how to consolidate student loans
Student Loan Consolidation
Consolidation Loans combine several student or parent loans into one bigger loan from a single lender, which is then used to pay off the balances on the other loans. They also provide an opportunity for alternative repayment plans, making monthly payments more manageable.
Consolidation loans are available for most federal loans, including Stafford, PLUS and SLS, FISL, Perkins, Health Professional Student Loans, NSL, HEAL, Guaranteed Student Loans and Direct loans. Some lenders offer private consolidation loans for private education loans as well.
The interest rate on a consolidation loan is the weighted average of the interest rates on the loans being consolidated, rounded up to the nearest 1/8 of a percent. That interest rate is fixed for life.
For example, suppose a student has just unsubsidized Stafford Loans originated on or after July 1, 2006. These loans have a fixed interest rate of 6.8%. When they are consolidated by themselves, the consolidation loan will have an interest rate of 6 and 7/8ths of a percent, or 6.875%. So the interest rate increases only slightly.
If the borrower has a mix of loans with different interest rates, the weighted average will be somewhere in between. For example, if the borrower has $5,000 of Perkins Loans (at 5.0%) and $10,000 of unsubsidized Stafford Loans (at 3.86%), the weighted average is
This weighted average, 4.2%, is then rounded up to the nearest 1/8th of a percent, yielding a consolidation loan interest rate of 4.25%.
If you are consolidating loans with different interest rates, the weighted average interest rate will always be in between. Don’t be fooled if someone tries to suggest that this will save you money by getting you a lower interest rate. The interest rate may be lower than the highest of your interest rates, but it is also higher than the lowest of your interest rates. More importantly, the amount of interest you pay over the lifetime of the loan will be about the same.
No Cost to Consolidate
Aside from a slight increase in the interest rate on the consolidation loan, there is no cost to consolidate your loans. There are no fees to consolidate.
Under no circumstances pay a fee in advance to get a federal education loan or consolidate your federal education loans. There are no fees to consolidate your loans. While other federal education loans, such as the Stafford and PLUS loans, may charge some fees, the fees are always deducted from the disbursement check. There is never an upfront fee. If someone wants you to pay an upfront fee, chances are that it is an example of an advance fee loan scam.
Who Can Consolidate
Both student and parent borrowers can consolidate their education loans. Students and parents cannot combine their loans through consolidation, since only loans from the same borrower can be consolidated. But they can consolidate their loans separately.
Students can consolidate their education loans only during the grace period or after the loans enter repayment. Loans that are in default but with satisfactory repayment arrangements may also be consolidated. Students can no longer consolidate while they are still in school. Parents, however, can consolidate PLUS loans at any time.
Which Loans Can be Consolidated?
Any federal education loan can be consolidated. You can even consolidate a single loan. There are, however, a few restrictions on consolidating a consolidation loan.
You can consolidate a consolidation loan only once. In order to reconsolidate an existing consolidation loan, you must add loans that were not previously consolidated to the consolidation loan. You can also consolidate two consolidation loans together. But you cannot consolidate a single consolidation loan by itself.
Note that when you reconsolidate a consolidation loan, it does not relock the rates on the consolidation loan. The consolidation loan is treated as a fixed rate loan within the weighted average interest rate formula used to calculate the interest rate on the new consolidation loan.
Consolidation loans provide access to several alternate repayment plans besides standard ten-year repayment. These include extended repayment, graduated repayment, income contingent repayment (Direct Loans only) and income sensitive repayment (FFEL only). If you do not specify the repayment terms, you will receive standard ten-year repayment.
Consolidation loans often reduce the size of the monthly payment by extending the term of the loan beyond the 10-year repayment plan that is standard with federal loans. Depending on the loan amount, the term of the loan can be extended from 12 to 30 years. The reduced monthly payment may make the loan easier to repay for some borrowers. However, by extending the term of a loan the total amount of interest paid over the lifetime of the loan is increased.
You do not need to pick an alternate repayment plan. We recommend sticking with standard ten-year repayment, because it will save you money. The alternate repayment plans may have lower monthly payments, but this increases the term of the loan and the total interest paid over the lifetime of the loan.
Repayment on a consolidation loan will begin within 60 days of disbursement of the loan, unless the borrower qualifies for a deferment or forbearance.