After attending college, you might have a hefty student loan you need to pay off, and you might also have some credit card debt you’re ready to eliminate.
Having two (or more) separate payments each month, as well as more than one interest rate, can get messy, and could negatively impact your credit if you don’t make all the minimum payments required. You may be wondering if it’s possible to consolidate student loans and credit card debt together to make things easier.
We’ll look at the differences between debt consolidation, debt refinancing, student loan consolidation, and student loan refinancing, plus explore your options to lower your interest rates and possibly get one single payment for all your student loan and credit card debts.
What Is Debt Consolidation?
There are two different ways you can change what your debt looks like: debt consolidation and debt refinancing.
It’s important to understand that when it comes to loans and credit cards, consolidating is different from refinancing. Refinancing refers to changing the financial terms of a debt. Maybe when you took out your student loan, for example, interest rates were higher than they are now. You might be able to refinance your loan with current, lower rates or you could refinance to extend the loan term.
Debt consolidation, on the other hand, refers to combining more than one debt into a new loan with a single payment. Maybe you have three different credit card balances and you take out a new loan to pay them off. Now, those three credit cards have a zero balance and you’re left with a single monthly payment and a new interest rate and terms with the new loan.
But is consolidating credit cards and student loans together possible? Or are they two different animals?
Consolidating Student Loans
The U.S. Department of Education offers what’s called a Direct Consolidation Loan, which consolidates all your federal education loans that qualify into one new loan with a single interest rate, typically the average of the loans you’re consolidating. When you consolidate federal student loans, you keep federal benefits, such as income-driven repayment plans and student loan forgiveness.
Student loan consolidation may be useful if you have federal loans from different lenders and are making more than one payment per month. However, your interest rate won’t necessarily be lowered, nor will you be allowed to consolidate private student loans or credit card debt.
So, what can you do if you have private student loans you want to consolidate or other loans that don’t qualify for the Direct Consolidation Loan? And what if you want to consolidate student loans and credit card debt together?
Before we get to the solution, let’s talk about consolidating credit cards.
💡 Quick Tip: Get flexible terms and competitive rates when you refinance your student loan with SoFi.
Consolidating Credit Cards
Just like with student loans, you may have multiple credit cards each with their own balance, interest rate, and minimum payment due each month. This can make paying off all this debt next to impossible and feel like you’re treading water as you pay the minimum amount due on each card.
With credit card consolidation, you take out a new personal loan and pay off all outstanding credit card debt.
You then have one payment and one interest rate (which may often be significantly lower than some astronomically high rates for credit cards). You’re now making one monthly payment for all your credit card debt. Sounds good, right?
How to Consolidate Student Loans and Credit Card Debts
As discussed, with a Direct Consolidation Loan, you can’t add credit card debt to the consolidation loan. Direct Consolidation Loans are reserved for federal student loans only.
However, if you’re wanting to consolidate both student loans and credit card debts, there are options you can consider.
One way to pay off different types of debt is with a personal loan. While personal loans may have higher interest rates than you’re paying for your student loans, the rates for personal loans may be significantly lower than credit card interest rates if your credit is good.
By taking out a personal loan, you may be able to pay off all of your student loans and credit card debt. Your debt is now rolled up into one monthly payment with one interest rate.
The higher your credit score, the lower the interest rate you may qualify for with a personal loan. But even if you don’t get a fantastic rate, you can extend the loan term to make your payments more manageable. And, of course, you can usually pay off a personal loan early without penalty, which can cut down on what you’d otherwise pay in interest.
If a personal loan isn’t for you, check to see if you have a credit card with a balance transfer offer. Often, credit cards will offer a promotion of 0% on any balances from other credit cards or loans transferred. Take note though: often these promotions end after a year, and then you’re stuck with the interest payment on the remaining balance.
A balance transfer makes sense if you know you can pay off your debts within a year. If you have a large amount of credit card debt or a high student loan, this may not be the best solution if you can’t pay it off quickly. Instead, you might consider transferring the amount of your debts that you know you can pay off within the timeframe.
Alternatives to Consolidation
If you’re hoping to consolidate student loans and credit card debt together, taking out a personal loan or using a transfer balance are two options to explore.
You might also look at a debt reduction strategy, such as the Avalanche Method or the Snowball Method.
The Avalanche Method
The Avalanche Method focuses on paying off your debts with the highest interest rates first. Once those are paid off, you put that money toward the debts with the next highest interest rates, and so on and so forth, until they are all paid off.
The Snowball Method
With the Snowball Method, you focus on the largest balance first. Put extra money toward paying that off, then when it’s paid off, move to the next largest balance.
Whatever strategy you choose, the key is to keep making payments. And if possible, pay more than the minimum amount due. Even paying an additional $25 a month on a debt will help you pay it off faster and reduce the total amount of interest you pay overall.
Student Loan Refinance Tips from SoFi
Because student loans are often the largest debts people carry (even if they don’t have the highest interest rate), you may want to have a separate strategy for paying off your student loans.
When you refinance student loans, look for loans that offer a longer time period if you want a smaller monthly payment. However, keep in mind that with a longer loan term, you’re likely to pay more in interest over the life of the loan.
Also, if you plan on using federal benefits, it’s not recommended to refinance with a private lender. Instead, look into a Direct Consolidation Loan or refinance your student loans once you’re no longer using federal benefits.
💡 Quick Tip: When rates are low, refinancing student loans could make a lot of sense. How much could you save? Find out using our student loan refi calculator.
While it may be challenging to consolidate student loans and credit card debt together, you may be able to do so with a personal loan or a credit card balance transfer. Using one of these methods allows you to transfer these debts into a single loan with a single payment and interest rate.
However, if a personal loan or balance transfer credit card isn’t an option, you could consider refinancing your student loans to possibly lower your interest rate and save money each month. The money you save could then be put toward paying off your credit card debt.
Do I lose my credit cards if I consolidate?
Consolidating credit card debt does not cause you to lose your credit cards. It merely wipes out the debt on each card you include in the consolidation.
Will consolidating my student loans lower my credit score?
If you use the Direct Consolidation Loan, this will not impact your credit score. However, if you consolidate your student loans with a personal loan or through student loan refinancing, it may impact your credit.
Can my student loans be forgiven if I consolidate?
If you consolidate your loans with a Direct Consolidation Loan, you’re still eligible for student loan forgiveness. However, if you refinance your student loans with a private lender, you are no longer eligible for federal benefits, including loan forgiveness.
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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.