When a Debt Consolidation Loan Makes Sense (and When It Doesn’t)

Paying bills is rarely a fun experience. In fact, it can sometimes feel like the most stressful part of each month. This is especially true if you’re responsible for making payments on multiple accounts each month — the amount of time, money and brainpower you have to devote to the task goes up with each bill you owe. Seeing as the average American has four credit cards, it’s no wonder so many people feel overwhelmed when the bills come due.

One possible way to streamline this repayment process is to consolidate your debts. How? By taking out a loan for the purposes of repaying other outstanding debts in full. This brings the number of monthly debt payments down to just one. But before applying for a loan, it’s important to evaluate whether this strategy makes sense for you.

Here are four factors to help you determine whether you may be a good candidate for debt consolidation.

Factor #1: How Much Debt You Have

Debt consolidation loans are available in many sizes — from hundreds of dollars to double-digit thousands of dollars. What’s less important than the exact amount of your loan is how it compares to your income. Many loans require applicants to have a debt-to-income ratio (DTI) of 50 percent or less. The higher your DTI, the riskier you appear to lenders.

Factor #2: What Kind of Debt You Have

The next consideration will be looking at what kind(s) of debt you carry. Consolidation is more of an option for high-interest, unsecured debts like credit card balances and medical expenses than for something like student loan debt.

To reap the full advantages of consolidation, the interest on the debts you’d be wiping out must be higher than the amount you’ll pay on the loan. This is why credit card debt is such a good candidate; it’s notorious for carrying some of the highest interest rates, often around or above 20 percent.

Factor #3: Your Credit Score

Your credit score will play a major role in whether your loan application is accepted by lenders and what interest rate you’re able to secure on it. It’s often possible to take out debt consolidation loans with bad credit, but you’ll typically have to pay more — sometimes significantly more — in interest if you go this route. It’s important to calculate the costs of doing so against the benefits to determine if it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

Applicants with a low credit score may also have to take extra measures to secure a loan, like adding a cosigner with good credit or offering up an asset as collateral. Of course, these will add an extra layer of risk and responsibility, so you should always think carefully before going either of these routes.

Factor #4: Your Income Flow

As we mentioned before, your debt-to-income ratio becomes very important in debt consolidation. Lenders want reassurance you have a steady income stream coming in that exceeds how much you owe by a comfortable margin.

The terms of debt consolidation loans usually dictate you’ll be paying the loan back for years to come. It’s typically to expect repayment to take three to five years, but the final terms will depend on your exact financial situation. It’s important to have a plan for how you’ll make consistent monthly payments until you’ve repaid every penny, so your income matters a lot. Making even a single late payment on your consolidation loan can lead to extra fees, increased interest rates and credit damage.

It’s up to you to determine whether a debt consolidation loan makes sense for you based on these factors.