidation isn’t right for everyone, but there are plenty of options for how to consolidate debt—including for people with bad credit. If you’re looking for ways to consolidate your debt without damaging your credit score, here’s a helpful checklist that we expand on below:
- Monitor your credit regularly
- Consider your debt-to-income ratio
- Keep credit utilization low
- List which debts you want to consolidate
- Make on-time payments
- Shop around for the best rates
- Factor in fees
- Consider pre-qualification
What is debt consolidation?
Debt consolidation helps you combine multiple debts—like credit cards, personal loans, medical bills—into a single monthly payment, keeping your recurring payments simple and predictable. Usually, the main benefits of consolidating your debt are streamlining your payments and lowering your interest rate so you can get out of debt faster.
What’s the best way to consolidate debt?
The best way to consolidate your debt depends on your individual situation. There are plenty of factors to consider, including:
- Your credit score and history
- Your total amount of debt
- The interest rates on your current debt
- Your income
- How much you trust yourself to keep up with payments
What debt do you want to consolidate?
Select all that apply
Others does not include mortgage
Should you consolidate debt?
Is consolidating your debt a good idea? Debt consolidation might work for you if you have:
- A decent credit score – The higher your score, the lower your interest rate on a loan.
- A steady job – Proof of income will help your approval chances because you’ll be able to make payments.
- Discipline – If you’re committed to getting out of debt, you’ll be sure to make your payments in full and on time without piling on more debt in the meantime.
- High-interest debts – Consolidation combines these debts while lowering your interest rate. A win-win!
Debt consolidation is probably not a good idea if you have:
- Very little debt – If you can pay off all your debt in the next year, don’t consolidate. Just come up with a plan.
- A ton of debt – Too much debt is also not the best reason to consolidate. If your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) is more than 50%, you’re not going to be able to make consistent payments anyway.
- Bad credit – Consider other options because your poor credit will likely lead to astronomical interest rates, which would be counterproductive.
- Little to no discipline – After all, debt consolidation doesn’t erase your debt, nor does it fix the behaviors that got you into debt in the first place.
How to consolidate debt without hurting your credit
There’s a right way and a wrong way to consolidate your debt. If you do it correctly, you’ll be able to combine your higher-interest debts into a single monthly payment with a lower interest rate—and you won’t hurt your credit in the process.
Here’s a helpful checklist for how to consolidate debt without hurting your credit.
Monitor your credit regularly
Your credit score may take a temporary dip because of the hard inquiry when your lender does a credit check. But it should bounce back quickly.
Consider your debt-to-income ratio
You may need to up your income and/or pay off smaller debts before consolidating. The debt snowball method is a great way to knock out those smaller balances and get some quick Ws.
Keep credit utilization low
The more of your available credit that you use, the higher your credit utilization ratio will be. This can hurt your score, so try to keep your credit usage down—especially if you’ve transferred your debt to a balance transfer card.
List which debts you want to consolidate
It’s good to know what you’re consolidating before you start looking for loans. Use a debt consolidation calculator to figure out how much of a loan you’ll need and whether consolidating your debt is even right for you.
Make on-time payments
Consistent, on-time payments help your credit score—and keeping up with monthly payments helps let creditors know you’re reliable while paying more than the minimum can help you save money on interest.
Shop around for the best interest rates and terms
Don’t take out a debt consolidation loan without making sure you’ll be able to cover the monthly payments. Missing payments could result in fees and damage to your credit score. Also, favorable terms should lower your interest rate.
Account for fees
If you’re creating a budget or doing the math on which debt consolidation terms are best, be sure to include potential fees in your calculations.
See if you pre-qualify
If you know you pre-qualify for a debt consolidation loan, you’ll have a good idea of the amount you might be approved for. Pre-qualification credit checks are soft inquiries, so they shouldn’t hurt your credit score.
How to consolidate debt with bad credit
Poor credit is not a death sentence. In fact, there are plenty of options for debt consolidation with bad credit. For a personal loan, you might need to get a cosigner who has good credit. Otherwise, your options will depend on whether you own a home.
Homeowners can consider the following:
- Home equity loan – A home equity loan acts as a second mortgage, allowing you to borrow a certain amount of money based on how much equity you own in your home. The catch is: Since you’re securing the loan with your home as collateral, you risk foreclosure if you default.
- Home equity line of credit – With a home equity line of credit (HELOC), you get access to a line of credit based on how much equity you have in your home. HELOCs act more like credit cards than loans.
- Cash-out refinance – By replacing your current mortgage with a new one, you’re able to borrow cash from your home equity. Cash-out refinances can help lower your mortgage rates, but you also risk foreclosure if you fail to make payments.
If you don’t own a home, here are some options for how to consolidate debt:
- Debt management plan – With a debt management plan (DMP), you work with a company to negotiate lower interest rates on your behalf. Instead of paying your lenders directly, you make monthly payments to this third-party company, who then pays out to your creditors. This is a great option for people with bad credit—just note that you won’t have access to credit until you’ve completed your payoff plan.
- Balance transfer credit card – For the well-disciplined, balance transfer credit cards can be an effective way to consolidate debt. Basically, you transfer your high-interest debt balances to a credit card that has a lower interest rate. Most balance transfer cards feature 0% APR introductory periods, which are great if you can pay off all your debt within 12-18 months. However, once that promotional period ends, you’ll face much higher interest rates.