Here's what you need to know about refinancing student loans

Should I Refinance My Fed Loans? Here’s What You Need to Know



If you’ve thought about refinancing student loans, chances are your next question is whether you can refinance federal student loans. After all, most of the $1.4 trillion in outstanding student loan debt is made up of fed loans.

The short answer is yes— you can refinance federal student loans with a select few private lenders, including SoFi. This is great news for borrowers with high-interest rate federal unsubsidized or PLUS loans.

However, there are a few things to be aware of before you refinance fed loans. We’ve gathered the most frequently asked questions from our blog and social media channels about federal student loan refinancing to help you decide whether it’s right for you.

1. What’s the difference between refinancing and consolidating federal student loans?

When you consolidate federal loans through the Direct Loan Consolidation program, the resulting interest rate is the weighted average of the original loans’ rates, which means you don’t save any money. If your monthly payment goes down, it’s usually the result of lengthening the loan term, which means you’ll spend more on total interest in the long run.

Related: Student Loan APR vs Interest Rate – 5 Essential FAQs

When you refinance federal and/or private student loans, you’re given a new—ideally, better—interest rate based on your financial profile. That lower rate translates to total interest savings, and you may be able to lower your monthly payments or shorten your payment term.

2. Are previously consolidated loans eligible to be refinanced?

Typically, yes.

3. Can I combine federal and private student loans together through refinancing?

Yes, if the lender allows federal student loan refinancing.

4. What are the benefits of refinancing federal student loans?

The main benefit is savings. If you refinance federal loans at a lower interest rate, you can save thousands over the life of the new loan. You can also lower your monthly payments or shorten your term (the latter means higher monthly payments but more total interest savings). Plus, you may be able to switch out your fixed rate loan for a variable rate loan (more on variable rates below).

Recommended: A Visual Timeline of Student Loans – Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Headed

5. What are the potential disadvantages of refinancing fed loans?

When you refinance federal loans with a private lender, you lose the benefits and protections that come with government-issued student loans. Those benefits fall into three main categories:

DEFERMENT/FORBEARANCE

Most federal loans will allow you to put payments on hold through deferment or forbearance when experiencing financial hardship. Deferment allows you to pause subsidized loan payments without accruing interest, but unsubsidized loans will still accrue interest. Forbearance allows you to reduce or pause payments, but interest usually accrues during the forbearance period. Some private lenders do offer forbearance; so check lender policies before refinancing.

SPECIAL REPAYMENT PLANS

Federal loans offer extended, graduated, and income-driven repayment plans (such as Pay As You Earn, or PAYE), which allow you to make lower payments than the standard plan. It’s important to note that these plans typically cost more in total interest over the life of the loan. Private lenders do not offer these programs.

POTENTIAL LOAN FORGIVENESS

Some federal loans are eligible for forgiveness under certain circumstances. The most common forgiveness programs are for public service workers or teachers, or those who’ve participated in an income-driven repayment plan for 20 or 25 years, depending on the plan. Private loans do not offer forgiveness.

Related: Your 6-Step Plan for Managing Student Loans – And The Tools To Help You Do It

6. Who typically benefits from federal student loan refinancing?

We see a lot of borrowers refinancing graduate student loans, since federal unsubsidized and Grad PLUS loans have historically offered less competitive rates. In order to qualify for a lower interest rate, it’s helpful to show strong income and a history of managing credit responsibly. The one thing all refinance borrowers have in common is a desire to save money.

7. Do I need a high credit score to refinance federal loans?

Generally speaking, the better your history of dealing with debt (illustrated by your credit score), the lower your new interest rate can be. While many lenders look at credit score as part of their analysis, it’s not always the defining factor. For example, SoFi evaluates a number of things, including your career experience, education, monthly income vs. expenses, and track record of meeting financial obligations.

8. Are there any fees involved in refinancing federal loans?

It depends on the lender, but SoFi allows you to refinance with no application, origination or prepayment fees.

9. Should I choose a fixed or variable rate loan?

Most federal loans are fixed rate, meaning the interest rate stays the same over the life of the loan. When you apply to refinance, you may be given the option to choose a variable rate loan.

Here’s what you should know:

Fixed rate student loans typically have:

  • A rate that stays the same throughout the life of the loan
  • A higher rate than variable rate student loans
  • Payments that stay the same over the life of the loan
  • Variable rate student loans typically have:

  • A rate that’s tied to an “index” rate, such as the prime rate or LIBOR. SoFi’s variable loan rate is tied to the one-month LIBOR rate, and can change as often as monthly.
  • A lower initial rate than fixed rate student loans
  • Payments and total interest cost that change based on interest rate changes
  • A cap, or maximum interest rate. For example, SoFi 5- and 10-year variable loans are capped at 8.95% APR; 15- and 20-year terms are capped at 9.95% APR.
  • Generally speaking, a variable rate loan can be a cost-saving option if you’re reasonably certain you can pay off the loan somewhat quickly. The more time it takes to pay down that debt, the more opportunity there is for the index rate to rise—taking your loan’s rate with it.

    10. What happens if I lose my job or can’t make loan payments for other reasons?

    Some private lenders offer forbearance—the ability to put loans on hold—in cases of financial hardship. Policies vary by lender, so it’s best to learn what they are before you refinance. SoFi, for example, offers Unemployment Protection to borrowers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. In those cases, SoFi suspends monthly loan payments and provides job placement assistance during the forbearance period. This benefit is offered in 3-month periods and capped at 12 months.

    For policies on disability forbearance, it’s best to check with the lender directly, as this is often considered on a case-by-case basis.

    11. Do refinance lenders allow co-signers/co-signer release options?

    Many private lenders do allow co-signers and some allow co-signer release options. SoFi allows co-signers but no option for co-signer release. However, if you have a co-signer and your financial situation improves, you can apply to refinance the co-signed loan under your name alone.

    What questions do you have about federal student loan refinancing? Submit then to the comments section below and we’ll do our best to answer them here.

    refinance student loansrefinance student loans


    ABOUT Dan Macklin Twitter: @macklindan Dan Macklin is a co-founder of SoFi and VP of Community & Member Success with responsibility for maximizing the overall experience for SoFi’s growing community of members. Dan holds an M.S., Management degree from the Stanford Graduate School of Business where he was a Sloan Fellow. He also holds a B.A. in Business Economics from University of Durham in England.


    15 thoughts on “Should I Refinance My Fed Loans? Here’s What You Need to Know

    1. Raquel Cortez says:

      I’m trying to buy my first home…how can refinancing my loan hurt me? And how long should I wait to apply for my home?

      • Hi Raquel – Refinancing your loan can help you to lower your interest rate, lower your monthly payments, and pay off your loan faster. The specifics will depend on your individual situation (income level, financial history, the amount remaining on the loan, etc.). If you’d like to speak to one of our loan consultants to get guidance about refinancing and financial planning, give us a call at 855-456-SOFI

    2. Blaire Turner says:

      After I graduated I consolidated my loans and was assigned Fed Loan Servicing at no option of my own. I’m really unhappy with this company and feel like they do not have my best interest in mind. Right now I would like to refinance. Would SoFi be an option for me? If so, what is the process and where do I begin?

      • Hi Blaire – You’re welcome to apply online for SoFi’s student loan refinancing, the process is quick and easy. You can submit an application on our website: https://www.sofi.com/

        If you have questions about the process and whether SoFi is right for your specific situation, give us a call at 855-456-SOFI

        You can also check out our FAQ page here.

    3. I am a 73-year-old man and owe around $12,000 in federal student loan. It takes out about $150 per month from my social security check ( My monthly SS is about $1360-106 (Medicare premium)-150 (student loan) ~$1100). Tell me if I can seek forgiveness or reduce the monthly payment. Who can help me? Thank you

      • Hi Tan – If you’re looking for forgiveness on the loans, you’d need to contact the federal agency that manages it to see what their criteria is. You can see SoFi Eligibility Criteria for refinancing here or give us a call at 855-456-SOFI to discuss your circumstances and see if you qualify.

    4. Hi, I am wondering if it is possible with a student loan refinance to include credit card debt or can I only consolidate credit card debt with a Personal loan?

      Thanks,

      Jeff

      • Hi Jeff – You would need a Personal Loan to cover your credit card debt. Give us a call if you have any questions at (855) 456-SoFi.

    5. If I were to refinance my student loans privately and passed away, would my spouse or dependents still be responsible for the outstanding balance?

    6. If my husband and I both have student loans, would it be possible to refinance them to one using both of our credit, incomes, etc?

    7. I’m interested in going back to school for a masters degree, is there no sofi deferment option while enrolled in school full time?

    8. How do SoFi loans accrue interest. FedLoan is a daily accrual and the interest due each month is based on the # of days between payments. Are SoFi loans a true fixed monthly payment so each payment reduces the interest balance and increase the principal reduction?

    9. My father is technically responsible for paying back my student loans due to my parent’s divorce. I am wanting to make this as easy and cheap on him as possible. He does have exceptional credit. If I were to refinance my student loans, would I be able to put in his information so he is able to receive the best interest rate, or do I have to use my information since the student loans are in my name? I saw the co-signer option, but like I said, he will be paying those back so I was not sure if he was able to refinance the loans under his name alone.

    10. I am in default and want to fix the situation but I am torn between consolidation and rehabilitation. The debt collector is pushing rehabilitation but the payments are so high. But then I started thinking of the consolidation route. What do I do?? I have about 17k between subsidized and un subsidized Stafford loans.

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