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However, if you've fallen behind on any of these and need to get caught up, you may be able to pay off your past due balances with a debt consolidation loan.

You just can't use that loan to continue to pay your new obligations going forward. There are several options, including going to a loan consolidation specialist or, if you're a homeowner with equity in your property, taking out a home equity loan to cover your debts.

First, you may be able to get a lower interest rate on your consolidation loan than you were paying on your various other debts.

With interest rates on credit cards often ranging from 12-18 percent, that can produce a real savings.

Generally, anything where you've incurred a debt that needs to be paid off over time - credit card bills, auto loans, medical bills, student loans, etc.

The exception would be your mortgage; if you're having trouble paying that, you need to work that out directly with your lender, perhaps through a loan modification.

This makes them useful for situations where you need money for periodic expenditures, such as home improvement projects, but there's nothing to stop you from simply making a one-time draw to consolidate your debts.

You're then left with one monthly bill to pay rather than several.

Many lenders specifically offer loans for this purpose.

Of course, this approach requires that you have fairly good credit - if your FICO credit score is in the mid-600s or lower, you may have trouble getting such a loan from a bank or credit union.

Home equity loans come in two major types a standard home equity loan and a home equity line of credit (HELOC).

The standard home equity loan is the most commonly used for debt consolidation because you borrow a single lump sum of cash, whatever you need to pay off your debts, and then pay it off over a period of years at a fixed interest rate.

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