Since private student loans are held by a private bank or lender, you can’t refinance private student loans to federal loans.
The reverse, however, is possible. You can refinance private and federal student loans into a new private student loan with a new, ideally lower, interest rate. When you refinance federal student loans, it’s important to understand you lose access to federal benefits and protections.
Here’s what to know about why you can’t convert private student loans to federal loans, how you can combine both into a new refinanced loan, and how to make the choice that’s right for you.
Transferring Private Student Loans to Federal Loans
It isn’t possible to refinance private student loans to federal loans since private loans can only be held and owned by private financial institutions. Your federal student loans, on the other hand, can be converted into a private loan.
Although private and federal loans serve the same purpose — to finance your education — they differ in significant ways. One of the biggest distinctions is that private loans are not eligible for federal programs and benefits.
For example, federal student loan mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic offered automatic protection for federal borrowers. All federal student loans were put on administrative forbearance so that loan payments were paused without penalty. Also, borrowers weren’t responsible for any interest that accrued during this time.
While the payment pause came to an end in fall 2023, federal student loans are eligible for a number of other federal benefits, including income-driven repayment plans, deferment options, and forgiveness programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Teacher Loan Forgiveness.
Since private student loans don’t come from the Department of Education, however, they do not qualify for these federal programs — and there’s no way to make them eligible.
Recommended: Types of Federal Student Loans
How to Combine Private and Federal Student Loans
While there’s no way you can refinance private student loans to federal loans, the reverse is possible: You can convert a federal loan to a private loan to combine your federal and private student debt into a new private loan.
You can combine federal and private student debt by refinancing your federal student loans into a private loan. Refinancing is offered by a private lender and requires a credit check. This repayment option lets you refinance existing federal loans, private student loans, or a combination of both into a new private student loan.
The new refinancing lender pays your original loan(s) in full and creates one refinanced student loan for the total amount it paid on your behalf. Over time, you’ll repay your new lender your principal refinance amount, plus interest charges.
Overall, a student loan refinance can help you combine multiple loans into a single loan at a new rate and potentially better terms. It also results in one monthly payment. Depending on your credit score and other qualifying factors, it might help you access a lower interest rate.
Be aware that since a refinanced federal loan is no longer a part of the federal student loan system, you’re giving up federal benefits and protections if you refinance a federal student loan.
Recommended: Guide to Student Loan Refinancing
Federal student loans can be combined, or consolidated, through the federal Direct Loan program. When you consolidate your federal loans, they are combined into a single new loan with a new interest rate that’s an average of all of your existing federal loan rates, rounded up to the nearest eighth of a percent.
Some reasons to consolidate your federal loans include simplifying your payments and qualifying for federal student loan programs such as income-driven repayment plans or Public Service Loan Forgiveness (if your existing federal loans weren’t eligible for these programs to begin with).
Private loans are not eligible for federal loan consolidation. As mentioned earlier, you can only combine federal and private student loans together when you refinance your loans into a new private loan.
Benefits of Federal Student Loans
Although converting your federal student loans into a private loan might have its advantages, there are serious caveats to consider before moving forward. Ultimately, refinancing federal loans through a private lender means you’ll lose access to valuable federal benefits and protections.
A major benefit that federal student loans offer, compared to private student loans, is access to student debt forgiveness and cancellation. Depending on your personal situation, you might be able to have a large portion of your federal student debt forgiven.
Some programs offered for federal loans include:
• Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). Borrowers who work full-time for a government entity or not-for-profit organization might be eligible for loan forgiveness. While working for a qualified employer, you must enroll in an income-driven repayment plan and make 120 qualifying payments toward your federal loans. Afterward, your remaining federal loan balance is forgiven.
• Teacher Loan Forgiveness (TLF). Under TLF, educators who work full-time at an approved low-income school or service agency can earn up to $17,500 in forgiveness. You must agree to a five-year service contract and meet other requirements.
• Perkins Loan Cancellation. If you have eligible Perkins Loans, you might be eligible for loan cancellation or discharge, depending on your employment service or unique circumstances.
Federal student loan borrowers who are struggling to afford their standard 10-year monthly payments can explore one of the Department of Education’s income-driven repayment (IDR) plans.
There are four types of income-driven repayment:
• Pay As You Earn (PAYE)
• Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE)
• Income-Based Repayment (IBR)
• Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR)
Each repayment plan calculates your monthly payment based on a percentage of your discretionary income and your family size. Some borrowers under an IDR plan may qualify for a $0 per month payment. Most of the plans offer a longer repayment period of 20 or 25 years, though the new SAVE plan will offer a 10-year term for borrowers who took out $12,000 or less starting in July 2024. After completing your repayment term, your remaining eligible federal loan balance is forgiven.
Understanding how income-based repayment works can help you gauge whether you’re willing to relinquish federal loan benefits for a private refinance loan.
You might suddenly be hit with financial hardship, like being temporarily unemployed or experiencing an accident that inhibits your ability to make payments. In this stressful situation, federal student loans provide the option to request payment deferment or forbearance.
These federal protections pause your federal student loan payment requirement without penalty. During this time, interest still accrues and is added to your principal balance.
You’re ultimately responsible for repaying it back, as well as any interest that capitalizes when payments resume. However, this guaranteed postponement offers financial relief during difficult times.
Some private loans may offer deferment or forbearance options during times of financial hardship, but the options vary by lender.
💡 Quick Tip: Enjoy no hidden fees and special member benefits when you refinance student loans with SoFi.
How Private and Federal Student Loans Differ
To decide whether refinancing your federal loans into a private loan makes sense for you, it’s important to know how private student loans vs. federal student loans differ.
|Federal Student Loans||Private Student Loans|
|Provided by the U.S. government.||Provided by a private financial institution.|
|Most programs don’t require a credit check.||Good credit, or a cosigner, is generally required.|
|Fixed interest rates.||Fixed or variable rates offered.|
|Payments are deferred until you leave school or drop below half-time.||Payments might be due while you’re enrolled in school, but this varies by lender.|
|Income-driven repayment options available.||Repayment plans vary by lender.|
|Access to loan forgiveness or cancellation.||Generally doesn’t offer loan forgiveness.|
|Offers interest subsidies for borrowers with financial need.||Loan interest is typically not subsidized.|
|Offers extended deferment or forbearance.||Rules on postponing payments vary by lender.|
Recommended: Private vs. Federal Student Loans
Student Loan Refinancing With SoFi
If you have private student loans, refinancing can be advantageous if you qualify for a lower interest rate that reduces your overall education debt. Use a student loan refinancing calculator to estimate your savings.
Before refinancing a federal student loan, decide whether you might need to leverage government benefits, like income-driven repayment or loan forgiveness programs. You’ll lose these useful benefits by refinancing all of your federal loans.
Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.
Is it possible to change private student loans to federal?
No, there is no way to change private student loans to federal loans. However, you can refinance your private and federal loans together, ideally to qualify for a lower rate or better loan terms. If you go this route, you will be changing your federal student loan(s) into a private loan.
Is it possible to change federal student loans to private?
Yes, you can change a federal student loan to a private student loan through refinancing. A private refinance lender will pay off your original federal loan, and you’ll have to make payments to your new private lender for the principal balance, plus interest. Changing your federal student loans to a private loan, however, will mean you lose access to federal repayment plans, forgiveness programs, and other protections.
How can you combine private and federal student loans?
You can combine private student loans and federal student loans with a refinance student loan. Student loan refinancing is provided by a private lender, so any federal loans you refinance will become private and you’ll lose the government benefits and protections you had under the federal loan system.
Photo credit: iStock/YayaErnst
Student Loan Refinancing
If you are a federal student loan borrower you should take time now to prepare for your payments to restart, including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. (You may pay more interest over the life of the loan if you refinance with an extended term.) 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, such as the SAVE Plan, or extended repayment plans.
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