Did You Know?
♦ Applying for Direct Loan consolidation is FREE. Be wary of companies charging a lot of money for a free government program.
Consolidation is similar to refinancing a loan. You can consolidate all, just some, or even just one of your student loans. Consolidating federal student loans may be a good strategy to lower monthly payments or to get out of default, but it is not always a good idea.
Pros and Cons of Consolidation
- If you have relatively new loans, you probably won’t save as much on interest through consolidation. This is because interest rates on federal loans made after July 1, 2006 are fixed. The interest rates for consolidation loans are calculated based on the average interest rates of the loans that you are consolidating. If you have variable rate loans from before July 1, 2006, you may be able to get very significant interest rate reductions by consolidating. The interest rate (valid through June 30, 2013) for loans first disbursed between July 1, 1998 and June 30, 2006 is 2.39% for loans in repayment. You can get an even lower rate of 1.88% if you consolidate during your grace period. These low rates will be locked in for the remaining life of the loan. You should check the interest rates on your loans, particulary if you have a subsidized loan that you took out after 2008, because rates are lower on these loans. The Department of Education has more information about consolidation loan interest rates. Federal student loan amounts and terms for 2013-14.
- Consolidation extends repayment, often lowering monthly payments, but creating more overall costs in interest over the life of the loan, and extending your obligation further into the future. If you are close to paying off your loans, consolidation may not be worthwhile.
- You may lose some rights by consolidating. This is most clearly a problem if you consolidate federal loans into a private consolidation loan (you would lose the rights associated with federal loans). You may also lose some options and protections if you consolidate certain federal loans, particularly Perkins loans, into other federal loan programs.
- Parent PLUS borrowers who also have other federal student loans and choose to consolidate with Direct Loans will find that the PLUS loan taints the entire consolidation loan and will mean that they will not be eligible to repay the consolidation loan using IBR. If they wish to consolidate, parent PLUS borrowers may exclude the PLUS loans from the consolidation and pay them separately. These borrowers should also be able to consolidate and choose ICR.
- Consolidation allows you to put all of your loans together and make just one monthly payment.
- Consolidation might help you if you need to reduce payments on your loan through an extension of the repayment period. (Extending the length of repayment increases the total amount you have to repay over the life of the loan.)
- You may get an interest rate break, especially if you have variable rate loans.
As you weigh the pros and cons, keep in mind that timing is critical. With just a few exceptions, you get only one chance to consolidate with the government loan programs.
WARNING: It is very dangerous to consolidate federal loans into a private consolidation loan. You will lose your rights under the federal loan programs once you choose to consolidate with a private lender. These include deferment, forbearance, cancellation, and affordable repayment rights. Federal consolidation loans generally have lower interest rates.
Federal Government Consolidation Loans
Under the Direct Loan Consolidation Program, you can consolidate Subsidized and Unsubsidized Stafford Loans, Supplemental Loans for Students (SLSs), Federally Insured Student Loans (FISLs), PLUS Loans, Direct Loans, Perkins Loans, Health Education Assistance Loans (HEALs), and just about any other type of federal student loan. Loans that are not eligible for consolidation include state or private loans that are not federally guaranteed.
Although all of these different loans may be consolidated, you must have at least one outstanding FFEL or Direct Loan to obtain a Direct Consolidation Loan. This means, for example, that a Perkins Loan on its own cannot be consolidated into a Direct Loan.
You may consolidate with Direct Loans during grace periods, once you have entered repayment, or during periods of deferment or forbearance. Borrowers in default may also consolidate in certain circumstances.
Consolidation was previously available to borrowers while they were still in school. Congress eliminated this right in 2006. Congress also eliminated joint consolidation for spouses, effective July 1, 2006.
You can consolidate during grace periods. This may lead to a lower interest rate on a Direct Consolidation loan, but only if you are consolidating variable rate loans. However, once you consolidate, you lose any remaining grace period. You will generally receive your first bills within 60 days after the new Direct Consolidation loan is made. You can consolidate while in a grace period if you have fixed interest rate loans, but the Department of Education acknowledges that there “is no beneift to do so since the interest rates for in-grace and in-repayment are the same.”
ALERT: The Department is phasing in a new consolidation loan application system, starting in January 2014.
Loan Terms, Fees, and Limits
Interest rates for consolidation loans are fixed. The fixed rate is based on the weighted average of the interest rates on the loans at the time of consolidation, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of a percentage point. The interest rate must not exceed 8.25%.
Consolidation loan borrowers should not be charged origination fees.
Only One Chance
If you already have a consolidation loan with either FFEL or Direct, you are not allowed to “reconsolidate’, except in limited circumstances.
These circumstances are:
- If you have an eligible loan that was not included in the first consolidation and you include that loan in the new consolidation. The eligible loan could be a new loan you received after the initial consolidation loan. It could also be another consolidation loan, or
- FFEL consolidation borrowers may obtain a Direct consolidation loan if the loan is in default or has been submitted to a guaranty agency for default aversion and if you agree to repay under the Income Contingent Repayment plan or Income Based Repayment, or
- You can “re-consolidate” if necessary to participate in the Direct Loan public service forgiveness program. It is a good idea to do this even if you just think that you might want to use the public service cancellation program. The sooner your payments start counting toward the ten year cancellation period, the better, or
- Military service members are also allowed to re-consolidate to take advantage of the new limits on interest accrual for Direct Loans.
Private Consolidation Loans
Borrowers cannot consolidate private student loans with the federal consolidation loan programs. However, if you have private loans, you may want to think about consolidating these loans into a new private consolidation loan. This may be a good idea if you want a single monthly payment. You may also be able to get a better deal if, for example, your credit score is better now than it was when you first took out the private loans.
WARNING: It is very dangerous to consolidate federal loans into a private consolidation loan. You will lose your rights under the federal loan programs once you choose to consolidate with a private lender. These include deferment, forbearance, cancellation, and affordable repayment rights. Also, federal consolidation loans generally have lower interest rates.