As of the end of 2022, nearly 45 million Americans collectively have over $1.7 trillion in student loan debt, and these numbers are growing. If you are one of the millions with some form of student debt, you may have considered student loan consolidation, which allows you to combine all of your student loans into one loan with one monthly payment.
Student Loan Consolidation Explained
Student loan consolidation is designed to combine some or all of your student loans and make repayment more manageable. There are both federal and private options when it comes to consolidating your student loans.
Private Student Loan Consolidation
A private student loan consolidation is when a lender pays off all or some of your student loan debt and creates a new loan, which you will then make payments on. If you consolidate or refinance through a private lender, the new loan will ideally have a lower interest rate and better terms than your previous student loans. With a private lender, you can consolidate both federal and private loans, and this is typically referred to as a student loan refinance.
Consolidating through a private lender, though, means you lose access to federal forgiveness programs, such as income-driven repayment plans. If you plan on using one of these programs now or at some point in the future, it’s best to hold off on consolidating through a private lender.
Federal Student Loan Consolidation
If you are hoping to consolidate federal loans only and want to keep access to federal forgiveness programs, you can consolidate with a Direct Consolidation Loan through the U.S. Department of Education.
Recommended: Types of Federal Student Loans
Consolidating through the federal student loan system doesn’t usually save you money; it simply combines multiple loans into one. Your new interest rate is a weighted average of all your loans’ interest rates, rounded up to the nearest eighth of a percentage point. No application fees are charged for Direct Consolidation Loans, and the loans remain federal loans.
This could be particularly useful for borrowers who are pursuing federal loan forgiveness or who are enrolled in one of the more flexible federal student loan repayment plans, such as an income-driven repayment plan.
As you ask yourself, Should I consolidate my federal student loans? And when should I consolidate my student loans? The answers depend on a number of factors.
Benefits of Consolidating Student Loans
There are a few reasons to consider student loan consolidation either with a Direct Consolidation Loan or refinancing through a private lender.
Whether you choose a Direct Consolidation Loan or choose to refinance through a private lender, your loan repayment should be simplified. Managing multiple student loan payments may increase your chances of missing a payment. If you miss even one payment, you risk your credit score being lowered. Late payments also stay on your credit profile for up to seven years.
Thus, consolidating multiple loans into one can help eliminate the margin of error and may make repayment more manageable.
Fixed Interest Rate
When an applicant is interested in refinancing through a private lender, their interest rate and terms will be based on their credit score, payment history, type of loan they’re seeking, and other financial factors. While requirements may vary by lender, applicants who meet or exceed the lender’s criteria may qualify for better interest rates and terms, thus saving money over the life of the loan. Borrowers can also switch from a variable to a fixed interest rate when refinancing through a private lender.
With federal Direct Loan Consolidation, as mentioned earlier, a borrower’s interest rate is a weighted average of current loan rates rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of a percentage point, which means this doesn’t typically result in savings for the borrower. The borrower does, however, keep their access to federal loan forgiveness programs.
Federal and Private Loans May Qualify
Both federal and private student loans can be refinanced. For a borrower who exclusively has federal loans, a Direct Consolidation Loan may work best, especially for those who plan to take advantage of federal forgiveness or repayment programs. Those who have a combination of federal and private loans can partner with a private lender to refinance.
Flexible Loan Terms
Student loan consolidation allows you to change the duration of your loan. You may currently have a 10-year repayment plan, but when you consolidate or refinance, you might choose to shorten or lengthen the term of your loan. Typically, lengthening the term of your loan will reduce your monthly student loan payment (but add up to more total interest).
Considerations for Student Loan Consolidation
Even though there are benefits of student loan consolidation, there are also drawbacks. Here are a few considerations to be aware of before consolidating student loans.
You Can’t Lower Interest Rates on Federal Student Loans When Consolidating
If you choose the Direct Consolidation Loan, generally you won’t see any savings. Because your new interest rate is a weighted average of your current loans rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of a percentage point, you will probably pay around the same amount you would have paid if you didn’t consolidate. You are, however, condensing multiple monthly payments into one more manageable payment.
If you extend your term, you may see your monthly payment decrease, but your total interest payments will increase.
On the other hand, if borrowers choose to refinance with a private lender, they could end up reducing their interest, thus saving money over the term of the loan. They could also opt to lower monthly payments by extending their term. But as mentioned above, this increases the total amount of interest paid.
Possible Disqualification from Federal Repayment Programs
Refinancing federal student loans with a private lender disqualifies you from federal repayment programs, including the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) and income-driven repayment plans.
Borrowers will also be disqualified from federal benefits such as forbearance and deferment options, which allow qualifying borrowers to pause payments in the event of financial hardship.
Some private lenders have hardship programs in place, but policies are determined by individual lenders.
Fees May Be Charged With Private Lenders
While there is no application fee for the federal Direct Consolidation Loan, private lenders may charge a fee to refinance loans. Fees associated with refinancing student loans are determined by the lender.
Refinancing vs Consolidating
Consolidating or refinancing student loans are terms that are thrown around interchangeably, but they are actually two different types of loans. A federal student loan consolidation is when you combine federal loans only through a Direct Consolidation Loan. This is done by the U.S. Department of Education only. A student loan refinance, on the other hand, allows you to combine both federal and private loans into one new loan and is done by a private lender. Below are some differences and similarities between refinancing vs. consolidating student loans.
Student Loan Refinancing vs Consolidating
|Combines multiple loans into one||Combines multiple loans into one|
|Can refinance federal and private loans||Can consolidate federal loans only|
|Private refinance lenders may charge a fee||No fees charged|
|Credit check required||No credit check|
|Interest rate could be lowered||Interest rate is a weighted average of prior loan rates, rounded up to nearest one-eighth of a percent|
|Term can be lengthened or shortened||Term can be lengthened or shortened|
|Can no longer qualify for federal forgiveness or repayment programs||Remain eligible for federal forgiveness and repayment programs|
|Saves money if interest rate is lowered||Typically not a money-saving option|
Refinancing Student Loans With SoFi
Understanding student loan consolidation and refinance options can help in making an informed decision about repaying student loans.
Borrowers interested in refinancing student loans might want to consider evaluating a few options, because requirements — as well as interest rates and loan terms — can vary from lender to lender.
Refinancing student loans with SoFi comes with no origination fees or prepayment penalties. SoFi offers competitive rates, flexible terms, and an easy online application that can be completed in just a few minutes.
Can your student loans still be forgiven if you consolidate them?
Possibly. If you consolidate your federal student loans with a Direct Loan Consolidation, you are still eligible for federal loan forgiveness programs. If, however, you choose to consolidate your loans through a private lender, you will no longer be eligible for federal programs.
When is consolidating student loans worth it?
Consolidating student loans is worth it if you’re looking to combine multiple student loan payments into one or you’re looking to lower your interest rate. You can use a Direct Consolidation Loan for your federal loans and keep access to federal benefits, or you can refinance through a private lender. Refinancing through a private lender could give you a lower interest rate and lower monthly payment, but you do lose access to federal forgiveness programs.
What are some advantages of consolidating student loans?
Advantages to consolidating student loans include combining multiple loans into one loan with one monthly payment, possibly accessing a lower interest rate, switching your rate from variable to fixed, and possibly extending your loan term to reduce your monthly payment.
SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are looking to refinance federal student loans, please be aware that the White House has announced up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for qualifying borrowers whose student loans are federally held. Additionally, the federal student loan payment pause and interest holiday has been extended beyond December 31, 2022. Please carefully consider these changes before refinancing federally held loans with SoFi, since the amount or portion of your federal student debt that you refinance will no longer qualify for the federal loan payment suspension, interest waiver, or any other current or future benefits applicable to federal loans. If you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness and still wish to refinance, leave unrefinanced the amount you expect to be forgiven to receive your federal benefit.
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Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including 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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