What is debt consolidation? Basically, it involves rolling all your current loans into a single loan. Instead of having to pay multiple institutions multiple monthly repayments, you can instead just pay a single monthly repayment to a single company. “Why would you do that?”, one might ask. Well of course, there are some benefits, and there are some risks.
Let’s start with the benefits.
1. Less paperwork. Obviously, dealing with a single lender is a lot easier than having to deal with multiple.
2. Easier to budget. If you only have to budget for a single repayment during the month, then this makes things a lot easier. Juggling multiple repayments due at different times of the month can be very confusing.
3. Save on fees. If you’re only going through a single lender, this will probably mean that you will end up paying less in fees and charges overall.
4. Cash savings. Ultimately, the main reason you would want to consolidate your debt is to save money. By choosing a loan with a lower overall interest rate compared to your current loans, you’ll end up paying less per month and less in the long run.
But beware, there are some risks as well.
1. Longer loan term. Although the new loan may have an attractive interest rate with lower monthly repayments, a loan with a very long term will cost a lot more than you think. You’ll end up paying more in interest and fees over the long term.
2. Get deeper into debt. Debt consolidation may allow you to borrow more money. For example, if you transfer your current credit card debt onto your mortgage, you might be tempted to continue using your credit card and get yourself further into debt. This would defeat the purpose of consolidation.
3. Lose your home. By transferring unsecured debt (such as the debt on your credit card) into a secured debt (for example, using your home as security), if you’re unable to make repayments in the future, you might end up losing your home.
4. Equity stripping. Some dodgy lenders might convince customers who are desperate to save their home to sign up to a dodgy loan agreement. These usually have high fees which are paid out of the equity of your home. For example, before refinancing, one couple may have owned 16.2% of the equity in their home. After refinancing, they only owned 11.9%. That’s a loss of 26.5%.
And here’s the take-home message for today.
1. Make sure to read the fine print. Don’t let brokers convince you not to read the paperwork.
2. Understand all the fees and charges before you sign up.
3. Never sign a blank document.
4. Don’t believe unrealistic promises. Brokers who claim that they can get you of debt are con men. If they claim they can help you no matter how desperate your financial situation, then they are probably trying to swindle you.
But my number one recommendation would be:
5. Don’t get into too much debt. Too much debt will cripple you, so the best thing to do is to live within your means and stop trying to keep up with the Joneses.
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ASIC’s MoneySmart – Debt consolidation and refinancing