Should You Refinance Your Federal Student Loans?

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Today, almost 45 million Americans hold more than $1.64 trillion student loan debt — yes, trillion with a “T.” As student loan debt has turned into a full-fledged crisis, student loan refinancing companies have emerged to provide relief to student loan borrowers. Through one of these private lenders, you could refinance federal student loans or private ones for better rates and terms.

With a better interest rate, you could not only save money, but you could also use those savings to make extra payments on your loans and get out of debt faster. Or, if your payments are too burdensome, you could select a longer term to obtain a lower monthly payment on your student loans.

See Student Loan Refinance Rates - No hard credit check

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3 questions to determine if you should refinance federal student loans

While refinancing can be a major financial improvement to those who qualify, there’s one (big) caveat.

When you refinance your federal student loans with a private lender, you forfeit most federal student loan protections. Student loan refinance companies can refinance both federal and private student loans, but given this one potential issue, many borrowers often ask us: Should I refinance my federal student loans?

Read on for tips and tricks to help you decide.

1. How much money can you save by refinancing federal student loans?

When you refinance federal student loans, you give up benefits such as income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness, so it’s important to analyze if the risk/reward of refinancing makes sense.

Refinancing your federal student loans may get you a better interest rate if you qualify, and save you money, but how much could you save by refinancing? Be sure to run the numbers with our student loan refinancing calculator.

Student loans most likely to benefit from refinancing include Grad PLUS and Parent PLUS loans, which bear relatively high interest rates ranging all the way into the double digits, depending on the year you obtained them.

Most student loan refinancing companies allow you to check your prospective rate before filling out a full application. Checking your interest rate will typically result in a “soft” credit pull and won’t affect your credit score. Prequalifying lets you shop for your best terms and calculate how much you could save without hurting your credit.

2. Do you plan on using any federal repayment options?

The federal government has created several income-driven repayment plans, which lower monthly payments, to make repayment more manageable for federal student loan borrowers. These programs include Income-Based Repayment (IBR), Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR), Pay As You Earn (PAYE), and the Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) plan.

Some of these plans are need-based and only available to certain eligible borrowers. Others are available to most federal student loan borrowers. While there are definite downsides to an income-driven plan (such as paying more in interest or getting hit with a tax bill after loan forgiveness), these plans can be a lifesaver if you lose your job, experience economic hardship, or simply need the lowest possible payment.

Also, if you work as a federal employee or for a specific not-for-profit employer, you may be eligible for student loan forgiveness after making consistent payments over a set period. Consider these three examples:

By opting to refinance your federal loans, you are no longer eligible for any of these repayment plans or loan forgiveness programs through the federal government.

If you have a high debt load, it is usually a safer bet to keep your federal loans, along with the option to apply for alternative repayment plans if needed.

If you are confident in your ability to repay your loans over your given repayment term and are seeking to maximize savings, and you also have a good credit score and healthy income, refinancing your federal loans could be a wise option.

3. What are the potential new repayment terms from refinancing?

If you’re thinking of refinancing your federal student loans, it’s crucial to compare your repayment terms. Be sure to look at your:

  • Repayment period (or how long you will be paying your loans)
  • Interest rate
  • Monthly payment

For federal student loans, you can have anywhere from 10 to 30 years (for consolidated loans) to repay your loans. Refinancing companies typically offer repayment terms ranging from five to 20 years.

Also note that federal loans are fixed-rate loans and guaranteed to maintain the same interest rate during repayment.

Private lenders, on the other hand, offer both fixed and variable interest rates. These options can either hurt you or help you, depending on current and future interest rate market conditions. It is typically a safer bet to choose a fixed-rate loan, but you can also realize additional interest savings with a variable rate loan in a low-interest rate market.

If you do choose to refinance your federal student loans, understand what impact it may have on your monthly payment as well. You’ll want to make a side-by-side comparison of your repayment terms to understand if refinancing will truly benefit you in the end.

Student Loan Hero’s recommendation:

Deciding to refinance your federal student loans can be a big decision. There’s no doubt that refinancing can be helpful for private student loan borrowers, but given the repayment flexibility and loan forgiveness options the federal government provides, it’s a tougher decision to make regarding federal student loans.

So what do we recommend? If you recently graduated, are underemployed or thinking of changing jobs, we recommend keeping your existing federal loans due to the generous repayment options available until you stabilize your employment situation.

However, If you are in a comfortable and secure financial and employment position, have good credit and are seeking to eliminate your student loan debt as fast as possible, we recommend examining refinancing as a viable option.

Rebecca Safier contributed to this article.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 6 lenders of 2021!
LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
1.89% – 5.99%1Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Splash

1.99% – 5.64%2Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Earnest

1.99% – 6.84%3Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit CommonBond

1.91% – 5.25%4Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Lendkey

2.25% – 6.53%5Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit SoFi

2.17% – 4.47%6Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit PenFed

Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.

Splash Financial Disclosures

Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. If approved, your actual rate will be within a range of rates and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, income and other factors. Refinancing or consolidating private and federal student loans may not be the right decision for everyone. Federal loans carry special benefits not available for loans made through Splash Financial, for example, public service loan forgiveness and economic hardship programs, fee waivers and rebates on the principal, which may not be accessible to you after you refinance. The rates displayed may include a 0.25% autopay discount.

The information you provide to us is an inquiry to determine whether we or our lenders can make a loan offer that meets your needs. If we or any of our lending partners has an available loan offer for you, you will be invited to submit a loan application to the lender for its review. We do not guarantee that you will receive any loan offers or that your loan application will be approved. Offers are subject to credit approval and are available only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rates, which are available to the most qualified borrowers. Participating lenders, rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice.

To check the rates and terms you qualify for, Splash Financial conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, the lender will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

Splash Financial and our lending partners reserve the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen and meet our lending partner’s underwriting requirements. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. This information is current as of Feburary 1, 2021.


2 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.

Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 2.98% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.49% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 1.99% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.34% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of October 26, 2020, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.

Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.

The information provided on this page is updated as of 10/26/2020. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at [email protected], or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.

© 2020 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.


3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. ‍All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.


4 Important Disclosures for LendKey.

LendKey Disclosures

Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it  endorse,  any educational institution.

Subject to floor rate and may require the automatic payments be made from a checking or savings account with the lender. The rate reduction will be removed and the rate will be increased by 0.25% upon any cancellation or failed collection attempt of the automatic payment and will be suspended during any period of deferment or forbearance. As a result, during the forbearance or suspension period, and/or if the automatic payment is canceled, any increase will take the form of higher payments. The lowest advertised variable APR is only available for loan terms of  5 years and is reserved for applicants with FICO scores of at least 810.

As of 02/17/2021 student loan refinancing rates range from 1.91% APR – 5.25% Variable APR with AutoPay and 2.95% APR – 7.63% Fixed APR with AutoPay.


5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance: 1. Fixed rates from 2.99% APR to 6.99% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.25% APR to 6.53% APR (with AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.25% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 0.12% plus 2.38% margin minus 0.25% ACH discount. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, and the term of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. See eligibility details. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. The discount will not reduce the monthly payment; instead, the interest savings are applied to the principal loan balance, which may help pay the loan down faster. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. *To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit inquiry. Unlike hard credit inquiries, soft credit inquiries (or soft credit pulls) do not impact your credit score.Terms and Conditions Apply. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.

6 Important Disclosures for PenFed.

PenFed Disclosures

Annual Percentage Rate (APR) is the cost of credit calculating the interest rate, loan amount, repayment term and the timing of payments. Fixed Rates range from 2.99%-5.15% APR and Variable Rates range from 2.17%-4.47% APR. Both Fixed and Variable Rates will vary based on application terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. These rates are subject to additional terms and conditions and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. For Variable Rate student loans, the rate will never exceed 9.00% for 5 year and 8 year loans and 10.00% for 12 and 15 years loans (the maximum allowable for this loan). Minimum variable rate will be 2.00%. These rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.