Student loan debt is at an all-time high. About 44 million Americans owe $1.4 trillion in student loan debt and 11% of them are more than 90 days delinquent.
If you have student loans, getting rid of them ASAP is likely one of your top priorities. Consolidating several student loans into a single loan can help you simplify your finances, lower your interest rates, and even reduce your monthly payments.
But is it right for you? We’ve created a comprehensive guide to student loan consolidation to help you decide.
What is student loan consolidation?
When you consolidate your loans, you combine your current federal or private student loans into one loan. This can save you money and simplify your payments but you could lose some benefits.
First, a primer on some basic jargon you need to understand. Strictly speaking, only federal student loans can be consolidated. If you qualify, the government combines your federal loans into a more manageable loan but it doesn’t lower the overall interest rate. In fact, you could end up paying more interest if it lengthens the overall term of your debt.
When you consolidate private lenders, it is called refinancing. Do it right and you can lower your rate and save you money, but you could lose some of the consumer protections included in federal loans.
Federal Student Loan Consolidation
Federal consolidation is done through the Department of Education and cannot include private student loans. The goal is to simplify your payment process. If you extend the duration of the loan, you may also get lower monthly payments.
You are unlikely to save money in a federal consolidation. The Federal Government simply adjusts the terms to make payment easier. The total amount you’ll have to pay in the end will almost be the same.”
Once consolidated, your new fixed interest rate will be the weighted average of your previous rates, rounded up 1/8 of 1%. You’ll also get a new loan term ranging between 10 and 30 years.
You are unlikely to save money in a federal consolidation. The Federal Government simply adjusts the terms to make payment easier. The total amount you’ll have to pay in the end will be the same, but the interest paid could increase if you take longer to repay the loan.
Consolidating loans via the Department of Education can qualify you for an income-driven repayment plan. This government program will set a limit on your monthly payments based on a percentage of your income. The length of the repayment term will be adjusted accordingly.
Pros and cons of federal consolidation:
Compare the pros and cons of consolidating your federal student loans to make a better decision.
- Guaranteed fixed interest rate.
- Can qualify you for income-driven repayment plans.
- You’ll only need to make one payment.
- The possibility of lower payments.
- Easier payment scheme allows you to avoid defaulting on your payments.
- Multiple repayment plans to choose from.
- Can restart the clock on deferments and forbearance up to three years.
- You can arrange an automatic debit with your bank, so your consolidated student loan payment is made each month automatically, which could help improve your credit score.
- Rounded-up interest rate means you’ll pay more interest over time.
- Can’t include private loans in the consolidation.
- You may lose some federal loan benefits.
- Loss of grace period.
- No do-overs. Once you’ve consolidated your loans, you can’t break them up again.
The process of federal student loan consolidation
Before you go online to begin the process, make sure you have all of the information about each loan you plan to consolidate. Once you’re prepared, visit the U.S. Department of Education to access an application and begin the process.
You can fill out and submit the application online, or print it out and mail a copy.
After this, the consolidation servicer will consolidate your eligible loans and will be your point of contact for all questions about the process. According to Walker, the process for federal consolidation typically takes 60-90 days.
It’s important to keep making payments on your current loans until you’ve been informed that you have a new consolidated loan.
Private Student Loan Consolidation
This type of consolidation — typically called student loan refinancing — is done through a private lender. The lender combines your student loans into one larger loan resulting in one monthly payment. You can include both federal and private student loans.
Each lender has multiple variations on refinancing offers: multiple years for repayment, fixed vs. variable, co-signed vs. non-co-signed. It’s important to shop around and do your homework before committing to a particular lender.”
The purpose is to lower interest rate, lower your monthly payment, or both. As with any private loan, the interest rate will be based on a variety of factors including your credit score, employment history, income, and educational background.
Compare the pros and cons of refinancing your student loans to make a better decision.
- Can cost more in the long run if you extend the payment term too much
- Loss of grace period
- You’ll miss out on loan forgiveness, cancellation programs, and income-based repayment plans offered by federal loans
Mix and match your type of consolidation
There is a third option for consolidation: a mixture of private and federal consolidation. Some borrowers consider doing both: consolidate the federal loan debt and refinance the private loan debt.
This way you won’t be stuck with high-interest loans, and your low-interest loan will retain all of the perks that go with federal student loans.
When might this make sense?
If you have both federal and private loans right now, you could combine the federal loans through federal consolidation in order to reap the benefits offered by going this route, such as the ability to defer your loan or switch to income-based payments if you suffer a hardship.
Then, you could take the private loans and refinance or consolidate them privately to get a better rate for that set of loans.
Student Loan Consolidation Guide – Take action
Applying for student loan consolidation usually takes less than 30 minutes. All you’ll need to do is provide a detailed list of the loans you want to consolidate.
Start with these lenders. They offer the lowest rates and most flexible terms
The good news is, we’ve done most of the initial research for you. To get started finding your best private consolidation options, check out SuperMoney’s student loan review page to compare all the top lenders today.