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How to Consolidate Student Loans – Federal Versus Private Loan Consolidation

Student loan consolidation can be used by student or parent borrowers to combine their multiple education loans into one loan with one monthly payment. As any student can take either federal or private student loans, he or she can also take a federal or private consolidation loan to make the education debt more manageable.

Both federal and private student loans offer significant benefits, but federal loans offer borrowers many benefits that don’t come with private loans; for instance: low fixed interest rates, income-based repayment plans, loan forgiveness and deferment options. While some private lenders may offer them too, it usually is associated with some strings attached.

For those reasons, every borrower should always exhaust federal student loans options before considering a private loan. The same advice applies to consolidating student loans – always look at federal consolidation loan first and only if you don’t qualify for a federal loan of it is not the right choice for any reason, and then seek a private consolidation loan.

It is important to remember that a federal student consolidation loan can’t include any private loan. Moreover, if you consolidate your federal student loan into a private consolidation loan, you will lose your federal borrower benefits mentioned above (unless you private lender tries hard to get your business and includes them in the offer).

There are important differences between federal and private student loan consolidation.

First of all, with federal student loan consolidation, you will have a fixed interest rate, while private student loan consolidations are credit-based, which means that your consolidation loan rate will not be locked – it will be variable. So, while you will not have to go through credit check in order to apply for a federal consolidation loan, you will need it to secure a private consolidation loan.

Student loan consolidation rates are determined differently for federal and private consolidations. The interest rates for federal loans are set according to a formula established by federal statue. It’s a fixed rate, based on the weighted average of the interest rates on each of your loans at the time you consolidate, rounded up to the nearest 1/8th of a percent and capped at 8.25%.

As private student loans are not funded by the federal government, they are subject to the terms determined by each individual lender (bank, credit union, other financial institution) and the market competition. In private student consolidation loans a borrower’s credit is the primary factor in the variable interest rate offered to the borrower. As the base for setting the consolidation loan interest rate, the private lenders most often use the Prime rate or the 3-month LIBOR Rate, to which they add a margin. That margin varies from lender to lender and is applied according to the borrower’s credit rating.

With regards to the interest rate on the consolidation loan, it’s typical for both federal and private consolidation loan to include 0.25% rate reduction for automated debit payments.

Repayment of federal student consolidation loans begins within 60 days of the disbursement of the loan, with the payback term ranging from 10 to 30 years, depending on the amount of education debt being repaid and on other debts owned, as well as on the repayment option chosen by the borrower. Private student consolidation loans can also have repayment terms of up to 30 years, although they have fewer repayment options. Usually, repayment begins 30 days from the time your private student consolidation loan is funded.

While the most important factors looked at when deciding about how to consolidate student loans are the interest rates, borrower benefits and the terms of repayment, there are also other significant factors, such as: fees or cost to consolidate, prepayment penalties, loan amount limits, customer service, etc.

There are no fees or application costs whatsoever for processing and providing a federal student consolidation loan. It’s against the law to ask for advance (up-front) fees for arranging a federal education loan or consolidating federal education loans. However, some federal education loans (e.g. the Stafford and PLUS Loans) may require some fees, but they are always deducted from the disbursement check. On the other hand, private lenders may charge fees for application and processing private consolidation loans. Some private lenders charge fees as high as 4% of the principal you owe.

Federal consolidation loan programs don’t require a minimum balance to consolidate student loans; some private lenders require a minimum balance before they consider a borrower’s application for consolidation. That amount varies from lender to lender, but usually is between $5,000-$7,500 in US-issued private education loans.

With both federal private consolidations, there are no penalties for prepayment – all payments in excess of scheduled payments will go directly to principal and that will help to repay your consolidation loan faster.

The application process for consolidation of private student loans differs from the federal consolidation. Sometimes applications for private consolidation loans may be easier to complete (often done online or over the phone). However, it’s worth remembering that federal loans usually have lower interest rates, borrower benefits and better repayment terms than private student loans. Moreover, federal applications for both original loans and consolidation loans require FAFSA, so with the federal consolidation, your application is already partly completed.

Mary Cala is the Author and Leading Expert on how to consolidate student loans and she blogs about student loan consolidation. If you’d like to learn about how to consolidate student loans, go to Mary Cala’s blog – Consolidation Dept – where she provides tips on consolidating student loans and getting financial aid.

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