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“No lender should charge you upfront before you get the loan … A debt consolidation loan can wipe the slate clean and allow you to start fresh with zero balances on credit cards and other credit commitments.

and you certainly shouldn’t send money with a wire transfer or prepaid card,” Detweiler cautions. Although it may be tempting, avoid using your newly cleared accounts to shop or manage household expenses.

Before you apply for a debt consolidation loan, you should consider alternatives, figure out how you’ll make payments and make sure you’re finding the best rate available.

However, if you have multiple hard inquiries within a 45-day period, it’s considered rate shopping and will only count as a single credit inquiry. It’s best to stick with trusted, well-established lenders such as the ones recommended on our list.

When shopping for a debt consolidation loan, you should watch out for red flags including aggressive sales representatives, guaranteed approvals and quick-fix promises, as well as requirements such as upfront payments before loan approval or access to bank accounts for automatic withdrawals.

Once you know how much you can realistically allocate to paying down your debt each month, you can use the amount to determine terms for your loan.

The amount you pay on your debt consolidation loan each month will vary depending on the amount you borrow and how many years you will take to repay it.

This includes applying (with prequalification), choosing your loan terms, finalizing your application with a hard inquiry and finally, repaying the loan.