Taking out student loans is an investment in your future, just like buying a house, contributing to a 401K, or building a portfolio of stocks and bonds. Whereas housing and stock markets alike can crash seemingly without warning, however, a college degree delivers, more often than not. According to the College Board’s “Education Pays” report, a college student that is behind employed peers in terms of wages while paying for a bachelor’s degree will recoup these losses by age 34 and begin to surpass those same peers.
Note: This blog was previously published in August of 2017, but has been updated to be current for our readers.
In other words, you’ve done good by going to college, and the result is that you are now paying your bills and student loans while also saving for your future. Still, you can’t help but notice all the media hype over the benefits of student loan refinancing, or the great offers from companies like Education Loan Finance that could help you to save money over the life of your student loans.
If you’re going to refinance in order to reduce your interest rates, monthly payments or overall payout on student loans, you have to be just as smart as you were when choosing a profitable major. You need to ask the right questions and compare student loan refinancing lenders. Here are the top questions to help you get to the bottom of which lender is your best choice when it comes to refinancing student loans.
Do I qualify for refinancing?
This is question number one. If a lender won’t work with you for some reason or another, you’ll have to go back to the drawing board. As a college student paying down debt, however, you might find yourself in a great position to refinance.
Potential factors affecting your ability to refinance include:
Not every lender will use the same factors in determining eligibility. While some rely primarily on credit score and history, others now weigh minimum income requirements more heavily. The good news is, if you earn a good income, you’re working to reduce debt and you’ve built up a solid credit score (680+) and clean credit history, you’re probably in a great position to refinance with just about any lender you approach, allowing you the opportunity to shop around and pick the lender you prefer.
What are the benefits?
There are a lot of potential benefits to refinancing student loans, but when you do it right, the biggest benefit is saving money. Once you’ve qualified for refinancing, it’s time to look for the best terms, and this could include comparing:
- Interest rates
- Variable/fixed rates
- Monthly payments
- Loan duration
- Overall payout
With the right terms, you could reduce your debt and save money on every front. This, in turn, could mean paying off debt faster, improving your credit score, reducing stress and generally feeling pretty awesome about your excellent life choices. You might be able to buy your first home or start a business sooner than you hoped. Maybe you can start putting money into retirement accounts and taking advantage of compound interest early in life. Sound refinancing opens doors. Hashtag winning, anyone?
What’s the deal with fixed vs. variable rates?
You may have noticed that among your myriad student loans are lurking some variable rates. As a college grad, you probably understand the difference between the terms “fixed” and “variable,” so you know why the former is generally preferable. Variable-rate loans fluctuate, which is pretty great during economic downturn because your interest rates and payments go down.
Are there penalties for early repayment?
According to the office of Federal Student Aid, the federal loans you take for college incur no penalties for early repayment. Can you keep the same benefits when you refinance? You’ll need to make sure the lender you choose allows you to make extra payments toward the principle of the loan, as opposed to paying off fees and accrued interest first. This way you’ll be sure to enjoy the rewards of your responsible financial behavior, and actually reduce debt and pay your loan down faster.
Are there further discounts available?
You might already know that you should ask about available discounts when comparing insurance policies, but did you know you can also get discounts through loan refinancing? You might not save the same amount as with a greatly reduced interest rate, but every little bit helps.
Some lenders will reduce your rate by a small percentage (say 0.25%) if you select an automatic payment method. You might also be eligible for discounts related to good behavior like on-time, consecutive payments. Or you could get bonuses for referrals. If there are discounts to be had, you definitely want to know about them, and the best way is to ask.
What are some other benefits to refinancing student loans?
You want more than monetary savings when you refinance? You got it. Some lenders are finding ways to sweeten the deal with extras like unemployment protection, career coaching, entrepreneurship programs and more. Often, these bonuses are in the best interest of both lenders and borrowers.
For example, pausing loan payments during hardships like job loss can give borrowers the opportunity to get back on their feet and resume payments faster, and helping borrowers with career and entrepreneurship opportunities can lead to increased earnings and perhaps future loans. It looks like lenders are starting to see the value of long-term relationships with college grads.
Should I refinance or consolidate?
Why not do both? When you refinance and consolidate at the same time, you stand to reduce interest rates and payments, but you could also increase convenience by turning a dozen monthly payments into a single bill.
Before your refinance your student loans, you need to choose a lender that’s going to offer you the best terms and the most benefits. With a list of targeted questions in mind, you can find the perfect lender for the job. It could just be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
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