A Guide to Consolidating and Refinancing Student Loans

Student loan consolidation and refinancing can help you manage your debts, reducing monthly payments, creating more favorable terms, and ensuring you have more money in your pocket at the end of the month. 

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But how do these payoff strategies work, what are the differences between private loans and federal loans, and how much money can consolidation save you?

Private and Federal Student Loan Consolidation

Federal student loan consolidation can combine multiple federal loans into one. Private consolidation can combine both federal loans and private loans into a new private loan. The act of consolidation can improve your debt-to-income ratio, which can help when applying for a mortgage and greatly improve your financial situation.

Which Loans Qualify for Student Loan Consolidation?

You can generally consolidate all student loans, including Federal Perkins loans, Direct loans, and other federal loans, as well as those from private lenders. You cannot consolidate private loans with federal loans, but you can consolidate them with other private loans.

What Should you Think About Before Consolidating Student Loans?

Consolidating isn’t just something to consider if you’re struggling to meet current terms. In fact, private lenders often require a minimum credit score in the high-600s and you’ll also need to have a stable income (or a cosigner) and a history of at least a few punctual payments.

Federal student loans are a little easier to consolidate and available to more borrowers, including those looking to qualify for income-based repayment or student loan forgiveness schemes.

In either case, it can reduce your monthly payments, making your loans more manageable.

How to Consolidate Private Student Loans

Some of the private lenders offering this service include:

  • LendKey
  • Citizens One
  • CommonBond
  • SoFi
  • Earnest

The rate you receive will depend on your credit score and whether you opt for a variable interest rate or a fixed interest rate, but generally, they range from 3% to 8%. Each lender has their own set of terms and requirements, but they’ll often require you to:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have no more than $150,000 in debt
  • Be the main borrower (not the cosigner)
  • Complete a credit check

The lender will run some basic checks to determine your creditworthiness before offering you a consolidation sum that will clear your debts and leave you with a single monthly payment. There are different types of private loan depending on whether you’re applying to consolidate just private loans or both federal loans and private loans.

If you only have federal loans, you should apply for federal student loan consolidation instead.

What Will I Pay?

The main goal of student loan consolidation is to reduce your monthly payment. If you have a strong credit score you can get a reduced interest rate and may even benefit from a reduced repayment term. However, as with most forms of consolidation, it’s all about reducing that monthly payment, improving your debt to income ratio and increasing the money you have leftover every month.

Shop around, consider all loan terms carefully, run some calculations to make sure you can meet the monthly payment, and compare repayment options to find something suitable for you.

Don’t feel like you need to jump at the first offer you receive. A personal loan application can show on your credit report and reduce your credit score by as much as 5 points, but multiple applications with multiple private lenders will be classed as “rate shopping”, providing they all occur within 14 days (some credit scoring systems allow for 30 or 45 days).

How Federal Debt Consolidation Loan Works

Federal student loan consolidation won’t reduce your interest rate, but it does make your repayments easier by rolling multiple payments into one and there is no minimum credit score requirement either.

When you consolidate federal student loans, the government basically clears your existing debt and then replaces it with a Direct Consolidation Loan.

You can consolidate directly through the government, with the loan being handled by the Department of Education. There are companies out there that claim to provide federal student loan consolidation on behalf of the government, but some of these are scams and the others are unnecessary—you can do it all yourself.

You can apply for consolidation once you graduate or leave school and you will be given an extended loan term between 10 and 30 years.

Just visit the StudentLoans.gov website to go through this process and find a repayment plan that suits you.

What is Student Loan Refinancing?

Student loan refinancing is very similar to consolidation and the two are often used interchangeably. In both cases, you apply for a new loan and this is used to pay off the old one(s), but refinancing is only offered by private lenders and can be used to “refinance” a single loan.

The process is the same for both and in most cases, you’ll see “consolidation” being used for federal loans and “refinancing” for private loans.

Student Loan Forgiveness and Other Options

You may qualify to have your federal student loans fully or partially forgiven. This is true whether you have previously been accepted or refused for repayment plans and it can help to lift this significant burden off your shoulders.

  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): Offered to government workers and employees with qualifying non-profit companies. You can have your federal loans forgiven after making 120-payments. This program works best with income-focused repayment plans, otherwise, you may have very little left to forgive (if anything) after that period.
  • Teacher Loan Forgiveness: Teachers can have their federal student loans partially forgiven if they have been employed in low-income schools for at least five years. They can have up to $17,500 forgiven.
  • Student Loan Forgiveness for Nurses: Nurses can qualify for PSLF and this is often the best option for getting federal student loans forgiven or reduced. However, there are a couple of highly competitive options, including the NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program.

There are also Income-Driven Repayment Plans, which is definitely an option worth considering.

Income-Driven Repayment Plans

An income-focused repayment plan is tied to your earnings, taking between 10% and 20% of your earnings, before being forgiven completely after 20 or 25 years. There are four plans:

  • Pay as you Earn (PAYE): If you have graduate loans and are married with two incomes then you may qualify.
  • Revised Pay as you Earn (REPAYE): Offered to individuals who are single, don’t have graduate loans, and have the potential to become high earners.
  • Income-Based Repayment: If you have federal student loans but don’t qualify for PAYE.
  • Income-Contingent Repayment: If you have Parent Plus loans and are seeking a reduced monthly payment.

These programs can greatly reduce your monthly payment and your obligations, but they are not without their disadvantages. For instance, they will seek to extend the repayment term to over 20 years, which will greatly increase the total interest you pay. If anything is forgiven, you may also pay taxes on the forgiven amount.

You can discuss the right option for you with your loan servicer, looking at the payment term in addition to your current circumstances and projected income as well as your student loan terms.

Conclusion: Help and More Information

Student loan refinancing and consolidation can help whether you’re struggling with federal loans or private loans, and there are multiple options available, as discussed in this guide. If you have credit card debt, personal loan debt, and other obligations weighing you down, you may also benefit from a debt management plan, balance transfer credit card, or a debt settlement program.

You can find information on all these programs on this site, as well as everything else you could ever want to know about federal student loans and private loans.