Debt Consolidation Calculator

Debt consolidators claim that they are saving you money, but this isn’t exactly truthful in all cases. In all actuality, many of them are just decreasing your monthly payment while, at the same time, stretching out the period of time it will take to pay off your debts. With this calculator, you will see if debt consolidation is a truly advantageous course of action.

For as many as 15 individual debts, enter the following information: principal balance, interest rate, payment amount, interest cost, and number of payments remaining. Totals for principal balances, interest costs, monthly payments, and scheduled payments will be tabulated automatically.

Once you’ve entered your debts, input the interest rate you’ve been offered by a debt consolidator, followed by the loan term and any associated consolidation fees. Press “Compute Consolidation Costs” and you’ll see the differences between consolidating and not consolidating. If you find that debt consolidation will stretch out your payment into the indefinite future, you may decide against this method of easing the monthly debt payment burden. Then again, you may decide that the monthly savings are more than worth it.

IMPORTANT: Each debt must have the first four fields filled in (for interest-free debts enter .001 to the interest-rate field).

 Entry Columns Calculated Columns # PaymentDescription PrincipalBalance InterestRate PaymentAmount InterestCost # of PmtsLeft 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Totals Consolidation Loan Terms Enter the Consolidating Loan's Annual Interest Rate (APR): Enter the Consolidating Loan's term (number of years): Enter total of any Consolidation Loan Fees: Results WithoutConsol-idating WithConsol-idating Difference Total of Monthly Payment(s): Months until debts are paid off: Total Cost (Interest Charges and Loan Fees): Summary:

What You Need to Know Before Consolidating Your Debt

Are you drowning in debt? Feeling confused and flustered by the many payments you owe to different creditors? If so, there may be a solution to your problem: debt consolidation.

Debt consolidation sounds simple enough. With the help of a credit counselor, bank, or credit card company, you lump all of your debts into one big bill and pay that albatross off bit by bit. A good credit counselor can even help you get a reduction in your interest rate, making payments smaller and enabling you to pay off your debt faster.

Debt consolidation is an excellent option for many people, but it's not as simple as most consumers would like it to be. Yes, you can consolidate your payments. Yes, you can sometimes score an appealing reduction in your interest rate as well. But how do you know which type of debt consolidation is best for you?

In this article, we'll tell you about three options you have for consolidating debt. We'll also tell you about the pros and cons of each choice. The information we present may help you decide what to do about any excessive debt you've been struggling to pay your creditors.

Before you leap into a debt consolidation plan, take some extra time to review this article's Takeaway Tips. After all, your finances are one of your most precious resources. Every step you take in this process deserves careful consideration.

Option #1: Enlist the Help of a Credit Counselor

A great perk of living in the U.S. is that you can get free or low-cost credit counseling when you need it. This help comes in the form of a credit counselor who works for a credit counseling agency.

When searching for a credit counselor, be sure to select one that works for a non-profit agency. This piece of advice comes directly from the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC. According to this government-owned consumer advocacy group, the most reputable and trustworthy credit counselors work in a non-profit setting.

That being said, a "non-profit" status doesn't guarantee that an agency is free or low-cost. Beware of agencies that ask you to make voluntary payments that would ultimately increase your debt total. Seek agencies that give free information about their services without asking for anything in return.

Accreditation

Once you've found an agency that you trust, make sure the counselor you're scheduled to work with is accredited by either the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies (AICCCA) or the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). Counselors who belong to these agencies have passed rigorous certification programs that qualify them to give you the very best service possible. And when it comes to your financial health and future, you should accept only the very best.

Eagle Eyes

Once you begin working with a counselor, keep a watchful eye over his or her practices and behavior. Make sure the counselor answers all of your questions clearly; one of a counselor's main jobs is to educate those who struggle with their finances. Expect clear, regular communication from your counselor, and don't accept counsel from someone who acts judgmental or tries to intimidate you. Most importantly, ensure that he or she makes your payments on time. (More about counselor-made payments later in this article.)

Takeaway Tips:

• Find a counselor through an accredited, non-profit agency to help you create a debt consolidation plan.
• Find a counseling service that is free or low-cost.
• You deserve a counselor that respectfully helps and educates you. If your gut tells you that something's not right, find another person to help.

You're Putting A Lot of Responsibility in Someone Else's Hands

When you consolidate debt through a credit counseling agency, you entrust your counselor and/or the agency to make regular payments to debtors on your behalf. This is good for you because instead of writing multiple checks to multiple creditors, you write one check to the agency, and they disperse your money. Placing your money in someone else's hands, however, requires an element of trust that not all of us innately possess. That's why it's important to find a certified counselor you believe in.

Takeaway Tips:

• When you consolidate debt through a credit agency, you entrust your finances to a third-party.
• Putting your financial future in the hands of another person requires faith and trust. When done right, this process can relieve your stress considerably.

Everybody Follows the Same General Plan

Whether you owe \$5,000 or \$50,000, the repayment plan you'll follow with a credit counselor is essentially the same. Your counselor will calculate your total debt and figure out how much you'll need to pay per month in order to wipe your slate completely clean within 36-60 months.

Obviously, it will take a much higher monthly payment to eradicate a \$50,000 debt than it will a \$5,000 debt within this short time frame. Your counselor should try to negotiate your payments down as much as possible in order to make this a more comfortable process for you. Many creditors willingly grant counseling agencies the reductions they request, but not all do. If you happen to owe money to a creditor who refuses to budge on finance charges, you are out of luck.

The monthly amount you pay your counseling agency remains the same even as your debt decreases. When all debt is paid off, your monthly obligation will end. You can speed up the entire process by paying more per month than you owe. However, this is not always possible for people who need debt consolidation.

Takeaway Tips:

• No matter how much you owe, your debt consolidation counselor will figure out a plan in which you pay off all of your bills within 36-60 months.
• Even as some bills get paid off, you'll continue to make the same numerical payment to the agency each month. This will continue until the entire debt is eradicated.
• You can speed up the process by paying more per month than you owe, but this is not a requirement.

Option #2: A Debt Consolidation Loan

Many banks and credit unions advertise debt consolidation loans as a straightforward way of getting out of debt. Your bank/credit union gives you the money to pay off all your lenders, including credit card companies. You, in turn, pay the bank back at a lower interest rate that will (supposedly) save you money.

This certainly is a tempting solution, and for some people it makes sense. But before you jump into such an agreement with your bank or credit union, figure out if you could actually save money without their help. Will the monthly payment you make to your bank be greater than the amount you're paying each creditor now? If so, a debt consolidation loan is probably not the most practical idea. Could you feasibly take care of unsecured debt on your own by making higher monthly payments? If so, that might be the smarter idea.

Remember, a debt consolidation loan is a financial product. Your bank wants you to buy into it because they'll make money off of you. Sadly, many people who get themselves into a bank-sponsored debt consolidation loan end up paying more money in interest than they would have if they'd handled things on their own. Why pay your bank to do something you could do yourself?

Takeaway Tips:

• Banks and credit unions offer tempting debt consolidation loans.
• Do your own math before buying into one of these deals. In some cases, you would actually save money by handling things yourself.

Option #3: Credit Card Balance Transfers

It's possible that you won't have to interact with a bank or credit counselor to consolidate your debt. Some people get the relief they need by obtaining a balance transfer through a credit card company.

When you get a balance transfer, you convert your high-interest debt to a lower interest debt by switching credit card accounts. For example, Dave is carrying a \$7,000 debt on a Discover card with 12.99 percent APR. His interest payments have climbed almost as high as his monthly minimum payment. To save money, Dave accepts a zero-percent balance transfer offer from Visa. He uses the credit extended by Visa to pay off his Discover card.

Dave's \$7,000 debt hasn't gone away, but it's now sitting in a zero-interest Visa account instead of a 12.99 percent Discover account. Granted, the zero-interest terms will probably only last between six and twelve months. After that, it's likely to skyrocket up to the same APR as Dave's Discover credit card. However, Dave now has a short reprieve from the abhorrent interest rate that he was paying to his first creditor. In this time frame, he can apply the money he saves on interest to the actual debt.

Balance transfers aren't free. You can expect to pay a flat fee or a percentage of the entire balance to the new creditor. You must also be very careful to pay your balance on time. If you don't, the company that extended you the zero-percent interest offer could jack up your rate. However, if you're diligent about making payments and don't rack up extra charges on your interest-free card, you're likely to come out ahead – at least in the short term.

Takeaway Tips:

• Yet another option for consolidating debt is to obtain a zero-interest credit card and transfer your high-interest balances to that account.
• If you transfer your balance to another card, it's very important that you make payments on time. If you're late on a bill, you could lose your interest rate.
• Zero-interest periods don't last forever. Typically, they last between six and twelve months.

Before you contact a credit counseling agency, you would be wise to check your credit report. You might feel nervous about doing this, but it's in your own best interest to grab the bull by the horns and check it. According to the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, one in five people has an error on at least one of their three credit reports. The three agencies that gather this information are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

An unfavorable error on your credit report can make your financial life miserable. People with lower credit scores are less likely to be approved for credit and less likely to get loans with low interest rates. If you find an error on your report, you should dispute it by taking the steps recommended by the Fair Credit Reporting Act, or FCRA. Up to 80 percent of people who dispute credit report errors see an improvement in their credit standing, according to the FTC.

So how do you check your credit report? The FTC recommends you use the free service provided by AnnualCreditReport.com. If you go to the website and fill out the requisite forms, you'll receive current reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Red flags to watch for on these three reports include credit charges you did not make, information about accounts you did not open, and unfamiliar account numbers, names, and addresses.

File any necessary disputes using the steps recommended by the FCRA. These steps include writing a letter of dispute to the reporting company (Experian/Equifax/TransUnion) and a second letter of dispute to the entity that reported the negative information in the first place.

Takeaway Tips:

• Errors on your credit report could be making your financial life more miserable than it has to be.
• The FTC recommends you check your credit report once a year using AnnualCreditReport.com.
• If you find an error on your report, send dispute letters to all involved entities as outlined by the FCRA.

Debt consolidation is a viable option for people who feel overwhelmed by debt. When done right, it's a practical solution that can dramatically reduce your stress level and improve your finances. However, it's not always easy to know how to proceed with a debt consolidation. Before you leap into any debt consolidation program, be sure you understand the options and Takeaway Tips outlined in this article. Your efforts could save you a lot of time and money.