When your personal finances teeter on the brink, your first instinct might be to do something drastic. Freeze your credit cards in a block of ice. Vow to never eat out again. Forgo your Netflix subscription.
These tactics may help, but financial experts say paying off debt requires a more comprehensive plan. One common strategy is debt consolidation, rolling multiple debts into a single loan or credit card at a lower interest rate.
“Consolidating debt into one spot can be empowering and helpful from a psychological standpoint because it feels manageable,” says Mathew Isaac, associate professor of marketing at Seattle University’s Albers School of Business and Economics.
But debt consolidation is not a solution for everyone.
Consolidation works best for high-interest-rate debts such as credit cards. Households that carried credit card debt last year had balances averaging $16,748, according to an annual study by NerdWallet, a personal finance website.
People whose income and expenses won’t allow them to resolve debt problems through consolidation or credit counseling should consider bankruptcy, says John Rao, an attorney at the National Consumer Law Center.
Consolidating your debt is only the start of a long process. Here are four keys to making it work.