When considering student loan refinancing, your primary objective is to reduce interest costs. To achieve this, you’ll want to select a lender that offers you the most competitive interest rate you qualify for. Variable rates often appear more attractive than fixed rates, but remember that they can fluctuate over time. Opt for a variable rate only if you plan to pay off your loan swiftly.
Unlike federal loans, refinance loans for students do not come with the same consumer protections, such as income-driven repayment plans or loan forgiveness. Nevertheless, some refinance lenders extend more than the standard 12 months of forbearance during the loan term, along with additional options for borrowers facing payment difficulties.
Refinancing typically suits individuals with stable incomes and job security. However, life’s circumstances can change. If you anticipate the need to pause payments or lower your monthly bill, it’s advisable to choose a lender with a more lenient forbearance policy.
In cases where you consider refinancing with a co-signer, prioritize lenders that offer a co-signer release policy, allowing you to assume full responsibility for repayment when feasible. This not only safeguards your co-signer’s credit but also relieves them of potential negative credit effects should you miss payments.
We gathered data from 16 leading student loan refinance lenders and evaluated them based on 15 key data points, focusing on interest rates, fees, loan terms, hardship options, application process, and eligibility criteria. We’ve selected the top 10 lenders based on those receiving three stars or higher.
The following weightage was assigned to each category:
– Hardship options: 30%
– Eligibility: 18%
– Loan terms: 18%
– Application process: 16%
– Interest rates: 13%
– Fees: 5%
Specific attributes assessed within each category encompassed the duration of forbearance available, alternative hardship repayment options beyond traditional forbearance, in-school deferment availability, accessibility for borrowers without a bachelor’s degree, time to default, disclosure of credit score and income prerequisites, and other relevant factors.
Lenders offering interest rates below 7% were rated the highest. Similarly, lenders scoring well offered more than the standard 12 months of forbearance, provided interest rate discounts beyond the standard 0.25% for automatic payments, imposed no late fees, and presented various loan terms with a maximum duration of 15 years. We believe that borrowers should opt for the shortest loan term possible to maximize interest savings.
In certain instances, lenders received partial points, and up to 3% of the final score was left to editorial discretion, taking into account the quality of borrower-friendly features.
For further details regarding Forbes Advisor’s lender rating criteria and our editorial process, please refer to our Loan Rating & Review Methodology.
Understanding Student Loan Refinancing
Student loan refinancing enables you to consolidate multiple loans into a single, more manageable payment. You work with a private lender who pays off your existing student loans and replaces them with a new one. While refinancing generally incurs no fees, you must meet the lender’s credit and income requirements.
If your credit is strong (or you have a creditworthy co-signer), you might qualify for a lower interest rate compared to your current rate. Reducing your interest rate can result in lower monthly payments and long-term cost savings.
Refinancing also allows you to select new repayment terms, typically ranging from five to 20 years. A shorter term accelerates debt repayment and reduces interest costs, while a longer term offers more affordable monthly payments but leads to higher overall interest expenses. However, bear in mind that refinancing federal loans converts them into private loans, thereby rendering them ineligible for federal repayment plans, forgiveness programs, and other associated benefits.
The Process of Refinancing Student Loans
Refinancing student loans involves acquiring a new loan from a different lender to pay off your existing student debt. This new loan will offer a new interest rate and repayment term, potentially resulting in reduced interest costs and lower monthly payments. Consolidating multiple student loans into a single debt makes repayment more straightforward.
It’s important to note that refinancing is exclusively available through private lenders. As a result, refinancing federal student loans converts them into private debt, leading to the loss of federal benefits like income-driven repayment, loan forgiveness programs, and more flexible deferment and forbearance options.
If you wish to retain your federal student loan benefits, consolidation is a suitable alternative. By consolidating federal loans, you merge them into a single payment using a direct consolidation loan. This approach averages your interest rates and rounds up to the nearest one-eighth percent. While your repayment period can extend up to 30 years, you maintain access to all federal benefits.
Refinancing is an appropriate choice if you are willing to forgo federal benefits, have robust credit, and a stable income (or a co-signer with these attributes). It allows you to take advantage of a lower interest rate, resulting in long-term savings. For individuals with fair or poor credit, refinancing may not yield significant savings if an interest rate lower than their current rate cannot be secured. Additionally, those with uncertain job stability or an inclination to utilize payment relief options should consider retaining federal student loans.
The Criteria for Student Loan Refinancing Eligibility
While eligibility requirements for student loan refinancing can vary between lenders, the following criteria are generally applicable:
1. Strong Credit: Most lenders expect borrowers to possess good to excellent credit, typically a credit score of 670 or higher.
2. Steady Income: Meeting the lender’s income and employment criteria is essential. Full-time employment and an annual salary of at least $35,000 may be prerequisites.
3. Minimum Loan Balance: Lenders usually stipulate a minimum outstanding loan balance to qualify for refinancing, typically ranging between $5,000 and $10,000.
In cases where you fail to meet these requirements, you may still qualify for a private student loan by including a creditworthy co-signer in your loan application.
Pros and Cons of Refinancing Student Loans
Refinancing student loans can be a valuable strategy for managing your debt, but it’s essential to carefully assess the advantages and disadvantages.
- Potential Cost Savings: By refinancing and securing a lower interest rate, you could save hundreds or even thousands over the course of your loan.
- Streamlined Payments: Simplify repayment by consolidating multiple loans into a single one, reducing the complexity of tracking multiple loans and due dates.
- Faster Debt Repayment: Lower interest rates result in more payments going toward the principal rather than interest. Making extra payments can expedite loan repayment.
- Loss of Federal Benefits: Refinancing federal student loans converts them into private debt, making them ineligible for federal benefits such as income-driven repayment, Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and federal forbearance programs.
- Eligibility Criteria: Not all borrowers qualify for a lower interest rate through refinancing. Lenders impose strict eligibility requirements, and in some cases, borrowers may not secure a rate lower than their current one.
- Co-Signer Requirement: Due to stringent eligibility criteria, some borrowers may need a co-signer to qualify for a refinancing loan. Co-signing is a significant commitment, as student loans can have repayment terms spanning 10 to 20 years.
Determining Whether to Refinance Student Loans
Three primary factors should influence your decision to refinance: financial
history, interest rates, and repayment requirements.
Firstly, establish whether you meet the eligibility criteria. Most student loan refinance lenders require a minimum credit score of 650 or higher. Steady income, a low debt-to-income ratio, and a history of on-time debt payments are typically required.
Next, assess the interest rates on your current loans. If they significantly exceed the rates available through refinancing, which you can verify using lenders’ prequalification tools, then refinancing may be a suitable choice.
However, keep in mind that refinancing federal student loans eliminates access to essential federal programs such as flexible forbearance, income-based repayment, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). If you rely on these programs, or anticipate doing so in the future, it’s advisable to think twice before proceeding with refinancing.
Consider refinancing if you possess a good or excellent credit score, stable income (or a co-signer who does), and your current loans carry high interest rates. In some scenarios, refinancing may even allow you to assume responsibility for federal parent PLUS loans, potentially offering relief to your parents.
Expert Tip: Refinancing student loans can help with administrative tasks, such as removing a co-signer from your loan when your lender doesn’t offer a co-signer release. Certain lenders may permit parent borrowers to refinance parent PLUS loans in the student’s name, transferring payment responsibility.
It’s advisable to evaluate rates and loan features to identify the refinancing option that best aligns with your requirements.
How to Refinance Student Loans
If refinancing aligns with your financial objectives, you can commence the process by following these steps:
1. Research Multiple Lenders: Start by exploring various lenders before applying. Many refinancing lenders offer prequalification options that allow you to enter basic information for a soft credit check. This preliminary check won’t affect your credit score and provides estimated interest rates for the desired loan. Prequalify with multiple lenders to identify the most favorable offers.
2. Complete a Formal Application: After selecting your preferred lender, submit a formal application. This application typically requires more detailed information, including proof of income and other relevant documentation. Your lender will conduct a hard credit check to verify the provided details. Upon approval, you’ll receive a comprehensive overview of the final loan terms. Carefully review the documents, and if they meet your expectations, sign them to initiate your refinanced loan.
3. Confirm Previous Loan Closure: Your new lender will typically pay off your old loans directly. However, it’s important to continue making payments on your existing debt until you receive confirmation that your previous loans have been paid off and the associated accounts have been closed. Once this process is completed, you’ll commence regular payments on your refinanced loan.
How to Refinance Student Loans with Poor Credit
When your credit is less than ideal, applying with a co-signer is an effective strategy to qualify for student loan refinancing. A co-signer serves as a guarantee for your loan’s repayment, reducing risk for the lender and enhancing your chances of securing a loan with a more competitive interest rate.
An ideal co-signer should be someone with a strong payment history and a FICO score of 670 or higher. Given the significance of co-signing, ensuring on-time payments is essential, as late payments can negatively impact both your and your co-signer’s credit scores. In the unfortunate event of loan default, both you and your co-signer could be pursued for unpaid debt by the lender.
Discussing your employment prospects and repayment plans after completing your studies with potential co-signers can instill confidence in their decision to assist you.
Is Student Loan Refinancing Worth It?
Refinancing student loans is a valuable strategy for those with stable employment and robust credit, as it can lead to long-term savings. Most lenders do not impose application or origination fees, minimizing upfront costs. It’s essential, however, to select an appropriate loan term. Extending your loan’s repayment period may lower your monthly payments but increase your overall interest expenses. Ideally, reductions in monthly payments should result from a lower interest rate rather than an extended loan term.
If your credit is fair or poor, and you are unable to secure an interest rate lower than your current rate, refinancing may not yield substantial savings. Additionally, individuals with uncertain job stability or the potential need for payment relief options like deferment, loan forgiveness, or income-driven repayments should consider retaining their federal student loans.
Remember that refinancing is just one piece of the puzzle in managing your student loans. Budgeting, saving, and planning for the future are also vital aspects of financial success. By taking control of your student loan debt and making wise financial decisions, you can pave the way for a brighter, more secure future.