Editor's Note: For the latest developments regarding federal student loan debt repayment, check out our student debt guide.
Shopping around for the best value is tried and true advice that extends to most things you can sink money into. It can be especially true in the world of student loans — an economic ecosystem where there are approximately 45 million borrowers holding more than $1.7 trillion in debt, and payments to erode that debt have been slowing on the whole.
Reasons for choosing a different student loan lender than one previously used might include looking for better service, a lower interest rate, or better terms. Some borrowers may want to refinance their existing loans so they can minimize the number of lenders they work with and the number of payments they have to keep track of.
Borrowers who have federal student loans are encouraged to carefully consider refinancing those loans with a private lender, because in doing so they will no longer be eligible for deferment, forbearance, or other repayment or relief aid through the federal government.
How to Change Student Loan Lenders
There are many reasons to consider transferring student loans to another lender. But something important to understand about this change is it typically will mean seeking out a private student loan lender, even for your federal loans.
So, why would you want to change lenders in the first place? Private student loan lenders might offer better rates, terms, and repayment options that may work better for your financial situation. Some lenders may be a better fit for graduate students, others for refinancing, and others for cosigner flexibility. Benefits offered by private lenders might also be attractive to borrowers. For instance, SoFi offers members a discount on college prep classes, exclusive rate discounts for eligible members, and career coaching.
When shopping around for private student loan lenders, knowing what criteria are deal makers and also deal breakers for your unique situation is helpful. Borrowers might qualify for a higher loan amount from a private lender vs. a federal student loan, but terms and interest rate typically depend on an applicant’s credit and other financial factors. A private lender might offer a variable-rate loan, which means market changes could impact your monthly payments in unpredictable ways. With so many variables in the mix, it isn’t unusual for students to use both federal and private student loans to cover their college costs.
Recommended: Fixed vs. Variable Rates: What’s the Difference?
In most cases, though, federal student loans tend to offer better borrower protections—like loan forgiveness, deferment options, or income-driven repayment plans—than private student loans. Qualifying for federal student loans may also be easier than qualifying for a private student loan for some borrowers because federal student loans don’t typically require a credit check.
Lenders vs Servicers: What’s the Difference?
It might not seem like there is much of a difference between lenders and servicers, but the two play distinctly different parts in the business of borrowing money. Lenders actually make the loans, while servicers collect the payments from the borrowers.
The Department of Education, i.e., the federal government, is the lender of federal student loans. The companies who work on behalf of the government to collect student loan payments are the servicers. The Department of Education’s National Student Loan Data System Database gives borrowers a comprehensive look at their student aid. With the information all in one place, it might be easier to make a decision about making changes to student loans.
Private lenders also use loan servicers. Just like federal student loans, the company that makes the loan will be different from the company the borrower pays. The servicer and payment information is typically found on the most recent student loan statement. Payments can usually be made in a number of ways: online, by mail, by phone, or even through an app if the servicer has one.
Recommended: How to Find Out Who Your Student Loan Lender Is
Refinancing as Transferring
Refinancing student loan debt is just a way to turn an existing loan into a newer one, ideally in a way that will result in potentially lower interest rates or lower monthly payments. Most student loans, like any other large consumer loan, are eligible for refinancing for qualifying applicants.
Borrowers who have only federal student loans may be interested in seeking a loan consolidation via a Direct Consolidation Loan, but as the ED warns, the trade-off here is a simpler payment but also the potential loss of some benefits, such as interest rate discounts.
Furthermore, a Direct Consolidation Loan doesn’t typically result in an interest rate savings — it has a fixed interest rate for the life of the loan, calculated as the weighted average of the interest rates on the loans being consolidated, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent. Consolidation is not usually a way to save money on interest payments, but is more an option to streamline repayment—one loan means only one check to write each month.
Private lenders will typically do a credit check, which includes personal financial details like income and credit histories, and could be a potential drawback for students who may not have much of either. Students might have a tougher time qualifying for a loan on their own with that requirement, and a cosigner may be required on the loan.
Doing Your Homework
There are many moving parts to consider when thinking about using a different lender from one you’ve used in the past or transferring an existing loan to a new lender. What aspects of your student loans would benefit from transferring? What don’t you like about your current lender or servicer? What services or benefits would you like to get from a lender?
If you do decide to move forward with transferring your student loans to a new lender, also known as refinancing student loans, allow SoFi to help. SoFi offers an easy online application, competitive rates, and no origination fees.
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.
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