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There is probably a reputable credit-counseling agency where you live. If so, it should be able to provide you with either free or low-cost advice on how to manage your debt. You will be assigned a counselor that will review your finances, help you prepare a budget and provide you with tips for getting your finances under control.
Don’t sign up for a debt management plan
Your credit counselor might try to talk you into a debt management plan. Don’t agree to this without understanding it could take you as long as five years to complete it and you might have to give up all your credit cards.
Do talk with your mortgage holder
Reputable mortgage companies will usually work with you if you're having a temporary problem. As soon as you see that you're having trouble, call the company. It may be willing to temporarily suspend your payments, accept reduced payments for a period of time or let you pay interest only. Alternately, you might extend your term or the amount of time required for repayment, which would reduce your payments.
However, your best bet might be to totally refinance the loan. For example, there is a federal program called HARP (Home Affordable Refinance Program) where you could refinance and lower your payments even if you owe more on your house than it’s worth.
Don’t borrow from your life insurance
If you have a whole life policy, you could borrow against its cash value. This is usually a low interest loan that would get you quick cash to pay off your debts. However, there can be tax implications on the money you borrow. Plus, if you don't repay the loan, the money will be subtracted from the amount your beneficiary receives.
Do try to pay off your debt quickly
One of the downsides of a consolidation loan is that you may have lower monthly payments but your repayment will be spread out over a longer period of time so you'll be paying more, sometimes a lot more, on a consolidation loan then you would have to otherwise. Figure out your budget and then set the monthly payment on your loan as high as you possibly can. The quicker you pay off that loan the more money you’ll save and the faster you’ll be out of debt.
Don’t get the wrong type of loan
It's important to understand there are two types of debt consolidation loans – secured and unsecured. Second mortgages, home equity loans and secured lines of credit are secured loans – that is an asset such as your house secures them. These loans usually have lower interest rates than the unsecured ones. In addition, if you get a home equity loan the interest you pay on it will probably be tax deductible. Of course, if you fall behind on a home equity loan, you could end up losing your house.
Unsecured loans can be a better option because you don't have to risk any assets such as your house. If you have decent credit you should be able to get one of these loans at a good interest rate. But if you have poor credit you may find that you'll get a low rate only with a secured loan.
Do shop around
Finally, make sure you get quotes from several different lenders and compare the terms and the interest rates very carefully. Your best bet is often your own bank or credit union – especially for personal or unsecured loans. But it's always a good idea to shop around. When you do this, be sure to get your quotes in writing so you can compare lenders side-by-side. And make sure you understand all the fees associated with the loans as well as their terms and conditions.