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Which Is Better: Debt Consolidation Vs. Debt Settlement

6-Minute Read Time

It’s easy to fall into a financial hole, especially easy during the age of COVID-19, when many people are struggling with unemployment.

But there is hope for getting back on track! If your financial debt is soaring, you can turn to debt settlement or debt consolidation to help boost your financial health and cut down on the amount you owe to creditors.

Be aware, though, that debt consolidation and debt settlement are not the same thing. They both come with their own pros and cons, and they both provide different paths for paying down your debt.

Here’s a closer look at these debt-reduction strategies. Make sure to research both options to decide what works for you.

Debt Consolidation Vs. Debt Settlement

The biggest difference between debt settlement and consolidation is how you pay off your debt.

In debt settlement, you negotiate with your creditors, offering to pay less than what you owe. For instance, say you owe $10,000 to one of your credit card providers. You and your creditor might agree on a $7,000 payment. Once you make this payment, your creditor forgives the remaining $3,000 you owe on your card and wipes out the debt.

You will have to negotiate separately with each of your creditors if you owe money to several banks, lenders or financial institutions.

Debt consolidation works differently. In this payoff strategy, you may work with a debt consolidation company to gather all your debts into one single loan, with interest. You then make a payment that you can afford each month until you pay off all that you owe.

Keep in mind that with debt consolidation, your debt isn’t forgiven. It might be reduced. You might end up with a lower interest rate on your new loan. But that debt remains, and you still must pay it off with regular monthly payments.

This might make it seem as if debt settlement is the best choice. After all, a good chunk of your debt might be forgiven. But while debt settlement is the right choice for some consumers, it’s not a good choice for everyone. Debt settlement, like debt consolidation, comes with its own set of pros and cons.

Debt Settlement Pros And Cons

Debt settlement might sound enticing. But while there are positives, especially if your debt levels are high, there are also negatives.

Here are the pros of debt settlement:

A Portion Of Your Debt Might Just Disappear

The obvious benefit of debt settlement is that your creditors might forgive a portion of your debt. If you owe a lender $14,000 and you only have to pay $8,000 to make that entire debt disappear, that’s a good deal.

You Can Do It On Your Own

You don’t have to work with an outside company to settle your debt. You can contact your credit card providers or lenders directly and make offers to them. Just be aware: None of your creditors have to accept your offers.

But there are drawbacks to debt settlement, too, especially if you work with debt settlement companies instead of approaching lenders and banks on your own. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in fact, says that dealing with debt settlement companies can be risky.

Here are the cons of working with a debt settlement company:

They Can Be Expensive

Debt settlement companies charge varying fees, but you can expect to pay 15% to 20% of your total debt. If you owe $20,000, you can expect your debt settlement provider to charge you $3,000 to $4,000. The Federal Trade Commission warns that you should only work with debt settlement companies that list their fees in writing. And you should never work with one that charges its fees before it settles debt for you, the FTC says.

Debt Settlement Can Send Your Credit Score Plummeting

Debt settlement companies often ask that you not make any payments to your creditors while they’re negotiating on your behalf, but this can send your three-digit credit score plummeting. When you make payments on certain monthly debts – such as your mortgage, auto or student loans or credit cards – more than 30 days past your due dates, these missed payments are reported to the three national credit bureaus of Experian™, Equifax® and TransUnion®.

A single missed payment can send your credit score falling by 100 points or more. And these missed payments remain on your three credit reports for 7 years. If you miss several payments while your debt settlement company negotiates on your behalf, your score can take a serious dive.

Your Creditors Don’t Have To Accept Your Offer

A debt settlement company might make what it considers a fair offer to your credit card provider or lender. But there’s no guarantee that these financial institutions will agree to work with the debt settlement company or accept anything less than the full amount you owe them.

Pros And Cons Of Debt Consolidation Loans

A debt consolidation loan might result in a smaller hit to your credit score and might come with lower upfront costs. But paying off your debt with a debt consolidation loan can take more time.

Here are the pros of debt consolidation:

It’s Easier

With debt consolidation, you can take several monthly payments and turn them into just one total payment each month. Instead of juggling multiple payments, you can focus on making just one. This makes it less stressful to pay off your debt.

It’ll Stop Any Annoying Debt-Collection Calls

Once you’re paying off your debt consolidation loan each month, those calls from debt-collection agencies will stop.

You Might End Up With A Lower Interest Rate On Your Debt

The goal is to get a debt consolidation loan with an interest rate that’s lower than the average rate charged on the debt you’re consolidating. If you do this, you’ll save money as you pay back your loan over time.

Paying That Loan On Time Each Month Will Help Your Credit Score

Every time you make an on-time payment on your debt consolidation loan, it will be reported to Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Make these payments on time each month, and your credit score will improve steadily. MyFICO.com says that your payment history accounts for 35% of your credit score.

There are some cons to debt consolidation loans, too:

Loan Terms Depending, It Can Take Awhile

Unlike with debt settlement, it can take a long time pay off your debt using debt consolidation. That’s because creditors usually don’t forgive any of your debt in the process. You’ll have to steadily make your monthly payments – often over several years – to eliminate this debt.

You Need Discipline

Debt consolidation won’t work if you stop making payments on your new loan. It also won’t work if you continue to run up new charges on your credit cards. That’s why it often makes sense to work with a credit counseling agency when you’re consolidating debt. A nonprofit credit counselor can help you identify why you overspend. These professionals can also give you tips on how to reduce your spending and better manage your finances.

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The Types Of Debt Consolidation Loans

If you decide that debt consolidation is the best choice for you, prepare to do some research. There are different types.

Debt Consolidation Loans

These loans are basically personal loans. You’ll work with a lender who will provide you with a lump sum of cash, enough to pay off your existing debt. You’ll use these funds to pay off your debt. You’ll then make monthly payments on your new loan, with interest, to repay your lender.

Debt Management Plans

A debt management plan is not a loan. Instead, you'll work with a company that negotiates with your creditors to create a payment plan with a monthly payment that you can afford. Each month, you'll make a payment to the debt management company, which uses this money to steadily pay off your creditors. It can take up to five years to pay off your debt under such an arrangement.

Home Equity Loans Or Lines Of Credit (HELOC)

If you own a home, you can use a home equity loan or line of credit to tap the equity in it. Equity is the difference between what you owe on your mortgage and what your home is currently worth.

If your home is worth $200,000 and you owe $80,000 on your mortgage, you have $120,000 in equity. In a home equity loan, you’ll receive a lump sum from a mortgage lender. You can use this money to pay off your debt. You’ll have to repay the loan in monthly installments, with interest.

A home equity line of credit works more like a credit card, with your credit limit based on the amount of equity in your residence. You only pay back what you borrow. Be careful with these financial tools: If you don’t make your payments on time, your lender could take ownership of your home through the foreclosure process.

Credit Card Balance Transfers

If you are struggling with credit card debt, you can turn to balance transfers for financial relief. In a balance transfer, you move the money you owe on one credit card to a new credit card that you open. Many credit cards offer 0% interest on balance transfers for 6 to 12 months.

This means you’ll have this number of months to pay off your transferred debt without having to worry about paying interest. The drawback? If you don’t pay off your transferred debt before the introductory 0% offer ends, the new card will charge its standard interest rate on the debt left over.

Final Thoughts

Debt consolidation and debt settlement are useful tools for many facing financial hiccups. But neither of these debt-payment strategies is right for everyone. They’re also not your only debt-reduction options.

Look closely at your finances and spending habits before choosing one method. And once you commit to reducing your debt, make sure to keep in contact with lenders on repayment strategies and stop racking up any new credit card charges. Not changing your spending habits will doom any debt consolidation or settlement efforts.

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