With all the benefits that come with higher education, there’s one potential pain point that can easily sour the mood—paying for it. With the rising cost of college, more and more students are taking out student loans to finance their educations.
On average, students graduating from undergraduate programs carry approximately $33,310 in student loan debt . And for those students pursuing additional degrees, the student loan burden is even higher. But what options are available to those facing the reality of student debt?
One possible solution is student loan refinancing. At its core, student loan refinancing is the process of taking out a new loan to pay off your existing student loans. This leaves you with just one loan with a new interest rate, monthly payment, and loan terms.
What Does Student Loan Refinancing Do?
If you borrowed federal student loans, they were granted based on the information you filled out in your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). All federal student loans since July 1, 2006 are fixed-rate loans, and the interest rate is determined by Congress. Those loans could have been either subsidized or unsubsidized, depending on your financial need at the time you filled out your FAFSA.
If you took out private loans, the interest rate was determined based on your or your parents’ credit scores and other financial factors. As a young student, it’s likely you didn’t have a long credit history or employment history (hence getting your parents to cosign). Because of this, most lenders would have considered you a risky borrower, which means you likely either applied with a cosigner or took out a loan with a relatively high interest rate.
Refinancing student loans gives you the opportunity to change that. When you refinance your student loans, you usually do so with a private bank or lender, like SoFi, who will review your credit history and earning potential (among other financial details) to determine your new interest rate.
Since you’ve graduated, you may have significantly improved your finances. And if you took the opportunity to build up some credit in college, you could qualify for a lower interest rate when you refinance.
This is one of the biggest potential benefits of refinancing your student loans. With a lower interest rate, you could stand to reduce the money you spend in interest over the life of the loan, especially if you also shorten your loan term. If, on the other hand, you lengthen your loan term, you’re unlikely to reduce the amount of interest you pay over the course of the loan.
When you originally borrowed your student loans, you likely agreed to a certain repayment term. Refinancing may allow you to adjust your repayment terms, though of course which terms you have access to is up to the lender’s discretion. On the other hand, you could also extend the loan term, which could get you lower monthly payments, but likely means you pay more in interest over time.
If you refinance your student loans, instead of having multiple loans and multiple monthly payments, you’d have one single loan payment.
If you refinance federal student loans, they’ll become private loans, which means you’ll lose access to federal repayment plans . This is especially important to note if you plan on taking advantage of programs like income-driven repayment or Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).
You’ll also lose access to federal borrower protections like deferment and forbearance , which allow you to temporarily pause your monthly payments if you are facing financial or personal hardship.
However, some refinancing lenders, including SoFi, offer unemployment protection which could allow you to temporarily pause your monthly payments if you lose your job. And at SoFi, you’ll also have access to a career coach who can help you with your job search.
Choosing a student loan repayment plan and strategy is a personal decision. Take the time to carefully review your current loan terms and benefits before you decide to refinance. There are a variety of refinancing options out there and it’s important to do your research and find a reliable lender or stick with your original federal student loan repayment plan.
How Do You Refinance Your Student Loans?
The student loan refinancing process will vary slightly by lender. Before you make any decisions, you may want to check the rates at multiple lenders to make sure you are getting a competitive rate. Many online lenders and banks will let you check your interest rate online in just a couple of minutes.
If you meet the lender’s eligibility requirements, you’ll most likely see a few different options with varying repayment terms. You’ll also usually get to choose between a variable rate and a fixed rate loan.
After you get the quotes, you can compare the estimates and lenders. You may want to review things like the interest rate, any fees associated with the loan, and the lender’s reputation.
If you decide to continue with a lender, you’ll have to file a formal application to refinance your student loans. When you formally apply, lenders will conduct a hard credit check (which could affect your credit score). To apply, most lenders require the following items:
• Proof of citizenship
• Proof of income
• A valid ID number
• Official statements for all of your federal and private student loans
If you are applying with a cosigner, you’ll also need to submit their information—your lender should inform you about what you’ll need.
Refinancing Your Student Loans with SoFi
If you’re interested in seeing how refinancing can help you take control of your student loan debt, you can use SoFi’s student loan refinancing calculator. If you decide refinancing is the right choice for you, at SoFi, there are no origination fees or prepayment penalties.
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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.