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You may be contacted by private companies that offer to help you apply for a Direct Consolidation Loan, for a fee. There’s no need to pay anyone for assistance in getting a Direct Consolidation Loan. The fixed rate is the weighted average of the interest rates on the loans being consolidated, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent.

The loans that were consolidated are paid off and no longer exist.

Options to consolidate your credit card and other debts include a balance transfer credit card, an unsecured personal loan, a home equity loan or line of credit and a 401(k) loan.

The option that best suits you depends on your overall debt load, credit score and history, available cash and other aspects of your financial situation, as well as your self-discipline.

The agency should be organized, send payments and statements on time and offer strong consumer education and support. The payment is usually around 2.5 percent of the total debt, though in hardship situations, there is some wiggle room. Why consolidate bills if you can't pay for basic expenses or if there are better alternatives?

You can stop the plan at any time, and you can also pay more -- and get out of debt faster -- when you have extra funds. You wouldn't, which is the reason consolidation begins with a counseling appointment where your entire financial situation is assessed.

All examples are hypothetical and are for illustrative purposes.

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If you want to lower your monthly payment amount but are concerned about the impact of loan consolidation, you might want to consider deferment or forbearance as options for short-term payment relief, or consider switching to an income-driven repayment plan. Whom do I contact if I have questions about consolidation?There is no cap on the interest rate of a Direct Consolidation Loan.Then see what the monthly payment would be with a consolidated loan.Try adjusting the terms, loan types or rate until a consolidation plan fits your needs - and most importantly your budget!