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How is Refinancing Different Than Consolidation?

January 15, 2018 · 5 minute read

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How is Refinancing Different Than Consolidation?

The average Class of 2016 graduate walked down the commencement aisle with $37,000 in student loan debt . We all know that higher education is expensive, but that’s a big responsibility for a 22-year-old to be saddled with as they start their career. The interest payments on a $37,000 loan alone could afford the average new grad a whole lotta revolutions through the Taco Bell drive-thru and pairs of polyester work slacks. (Or better, the ability to start saving some money!)

If you have student loans, there is a way to reduce the amount of interest you pay over the lifespan of your loan or loans; It’s called student loan refinancing. There are people who have refinanced their loans and saved tens of thousands of dollars—and it’s possible you could too.

You’ll often hear the terms student loan refinancing and student loan consolidation used interchangeably, but they’re technically different. Only student loan refinancing has the potential to reduce how much you pay in interest. If your goal is to reduce what you owe, you’ll need to learn how to refinance student loans. Because it’s important to understand which is right for your situation, let’s hash out the definitions and details of both options.

What is student loan refinancing?

Okay, so your current loans are either obtained through the government (that’s the most common route) or a private lender, like a bank (less common). Each loan has an interest rate—likely, a fixed rate of interest—set at the time you took out that loan. (If you have loans issued before 2006, there is a possibility that rates on your loans are variable, which means the interest rate may fluctuate.)

When you refinance one or all of these student loans, you’re basically just swapping out the old loans and replacing them with a fresh, new one in hopes of getting a better rate or more favorable terms.

Quite literally, the new lender pays off your old loan(s) and provides you with a spankin’ new loan. Now, the reason it’s worth it to learn how to refinance student loans is because it can lower your interest rate or term, thereby saving you money. A better interest rate or term can either lower your monthly payments or reduce the time it takes to pay off the loan, respectively.

Getting Started With Refinancing

The first step is to explore whether refinancing is the right option for you. Refinancing has historically only been available for federal loans, but there are a handful of lenders who refinance private loans as well. This is not the case for simple loan consolidation, which can only be done with federal loans.

If you’ve got federal loans and are taking advantage of income-based repayment or the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, it may not be worth learning how to refinance student loans; Those programs (and other benefits) won’t transfer to your new loan . If you have no plans to take advantage of any federal debt-relief program, it’s time to look into refinancing.

Local banks and credit unions often offer student loan refinancing, but online lenders like SoFi tend to offer more competitive rates. Each lender has its own criteria for determining your rate, but it’s generally based in part off credit score and income.

Student loan refinancing is generally available to folks who are in better financial situations than when they first took out loans, whether through increased salary, improved credit score, or another circumstantial shift, like marriage. Refinancing can also help if you have loans with exceptionally high interest rates.

Even a seemingly small improvement in your loan’s interest rate could save you a lotta scratch in the long run. (Which could amount to hundreds, potentially thousands more T-Bell odysseys! Or some extra money for retirement or a down payment, your call.)

Often, you’re able to get pre-approved for refinancing online in a matter of minutes. After pre-approval, you select the loan you want, fill out a full application, upload or mail in some key financial documents, and voilà! You’ve done your part.

Student Loan RefinancingStudent Loan Refinancing

Here’s the Difference Between Student Loan Refinancing and Consolidation

Consolidation is exactly what it sounds like; You’re consolidating multiple loans into one loan. And that’s it! Because you’re just smushing all of your (federal) loans together without any accompanying re-evaluation of your credit, your interest rate won’t change. The rate on your new consolidated loan will simply be a weighted average of your current loan rates. Your monthly payment would only decrease if your payback period was extended, which would actually cost you more in interest over time.

Loan consolidation is typically done using a Direct Consolidation Loan through the government. This is why you can only consolidate federal loans and not private ones. The benefit to consolidation is creating one payment instead of dealing with multiple loan payments. It is also possible to detach or add cosigners and switch from a variable to a fixed rate.

It’s worth noting that refinancing is sometimes referred to as “private loan consolidation.” And yes, when you refinance multiple loans, you are inherently consolidating them. But for the sake of keeping the two mentally separated, consider consolidation and refinancing as two different actions.

Benefits of Refinancing Student Loans

Ideally, a student loan refinance would benefit you in the following ways:

1. You could pay less in interest over time, which can mean lower monthly payments.

2. It can also shorten your loan term, allowing you to pay debt off sooner.

3. You get to enjoy the benefits of consolidation with one monthly bill.

4. There are both variable and fixed rate loans available. The benefits of having a lower monthly payment or a shorter payback period need no championing, but it is pretty sweet to think about what you could do with all that extra cash. SoFi estimates that the average customer saves $30,069 in interest over the lifetime of their loan.

Additional Refinancing Considerations

When you refinance, not all lenders will give you the same repayment options that federal loans offer. This is important to consider, especially if you work in an industry sensitive to economic cycles. As with any financial decision, refinancing should only be done after considering all of the trade-offs.

If you’re ready to explore student loan refinancing with a lender that offers unemployment protection, competitive refinancing rates, and unmatched customer service, check out what SoFi has to offer. SoFi’s student refinance loan is a private loan and does not have the same repayment options/benefits offered by federal programs. You should explore and compare federal and private loan options, terms, and features to determine what is best for you and your situation.


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.
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