Others succeed because debt consolidation is part of a bigger plan to gain control over their finances.So the first step in debt consolidation is simply to consider whether it will actually work for you.

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Debt consolidation allows borrowers to roll multiple old debts into a single new one.

Ideally, that new debt has a lower interest rate that makes payments more manageable or lets borrowers pay off the total more quickly.

Many people try debt consolidation, but not all emerge better off.

Some borrowers wind up in worse shape, either because they run up their credit cards again or because their debt remains overwhelming despite the better repayment terms.

Consolidation works best as part of a larger plan to become debt-free; it shouldn’t just be a way to buy some breathing room.

If you are consolidating debt just to get a lower interest rate without really knowing how you’re going to pay the debt off, then you are simply moving the problem around instead of facing it.

You’ll have to change the behavior that got you into debt in the first place. Take a close look at your income and expenses and ask: If you answered “Yes” to either of these questions, skip down to read about your debt consolidation options.

If you owe more than half your gross income or if you can’t expect to pay off the debt within five years, then you should seek a debt management plan through a credit counselor or consider filing for bankruptcy.

Credit counselors can help with financial basics like creating a budget and managing cash flow, but they can also create a debt management plan for you.

“People usually wait too long to reach out to a credit counselor, because it’s human nature to try to do it on your own,” says Gail Pridgeon, senior credit counselor at Baltimore-based Guidewell Financial Solutions.

A debt management plan typically sets you up to pay off your debt within five years. Counseling agencies are different from debt settlement companies. “If your debt problem is bad enough that you require a debt management plan, then you should also consider making an appointment with a bankruptcy attorney,” says Nerd Wallet personal finance columnist Liz Weston.