If the top item on your to-do list has been “figure out how to fix my credit” for months or even years now, the time may have come to actually do something about it. If you find yourself dodging the mailbox due to the pile of credit card bills likely lurking within, you may already be considering several options, including debt consolidation. In case you’re not familiar, debt consolidation is basically the process of getting all your debt in one place. That way, rather than worry about paying off separate creditors each month, you’ll only have to worry about making one monthly payment.

While consolidating may not be a bad idea, it’s important to understand that there are several ways to go about consolidating, and some will likely be a better idea than others. Here we’ll break down various ways to go about consolidating debt and help you figure out which, if any, are the best way to go when it comes to your individual situation.

Debt consolidation loans

A debt consolidation loan is a tantalizing offer which involves a bank or credit union giving you one a loan which you use to pay off all your credit cards. Once all your credit cards are paid off, you just make one payment each month to pay off the loan instead. While this may seem convenient, it’s not without its potential drawbacks. Before you decide if the loan route is for you, you’re going to want to do a bit of math.

First, figure out how much you’re already paying in various interest rates each month. The interest rates on some of your cards may vary, so figure them out individually and then add them all together to arrive at the grand total.

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Then find out how much the interest rate on a consolidation loan would likely be. Add the balances of all your credit cards together, apply the interest rate % to the grand total, and you’ll discover how much interest the whole endeavor would cost each month.

This is an easy way to figure out whether consolidation would actually help lower your interest rates or actually make them higher. Obviously, if you’re only going to end up paying more interest on the loan than you already are on the cards themselves, this may not be the best plan for you.

Balance Transfer consolidation

Another way to get all your debt in one place is to simply transfer it all onto a single, high-limit credit card. While this also serves the purpose of reducing your payments to one per month, whether or not it’s a good idea will likely come down to the chosen card’s APR. Most people who go this route chose to do so because they find a high-limit credit card that offers an intro 0% APR for the first 12 months.

That way, when they transfer all their other balances onto it, they can concentrate on paying down their debt without having to worry about interest for a while. The downside here can be that the odds getting approved for a low rate APR with bad credit aren’t always great. If, however, you’re able to do it, it isn’t an entirely bad option. Just be sure you find out whether the card has a balance transfer fee and how much it is, so you can factor that information in.

The largest downsides of both consolidation loans and the balance transfer technique actually come down to the same thing. Each effectively leaves you with a clean slate on all of the credit cards that got you into trouble in the first place. While this is indeed a good thing, it’s not going to be for long if you keep using them. Should you decide to consolidate through balance transfers or by taking out a loan, you’re honestly better off cutting up the offending cards so you’re not tempted to spend on them any longer. Otherwise, you’ll just end up with the same old monthly bills to pay on top of those for the loan or transfer card.

Credit counseling

There is yet another path to credit consolidation that you might want to look into if you really want to solve the problem at its core. There are a number of non-profit credit counseling companies that can help you consolidate all your bills into one monthly payment without requiring you to take out a loan or rely on a credit card.

Once you sign up with a credit counseling service, they’ll sit down with you and go over all of your bills. If you chose to sign up with the company, they’ll help you figure out exactly how much money you can reasonably put towards paying off all of your debts combined each month. Having arrived at a set amount, you’ll then make that one monthly payment to the credit counseling service. They’ll take the money, split it between your creditors each month, and send a payment to each on your behalf. The main point of this scenario is that once the company takes control of sending out your payments each month, they’ll be able to do some major negotiating on your behalf.

They’ll call all of your creditors, explain what you’re trying to do, and will usually be able to convince them all to stop charging you interest altogether. They’ll also negotiate with them to work out how much of your one monthly payment each will be willing to accept, even if it’s less than your current monthly minimum. Most creditors will take the bait, under the condition that you agree to no longer use the cards to make additional purchases. If you’ve found yourself in enough trouble with credit card debt to be looking into consolidation, this is likely a good thing. Do beware, however, that this form of consolidation may lower your credit score in the short run. Compared to bankruptcy or the damage you may do on your own if you’re in deep enough trouble, however, it may be able to help save it in the long run.