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Monthly payments and interest are not currently being charged on federal student and parent loans. It may make sense to wait until this benefit has expired before refinancing federal student and parent loans. Private student loan borrowers, including those who have previously refinanced student loans, may benefit from refinancing.
No. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to refinance all or just some of your original student loans. Do the analysis suggested in the first question above to determine the weighted average interest rate of your existing student loans. If you have one or more loans that have interest rates lower than the student loan refinance loan, you might decide to keep them out of the refinancing. That way you can continue to take advantage of the lower interest rate, even as you improve the rate on the loans you do refinance.
Sometimes the terms “refinancing” and “consolidation” are used interchangeably in the context of student loans. But there is an important nuance. Student loan “consolidation” is most often used to refer to an option offered by the federal government for “consolidating” (basically, combining and refinancing) your federal student loans into one new loan. Private loans are not eligible for federal student loan consolidation. Federal student loan consolidation will result in a slightly higher interest rate on your combined loans. The new rate is the weighted average rate of the combined loans rounded up to the nearest 1/8th of a percent. You get the benefit of having one loan to manage instead of several, and you may also qualify for even more repayment benefits than the original federal student loans offered.
The term “refinancing” in the context of student loans usually indicates a privately-offered (ie, not from the government) refinancing loan.
Some borrowers “consolidate” their federal loans to maintain their liberal benefits and “refinance” their private student loans. If you have both types of loans, this is an option to consider.
Note: some private lenders – especially ones that have been offering refinancing for a long time – refer to their refinancing product as a “consolidation” loan, just to make it confusing. If the product is offered by a private lender it is not a federal consolidation loan.
Relatively hard. To be eligible to refinance student loans, a borrower has to pass a relatively stringent credit and income test. Many lenders have minimum income requirements. Most lenders are looking for a borrower to have a credit score of at least 680 (there are some exceptions), income of at least $30,000, and a debt-to-income ratio no higher than 30%.
To qualify for the best rates, a borrower’s credit and income situation needs to be considerably stronger than the approximate minimums given here.
The time to refinance varies somewhat on the lender and also depends on the number of student loans to be included in the refinancing. The slowest part of the process is gaining the exact payoff amount from each of the original lenders / loan servicers. Most lenders have developed an efficient process, so on average it takes less than a week from application approval to the origination of the new refinance loan.
Most student loan refinance lenders offer the choice of fixed and variable options. Generally, the variable rate loans will be priced lower than the fixed rate option. The trade off is that you get a lower rate now, but have exposure to rate increases if underlying interest rates increase. Your choice should be based on your personal comfort with risk. If you’re confident that rates are likely to stay low over the time you’ll be in repayment – and if you have a relatively strong level of comfort taking risk – you might opt for the lower variable rate option. On the other hand, if you think rates are likely to rise during the time you’re in repayment – and if you have a low tolerance for risk – you might opt for a fixed rate loan.
There are several factors that should figure into your choice of lender, even beyond the interest rate offered, including:
There are some situations you’ll want to avoid (or at least consider carefully) before refinancing your student loans, including: