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Your Guide to Handling High-Interest Debt

April 09, 2020 · 6 minute read

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Your Guide to Handling High-Interest Debt

When a person takes on debt—whether it’s a student loan, mortgage, car loan, or credit card balance—they’re likely paying interest on that debt. This is a charge paid to the lender for the opportunity to borrow money. But interest rates aren’t all created equal.

In some cases, borrowers could find themselves stuck with high-interest debt, which can add up faster than they may realize. If you happen to be stuck with high-interest debt, don’t despair. The worst thing a borrower can do is ignore the situation and fail to make payments.

A borrower may have options for lowering interest rates and getting payments under control. Depending on the type of debt, that could mean consolidating debt, or perhaps even taking out a personal loan. Here’s what a borrower could do if they’re struggling with high-interest debt:

Identifying High-Interest Debt

The first step to tackling high interest debt is figuring out if you have it. Inputting every debt currently owed into a spreadsheet might be a good start. In the first column would be the current amount owed on each debt. In the next column could be the annual percentage rate (APR) for each debt. Then, the debts can be sorted from the one with the highest interest rate to the one with the lowest interest rate.

How High-Interest Debt Can Dent Finances

High interest rates can be sneaky. A borrower may have taken out a loan without paying close attention to the fine print. They may have signed up for a credit card with a 0% introductory interest rate, only to have the rate shoot up after the introductory period. Or they may have opted for a loan with a variable interest rate, which often starts out relatively low but can increase dramatically over time.

High-interest debt can seriously hurt finances. By sucking up any extra cash and increasing debt-to-income ratio, it can potentially prevent someone from achieving certain life goals, such as buying a home, saving for retirement, or traveling. If payments become unmanageable, a borrower may risk going into default, which could set them up for a hit to their credit score or even bankruptcy and garnished wages.

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Options for Handling High-Interest Rates

Depending on the type of loan, here are some options for tackling those high-interest rates:

Student Loans

Whether it’s federal or private student loans, a borrower might be able to get a better interest rate if they refinance those loans, especially if they have a good credit score and solid income (among other factors that will vary by lender). Refinancing means consolidating all student loans—both private and/or federal—into a new loan with a (hopefully lower) interest rate through a private lender.

Keep in mind that refinancing federal student loans with a private lender means they will no longer be eligible for federal loan protections and perks like deferment or forbearance and income-driven repayment plans. So student loan refinancing won’t be right for everyone.

Credit Cards

Credit cards usually have the highest interest rates of all unsecured debt types—as of March 2020, the average APR for credit cards is above 21% . Borrowers who are stuck with a high balance on a credit card plus a high rate might want to consider a personal loan to pay it off.

An excellent credit score and steady employment might help a borrower qualify for a low-rate personal loan. Choosing a lender that doesn’tabove 21%
t charge origination fees or prepayment penalties could help to avoid extra charges.

Fixed (hopefully much lower) interest rates compared to credit cards and set repayment terms typical to personal loans can be helpful when looking for relief from the high-interest credit card debt burden, too.

Mortgages

If average mortgage interest rates have fallen, it may be a good idea to look into refinancing a mortgage. If eligible for mortgage refinance, a borrower may be able to lower their interest rate or pay off a mortgage faster. Shopping around for the best rate and considering lenders with cash-out refinancing options might be a good start.

Common Debt Repayment Strategies

No matter the interest rate, it’s often in a borrower’s best interest (get it?) to pay down debts in an effort to lead a debt-free lifestyle. Of course, if multiple debts are looming, it can be an overwhelming challenge to tackle.

Instead of giving up and declaring debt unconquerable, a borrower can follow one of the common debt repayment strategies listed below.

The Avalanche Method

With the avalanche method, a borrower can review the debt spreadsheet mentioned above to identify high-interest debts. While making minimum payments on all debts as required, a borrower can funnel extra money toward the debt with the highest interest rate first until it’s paid off, and then allocate that extra money to other debts in subsequent order of interest rate until those are paid off.

The logic behind this method is that, by saving money on the high interest rates, it should be easier to pay off lower-interest debts (and meet other financial goals) more quickly, even though the highest-interest debt may not be the loan with the largest balance. And while that’s a solid strategy, there is another common method that might sound better. (Yes, it also has a snow-related metaphor.)

The Snowball Method

The debt snowball method is another popular debt repayment strategy, but this one takes a different tack than the avalanche method above. Whereas the avalanche starts with the highest-interest loan, the debt snowball starts with the loan with the lowest total balance.

For instance, if a borrower has a credit card with just a few hundred dollars on it, then they’d start with that before moving onto the bigger debts, like student loans or a mortgage.

The logic behind this method is all about internal motivation. Reaching a money-related goal might make it easier for borrowers to motivate themselves to stick to an overall debt repayment plan. Since a smaller debt is a more manageable goal in the short term, paying off the smallest debt first could be a good way to get the snowball rolling, so to speak.

It might also be a more realistic strategy if a borrower doesn’t have a lot of extra money to throw at making large payments toward the highest-interest debt (but will still make all required minimum payments, of course).

Debt Consolidation: How Does It Work?

In some ways, debt consolidation might sound counterintuitive, because it does involve taking out more debt when a borrower already has multiple existing loans.

Basically, debt consolidation is a debt repayment method in which a borrower takes out another line of credit or debt with the express purpose of paying off existing debts. For example, instead of paying separate credit card bills, a borrower could take out a personal loan that would cover the balances on all other debts and pay them in full, then the borrower would repay only the personal loan.

This could be a significant financial improvement for a number of reasons. For one thing, it’s simply easier on a logistical level: When you’re dealing with multiple debts that are all due at different times of the month, it’s all too easy to accidentally miss a payment and fall behind.

But aside from keeping stress at bay every few weeks, debt consolidation could actually save you money. Let’s take a closer look at the example we outlined above, in which three existing debts are consolidated.

One common way to go about debt consolidation is to take out an unsecured personal loan in an amount that will cover existing debts. (There are other methods, however; for instance, some people perform a balance transfer from existing high-interest credit cards to a new credit card offering a promotional 0% interest rate.)

SoFi offers personal loans with competitive rates and, unlike many other lenders, SoFi loans don’t come with a bevy of hidden fees. That said, debt consolidation isn’t the only option when it comes to finding a way to ease a debt burden. After all, an unsecured personal loan is still a debt, although ideally a debt with better rates and terms than a credit card.

Refinancing

Instead of taking out another line of credit to cover multiple existing loans, with refinancing a borrower is taking out a new loan to cover one specific debt, often a mortgage or a student loan.

The power behind this financial move is pretty simple: If a borrower’s credit score or other qualifying factors have improved since the time they took out the original loan(s), they could be eligible for a loan with a more reasonable monthly payment or a lower interest rate. That could make it easier and/or faster to go through the snowball or avalanche methods described above, or simply to save up more money for other financial goals.

SoFi offers student loan and mortgage refinancing, as well as a broad range of other financial products that could help money woes back on track.

Struggling with a high interest rate? Refinancing with SoFi could help you get your debt under control. Learn more!


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