Knowing which are the best lenders to refinance and consolidate student loans is important if you have student debt. This article provides an in-depth review of the best lenders available and interviews the CEOs of our top choices.
The amount of student loan debt in the U.S. reached $1.4 trillion at the end of 2017 (source). According to the Federal Reserve’s Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit, 11% of that debt is over 90 days delinquent or in default.
That means more than one in 10 people are not keeping up with their repayments. If you are concerned about staying current with your student loans, there are proactive steps you can take.
First, if your loans are from the federal government, you should look into options such as income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness opportunities. These help to make loan payments more affordable and, in some cases, can settle the amount you owe completely.
If your loans are from private lenders, the above options won’t be available to you. The next step would be to shop around and find out if another lender can offer you a better deal.
Many companies offer student loan refinancing and consolidation. You just need to find one that best suits your needs.
After vetting a wide range of companies and interviewing executives from the top two, we’ve identified the best lenders for refinancing and consolidating student loans right now. Here they are.
LendKey is an online marketplace lending platform that includes over 300 lenders. However, the lenders are exclusively credit unions and community banks.
Often, these smaller institutions offer lower interest rates and more borrower-friendly terms than their larger counterparts. A lower interest rate means a lower monthly payment and total cost. That’s why this is a great option if you’re looking to refinance or consolidate your student loans.
To learn more about LendKey, we went straight to the source. Here is our interview with LendKey’s Founder and CEO, Vince Passione.
Which student loans are eligible for refinancing or consolidation through LendKey?
Passione: “LendKey’s lending partners offer borrowers the ability to refinance both their private and federal student loans, oftentimes consolidating multiple higher-rate loans into a single lower-rate loan.”
Are there any other LendKey eligibility requirements that students should be aware of when they are looking to refinance or consolidate their student loans?
Passione: “LendKey’s lending partners typically require that the borrower graduate from an eligible school and have at least $7,500 in student loan debt to refinance. They must also be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Upon pre-qualification, our lenders would assess credit-worthiness and render a decision similar to any other loan process.”
In your opinion, when is it a good time for students to consolidate their student loans?
Passione: “It really is an economic decision for the borrower; will refinancing save me money now in the form of a lower payment, or over the lifetime of the loan in the form of a lower interest rate? If the answer is yes, then someone should at least explore refinancing.
LendKey provides borrowers with the tools to help people answer this question, such as our refinance calculator. Also, checking rates and offers does not impact credit scores, so it only takes a few minutes of your time to possibly save thousands of dollars.”
What advantages does LendKey offer to students who are refinancing or consolidating their student loans?
Passione: “LendKey powers the LendKey Network, which gives borrowers access to hundreds of community banks and credit unions who put people over profits. LendKey Network allows borrowers to check their rate without affecting their credit score, and then be matched with lenders that they meet the qualifications for.
They can then finalize their loan online by choosing the rate and term option that’s right for them. The average borrower utilizing LendKey Network has saved an average of 2.20% of initial interest rate reduction on their loans, which creates about $10,000 in interest expense savings for the borrower over the lifetime of the loan.”
CommonBond was founded by a group of Wharton School MBA graduates who were frustrated with the lack of affordable options to fund their education. It aims to deliver competitive pricing, exceptional customer service, and a simple tech-enabled experience.
We interviewed CEO and CO-founder David Klein to learn more about CommonBond. Here’s what he had to say.
Which student loans are eligible for refinancing or consolidation through Commonbond?
Klein: “CommonBond refinances both federal and private student loans.”
Are there any other eligibility requirements with CommonBond that students should be aware of when looking to refinance or consolidate their student loans?
Klein: “Anyone who is a US citizen or permanent resident, has graduated from a four-year college, and is employed (or has a signed job offer) is eligible to refinance with CommonBond.”
In your opinion, when is it a good time to for students to consolidate student loans?
Klein: “Your existing student loans are accruing interest daily, so each day that you have a higher rate than you need to have, you’re losing money. At CommonBond, graduates can get a no-obligation rate quote from us to find out if they can save on their loans. It takes less than five minutes, you can do it from your phone or desktop, and there’s no impact to your credit score.”
What advantages does CommonBond offer to students who are refinancing or consolidating their student loans?
Klein: “There are a number of ways that CommonBond goes above and beyond to deliver the best possible experience for our members.
First, we help our members save money. CommonBond’s refinance loans save our members over $24,000 on average through our competitive rates. And there are no origination or application fees for refinancing. We’re committed to helping as many people as possible save money on their student loans, which is why we also offer the ability to add a cosigner if an applicant doesn’t qualify for a loan on their own.
Second, we look out for our members. That’s why we discharge our loans in the case of death or disability. And if members find themselves between jobs, we offer our CommonBridge program which allows members to enter forbearance in the case of economic hardship, while our Care team works with them to help them find their next career opportunity.
And third, we’re committed to improving not just the lives of our members, but the lives of children around the world. We’re the first and only finance company with a “one-for-one” social mission: for every loan we fund, we also fund the education in a developing country. This means that refinancing your loan also helps drive social good.”
College Ave launched in 2014 with the goal of making private student loans simple and affordable. It allows for online applications that take about three minutes and can even be completed from a smartphone.
After applying, you will get an instant decision on whether or not you’ve been approved. Applying won’t hurt your credit score, so you can easily find out if refinancing or consolidating with this company will save you money.
We interviewed Joe DePaulo, CEO and co-founder of College Ave Student Loans, to get a better understanding of how College Ave is different to other lenders.
Which student loans are eligible for refinancing or consolidation through College Ave Student Loans?
Are there any other eligibility requirements with College Ave Student Loans that students should be aware of when looking to refinance or consolidate their student loans?
In your opinion, when is it a good time to for students to consolidate student loans?
What advantages does College Ave Student Loans offer to students who are refinancing or consolidating their student loans?
Earnest is another reputable online lender that helps students save money by refinancing their student loans. It offers innovative technology, an easy application process, and instant decisions without impacting your credit.
Here is a summary of our interview with Louis Beryl, CEO of Earnest.
Which student loans are eligible for refinancing through Earnest?
Any student loan is eligible for refinancing. That includes federal student loans and private loans. However, not all student loans have the same terms and rates, so you’ll want to do some research first to see which ones make the most sense to refinance.
The original rates you have on your student loans could vary widely depending on whether you borrowed from the government or a private lender, and if they were for undergraduate or graduate school.
Federal loans for undergraduate study tend to be more affordable and have low rates. Direct federal loans for graduate school tend to be more expensive with rates over 6%. Private student loans tend to be even more expensive with rates between 6-12%.
Are there any other eligibility requirements with Earnest that students should be aware of when looking to refinance or consolidate their student loans?
If you’re refinancing your loans, you’ll need to be able to show that you have steady, dependable income and can comfortably make the payments. That means you are employed, have a written job offer for a position that starts within six months or regular source of income. If your job situation or income isn’t rock solid yet, you might want to hold off on refinancing.
Also, take a look at your credit score. If you’ve graduated and have a job, chances are, your credit score has improved since college, which can help you get a better rate. However, if your FICO score is below 660, you might wait until it’s higher before applying to refinance. You can review all Eligibility’s guidelines here.
What do you need to get ready to refinance with Earnest?
When you apply to refinance at Earnest, we want to offer you the best possible rate that’s customized to you.
To do that, we take into account tens of thousands of data points about your financial profile, including information about your savings, investments, and more. To get ready to refinance you’ll want to gather all pertinent information about your financial picture (savings accounts, 401(k) savings, other assets) that help build your profile.
You may also want to take a look at your credit report and see if there are any accounts in collections. Clearing up any delinquent accounts can help raise your credit score.
In your opinion, when is it a good time to for students to refinance student loans?
The best time to consider refinancing your student loans is typically when you get a full-time job after graduation or a raise at your current job—or get another regular source of income. With refinancing, lenders are looking for a steady cash flow—that assures them that you have the ability to pay back your debt consistently and they will reward that with lower rates.
If you’re not currently in a full-time job, then you might want to hold off on refinancing until you at least have an offer letter in hand.
Another life event where refinancing makes sense: Starting a family. If you’re starting to blend a budget with a partner or have a baby on the way, you’re probably thinking about bigger financial goals. That might be buying a house or saving for education.
What advantages does Earnest offer to students who are refinancing their student loans?
In addition to offering some of the best rates, we are one of the few lenders that allow you to select your own monthly payment that works with your budget—and we then tailor your loan (both rate and length of time you’ll be paying it) to match that amount. You can pick between a fixed or variable rate loan.
We also have some of the most flexible servicing for loans—and work with you and your schedule for repayment. For example, we offer you the option to skip a payment every 12 months, up to 12 times over the life of your loan as long as you are current on your loan.
Check with Earnest, as well as other lenders, to discover which company can offer you the lowest rate.
When you are approved to borrow from this lender, you get more than just a loan. You are welcomed as a SoFi member with access to networking events, career support, and wealth advice. However, It can be harder to get approved with SoFi than other lenders because they target borrowers with high credit scores and high-income levels.
If you do get approved, you can look forward to competitive interest rates when refinancing their student loans. Like the other online lenders, you can easily apply online without hurting your credit score.
FAQ about refinancing and consolidating student loans
When should you consolidate your student loans?
As pointed out by Klein and Passione, you should consolidate your student loans if you can pay less with another lender.
Can you consolidate private and federal student loans?
Can you consolidate a parent PLUS loan?
Yes, some lenders will allow you to consolidate parent PLUS loans. Make sure that the lender you are considering is able to work with all of the loan types you have.
Can you refinance a student loan?
Yes, both private and federal student loans can be refinanced.
Find the right lender for you
If you are one of the many graduates who are struggling to keep up with student loan payments, you have options.
The above-listed lenders stand out amongst the competition– particularly LendKey and CommonBond— and they all allow you to get a quote without hurting your credit score. You can apply with each, compare the offers against what you currently have, and choose the most cost-effective route.
To review and compare these companies and other top lenders, head over to our Student Loans Refinancing Review Page.
Jessica Walrack is a personal finance writer at SuperMoney, The Simple Dollar, Interest.com, Commonbond, Bankrate, NextAdvisor, Guardian, Personalloans.org and many others. She specializes in taking personal finance topics like loans, credit cards, and budgeting, and making them accessible and fun.