Refinance and consolidate your debts

If you look back over the last ten years, this has been a real boom and bust period of time. For the first years, banks and finance companies let us borrow more money than we needed. Fortunately, there was a property bubble forming so buying a new more expensive home was a big winner. The housing equity grew real fast and provided ever more security for more loans. Changing homes after four or five years let us cash in and keep on building up our net worth. Except, all we were doing was going ever deeper into debt so that, when the property bubble burst and the recession hit, there was nowhere left to run. All our debts came home to roost.

Well, we have had just over a year to start sorting out our problems. Hopefully, you are one of the lucky ones who have managed to stay in work and keep up the instalment payments on your home. Although you may have negative housing equity, this is not all doom and gloom. Let’s start with how you have managed to survive. You stopped all the wild spending and began paying down the most expensive debts on your store and credit cards. You are still some way away from paying off all your debts. Very few people have managed to switch over to building up their cash savings. But you are better off than you were a year ago. Now look around. Interest rates have been at rock bottom for months. The Fed cut the headline rates to the bone and, slowly, this has filtered through the banking system. There is more cheap money around today. Except we still have the credit crunch. Banks are still reluctant to lend.

There are hundreds of neighborhoods around the country where repossessed homes are standing empty with resale values dragging along the bottom. While this persists, you only have one strategy. As soon as the value of your home rises above the amount outstanding on your current mortgage, you should consider refinancing. If you can switch from the existing more expensive home loan to one at current interest rates, you will shave thousands of dollars off the total you will pay over the lifetime of the mortgage. But there is a further possibility to consider.

Whenever you find you have some positive housing equity, you can negotiate a debt consolidation loan, i.e. instead of paying individual instalments to store and credit card carriers, you roll up all your debts into a single mortgage. This gives you a single monthly instalment to pay. With the right deal in place, you will find you save thousands of dollars a year in interest payments. You will pay off your debts at a significantly lower cost and soon be able to start saving. So the watchwords are patience and forward planning. You need to keep on paying down your existing debts. Show yourself as a responsible borrower and keep your credit score as strong as possible. Monitor the local housing market and see what is happening to resale values. You need to be ready to move when values start to pick up. You also need detailed accounts and a financial proposal ready to present to a mortgage or home loan broker. Be prepared with your own long-term rescue plan.

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