Refinance Federal Student Loans: What to Consider
Graduating from college and starting your career is a time filled with questions and excitement. On the one hand, everything is new and getting to check all the “firsts” (first solo apartment, first salaried job, first absolutely terrible post-grad roommate) off your list is incredibly rewarding. On the other hand, some of those first financial questions can be just a bit overwhelming, especially when it comes to student loans.
Understanding your student loans, whether they are private or federal, and how much you need to pay to make a dent is all new territory and brings on even more questions. But know that you’re not alone. The latest numbers suggest over 44 million people in the country have a total of $1.4 trillion in student loan debt.
As you start managing your post-grad budget, you might realize that student loan payments are a large portion of your monthly bills. If that’s the case, it’s a good idea to start learning about student loan refinancing. Can it get you a lower interest rate? How does refinancing differ from student loan consolidation? And will any of this save you money?
The most important answer, first: Yes, student loan consolidation and refinancing can save you money. However, they are both different, and you’ll need to figure out which option is a better fit for you. Now let’s get into the nitty-gritty.
What is federal student loan refinancing?
If you graduated with student loans, you likely have a combination of private and federal student loans, which are loans funded by the federal government. Direct subsidized loans or Direct PLUS loans are both examples of federal student loans.
Interest rates on federal student loans are fixed and set by the government, so you can’t refinance at a lower rate and keep it as a federal loan. However, you can refinance your federal student loans into private loans with a new—ideally, lower—interest rate.
When you refinance into a private loan, you lose some of the benefits that come with a federal loan, which is worth keeping in mind. However, the new loan (and the new interest rate) could translate to a lower interest rate and paying off loans sooner.
What is the difference between federal student loan refinancing and student loan consolidation?
Student loan consolidation and student loan refinancing are not the same thing, but it’s easy to confuse the two. In both cases, you’re essentially signing new loan terms that replace your old student loans.
Consolidation takes your student loans and bundles them together. This allows you to work with the provider of your choice and qualify for new repayment options. Consolidation, however, does not get you a lower interest rate. Refinancing, on the other hand, takes your old loans and finances them at new interest rates with a private lender.
You can consolidate federal loans into a federal Direct Consolidation Loan at no cost. This keeps your loans federal and can give you a longer repayment timeframe, and simplifies the repayment process to help you not miss payments. But it doesn’t necessarily save you money. Generally, the new interest rate on your federal direct consolidation loan is the weighted average of your original loans’ interest rates. For some people, even if it doesn’t save them money, the streamlining of loans is worthwhile.
What are the benefits to federal student loans?
There are a number of benefits to federal loans that aren’t always available for private loans. For example, you may be eligible for the Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness program if you’re working in public service and have made 120 loan payments.
You may also have access to certain income-based repayment plans or protections on your loans if you default or miss payments. However, as with all things, there are pros and cons. Loan forgiveness is great if you qualify, but double-check the requirements before thinking you can just write off all that debt. And income-based repayment plans can be a life-saver if you’re in between jobs or just getting started, but it may mean you pay more over the life of your loans.
Should I refinance my federal student loans?
It depends on how much you might save with a lower interest rate from a student loan refinance, versus how likely you are to use the benefits that come with having federal student loans.
First, you can use the SoFi student loan calculator to figure out how much you might save with a lower interest rate. In general, borrowers often refinance federal graduate student loans and PLUS loans, since those have historically offered less competitive rates.
Next, ask yourself: Are you going to use the programs or benefits that come with federal student loans? These include income-based repayment plans , as well as loan forgiveness for teachers, doctors, or even lawyers in public service. If that’s you, great, but if it’s not, that’s OK too. (There is also some concern Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs could disappear .
There are some downsides to income-driven student loan repayment plans, too. You can end up paying more in interest or get hit with a higher tax bill after your loan is forgiven. However, depending on your financial situation, that flexible repayment plan could be a saving grace. It depends on how much you have in federal student loans and how confident you are about your repayment options.
The last thing you’ll want to consider before you opt to refinance your student loans is the terms of your new student loan. Weigh all the costs and benefits, and figure out what makes sense for you. We know you can do it. After all, you’re a college graduate.
The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.