Here’s the Difference Between Federal and Private Student Loan Consolidation

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Most graduates leave school with a number of different student loans, racked up throughout their years in college. Each of these loans likely comes with different terms, payments, servicers, and statements. The sheer amount of information and numbers can be difficult to track.

If you feel overwhelmed with managing your student loan debt, don’t panic. You do have options. One way to make student loans more manageable is through consolidation.

When you consolidate your debt, you combine all those loans into one. You do this by taking out a new loan for the amount of the balances of the existing loans, use the newly borrowed money to repay all the older loans, and then focus on repaying your one new loan. This simplifies your financial situation and makes it easier to keep track of loan terms, payments, and other information you need to know. Other benefits of consolidation could include securing more favorable interest rates (if you also refinance) and lower monthly payments (by extending the repayment term).

Private and federal student loan consolidation: know the risks first

Before you choose to consolidate your loans, examine your situation carefully to determine if this is the best course of action. This isn’t a solution that works well for everyone (even if you do have several different loans to manage). Consolidation doesn’t always result in a lower interest rate, plus lower monthly payments usually means paying the loan over a longer period of time and spending more on interest.

You also need to know that the process is different for federal student loans and private loans, especially if you’re trying to manage each. Private lenders may be able to consolidate both private and federal loans, but you cannot roll private and federal loans into one new federal Direct Consolidation Loan.

And just because you can use private student loan consolidation to include your federal loans doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Doing so eliminates any benefits or eligibility for repayment plans or loan forgiveness that you could have received from a federal program.

If you think you’ll need and income-driven repayment plan or want to pursue forgiveness options, it’s best not to mix federal and private loans.

Consolidating federal student loans

When you choose to consolidate your federal student loans, the government will combine all your separate loans into a single new loan, known as a Direct Consolidation Loan.

Most federal student loans are eligible for consolidation, including subsidized and unsubsidized Direct Loans, subsidized and unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans, Direct PLUS Loans, Supplemental Loans for Students (SLS), Federal Nursing Loans, and Health Education Assistance Loans.

Although the Perkins Loan program came to an end in September, 2017, old Perkins Loans are still eligible for consolidation, as well.

If you have a PLUS loan in the name of a parent, that loan cannot be transferred to the student during consolidation. You also cannot consolidate a defaulted loan until you make a repayment agreement with the loan’s servicer or unless you repay the new consolidated loan with one of the government’s eligible repayment plans.

Access to those repayment plans is one of the benefits of Direct Consolidation Loans for some borrowers. With the new loan, you could be eligible for income-driven repayment plans and possibly even forgiveness programs that you weren’t able to use prior to consolidating.

You can also enjoy the benefits offered by consolidating any debt, such as one, single payment and potentially lower monthly payments. However, federal consolidation doesn’t result in a better interest rate. Rather, the new rate is a weighted average of all the interest rates on your student loans, plus a small percentage on top.

If you’re only interested in simplifying your situation and won’t take advantage of any repayment plans, consider finding other ways of tracking your debt and managing repayment. That’s because Direct Consolidation Loans have drawbacks, too.

A lower monthly payment means paying the loan over a longer period of time – in turn, the loan costs you more money since you’ll also pay interest longer. Also, you lose the ability to strategically target your highest interest and/or highest balance loans using a method such as the debt avalanche or snowball.

Be sure to explore all your options and weigh which benefits – those provided by your original loans or those you could access with direct consolidation – will help you the most.

Private student loan consolidation

Private loans are not eligible for Direct Consolidation Loans. If you want to explore private student loan consolidation, you’ll need to work with a private lender. Requirements and eligibility will vary from one to another.

Some private lenders will require you borrow a minimum amount. And some might use different criteria to evaluate your creditworthiness than others. It’s best to reach out to individual lenders and ask for their specific rules around eligibility; compare the results to one another to determine what might be a good fit for you.

Both the benefits and drawbacks of consolidating your private student loans are similar to consolidating federal loans. You may benefit by creating an easier-to-manage financial situation, getting better terms, or securing lower monthly payments.

One big benefit of private student loan consolidation is the ability to refinance and potentially secure a much lower interest rate. In the case of refinancing, your rate will be based on your creditworthiness rather than a weighted average.

If your credit score has significantly improved from the time you took out your loans to now, or you have built a solid income and employment history, you’re more likely to get a low rate that could make consolidation a smart financial move.

Keep in mind whether you’re also extending the repayment term, though. Again, with more payments comes more interest. Plus you still lose the initial benefits provided by your original loan servicer.

And while there’s no cost to originate a federal Direct Consolidation Loan, some private lenders will charge an origination fee.

Again, it’s important to evaluate all your options before making a decision.

What about refinancing?

As you probably noticed, refinancing is very similar to consolidation. However, you don’t necessarily have to consolidate in order to refinance. You can talk to lenders about refinancing a single loan rather than combining many into one new loan.

This might make more sense if you have fewer loans and just one has a very high interest rate. You can refinance to a lower rate and maintain the original benefits and rates on all your other loans.

The federal government will not refinance your loans; they only offer direct consolidation. Private lenders will refinance both federal and private student loans.

If you want to compare the immediate benefits of Direct Loan consolidation vs. private consolidation and refinancing for your situation, check out the calculator below:

Consolidation vs. Refinancing Calculator

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Consolidating your federal student loans through the Direct Loan Consolidation program would set your new interest rate at , slightly higher than your current rate of . If you chose to remain on the standard repayment plan, you would pay and would finish paying off your loans in . If you refinanced your student loans, with a and 15 year term, you would pay and pay off your loans by .

Refinancing is the only way to lower your interest rate but you may lose some of the safeguards associated with having federal loans, so make sure you are fully educated on the decision by reading our recommended resources below:

Student loan refinancing rates as low as % APR. Check your rate in 2 minutes.

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Again, just like with consolidation, you may not want to refinance any federal loans because you’ll lose your eligibility for government-backed repayment plans. But if you don’t plan to use those programs and can financially benefit by refinancing to a lower interest rate, this may be a viable option for you.

See below for our list of the best private lenders for consolidation and refinancing. These companies offers some of the lowest rates and fees in the industry.

No matter what lender you choose, you want to make sure you ask the right questions before consolidating your loans. And if you’re ready to apply, we can help you with the application for free.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

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1 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

  1. VARIABLE APR – APR is subject to increase after consummation. The variable interest rates are based on a Current Index, which is the 1-month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) (currency in US dollars), as published on The Wall Street Journal’s website. The variable interest rates and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) will increase or decrease when the 1-month LIBOR index changes.

2 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student Loan RefinanceFixed rates from 3.999% APR to 7.804% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.480% APR to 7.524% 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 2.480% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 2.07% plus 0.91% 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. 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. *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. Soft credit inquiries allow SoFi to show you what rates and terms SoFi can offer you up front. After seeing your rates, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit inquiry. Hard credit inquiries (or hard credit pulls) are required for SoFi to be able to issue you a loan. In addition to requiring your explicit permission, these credit pulls may impact your credit score
  2. Terms and Conditions Apply: SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)

3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

  1. Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). The following table displays the estimated monthly payment, total interest, and Annual Percentage Rates (APR) for a $10,000 loan. The Annual Percentage Rate (APR) shown for each in-school loan product reflects the accruing interest, the effect of one-time capitalization of interest at the end of a deferment period, a 2% origination fee, and the applicable Repayment Plan. All loans are eligible for a 0.25% reduction in interest rate by agreeing to automatic payment withdrawals once in repayment, which is reflected in the interest rates and APRs displayed. Variable rates may increase after consummation. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.08% effective July 25, 2018.

4 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Education Refinance Loan Rate DisclosureVariable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of August 1, 2018, the one-month LIBOR rate is 2.07%. Variable interest rates range from 2.72%-8.17% (2.72%-8.17% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of the borrower’s loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Fixed interest rates range from 3.50%-8.69% (3.50% – 8.69% APR) based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Lowest rates shown require application with a cosigner, are for eligible, creditworthy applicants with a graduate level degree, require a 5-year repayment term and include our Loyalty discount and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. The maximum variable rate on the Education Refinance Loan is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%. 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. Please note: Due to federal regulations, Citizens Bank is required to provide every potential borrower with disclosure information before they apply for a private student loan. The borrower will be presented with an Application Disclosure and an Approval Disclosure within the application process before they accept the terms and conditions of their loan.
  2. Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer with the Education Refinance Loan. Borrowers should carefully review their current benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans and replace those with the benefits of the Education Refinance Loan. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision at http://www.citizensbank.com/EdRefinance, including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
  3. Citizens Bank Education Refinance Loan Eligibility: Eligible applicants may not be currently enrolled, must be in repayment of their existing student loan(s) and must make the minimum number of payments after leaving school. Primary borrowers must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or resident alien with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. Resident aliens must apply with a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The co-signer (if applicable) must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer will be required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at anytime. Interest rate ranges subject to change. Education Refinance Loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/consumer credit agreement, verification of application information, certification of borrower’s student loan amount(s) and highest degree earned.
  4. Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
  5. Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
  6. Co-signer Release: Borrowers may apply for co-signer release after making 36 consecutive on-time payments of principal and interest. For the purpose of the application for co-signer release, on-time payments are defined as payments received within 15 days of the due date. Interest only payments do not qualify. The borrower must meet certain credit and eligibility guidelines when applying for the co-signer release. Borrowers must complete an application for release and provide income verification documents as part of the review. Borrowers who use deferment or forbearance will need to make 36 consecutive on-time payments after reentering repayment to qualify for release. The borrower applying for co-signer release must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. If an application for co-signer release is denied, the borrower may not reapply for co-signer release until at least one year from the date the application for co-signer release was received. Terms and conditions apply.
  7. Average savings based on 18,113 actual customers who refinanced their federal and private student loans through our Education Refinance Loan between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017. The calculation is derived by averaging the monthly savings of Education Refinance Loan customers whose payments decreased after refinancing, which is calculated by taking the monthly student loan payments prior to refinancing minus the monthly student loan payments after refinancing. The borrower’s savings might vary based on the interest rates, balances and remaining repayment term of the loans they are seeking to refinance. The borrower’s overall repayment amount may be higher than the loans they are refinancing even if their monthly payments are lower.
2.57% – 5.87%Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Earnest
2.80% – 6.38%1Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Laurel Road
2.48% – 7.52%2Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit SoFi
2.47% – 7.99%Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Lendkey
2.57% – 6.65%3Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit CommonBond
2.72% – 8.17%4Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Citizens
Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.