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Student loan consolidation is the process of taking multiple outstanding loans and reorganizing them into a single loan, sometimes with a longer repayment period and therefore a lower monthly payment. If you’re in serious debt and ineligible for student loan forgiveness, consolidation could offer the solution you need.

student loan debtWhat is a student loan?

A student loan is financial assistance that’s specifically designed to help students pay for school-related fees. These loans cover the cost of such things as tuition, school supplies, books and living expenses.

Like other loans, this type of financial assistance is money that you borrow and pay back with interest. Unlike many other types of loans, however, student loans typically don’t require you to start repayment until after the education has been completed.

Student loans are offered by a variety of sources, including the federal government, banks and online lenders. Many of these sources also provide student loan consolidation.

What types of loans can be consolidated?

Both federal student loans and private loans can be consolidated, although consolidating through private lenders is typically known as refinancing.

Federal student loans are eligible for consolidation through the U.S. Department of Education, which offers a Direct Consolidation Loan that allows for the combining of multiple federal education loans into one loan at no cost. You can also consolidate your federal student loans with private lenders, although you’ll lose federal benefits in doing so.

Private student loans cannot be consolidated with federal student loans, but they can be refinanced and consolidated through private lenders.

These are some of the federal loans eligible for consolidation:

  • Subsidized Federal Stafford Loans.
  • Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans.
  • PLUS loans from the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program.
  • Supplemental Loans for Students.
  • Federal Perkins Loans.
  • Nursing Student Loans.
  • Nurse Faculty Loans.
  • Health Education Assistance Loans.
  • Health Professions Student Loans.
  • Loans for Disadvantaged Students.
  • Direct Subsidized Loans.
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans.
  • Direct PLUS Loans.

Should I consolidate my loans?

If you need more cash in your pocket right now, consolidation can help by extending the life of your loan and thus trimming your monthly payments — although extending your repayment timeline will ultimately increase the amount you pay in interest.

You may also have access to a new repayment schedule (like an income-based repayment plan) that’s a little easier on your wallet.

Keep in mind that federal consolidation loans do not work like private loans — the interest rate you receive will be the weighted average of all of the loans you’re consolidating, meaning the main benefits are longer repayment periods and the convenience of having one monthly payment.

How to consolidate your student loans

There are two options for consolidating your student debt. The federal student loan consolidation option offered by the U.S. Department of Education is the Direct Consolidation Loan.

“With this option, any federal loans that you choose to consolidate are paid off and you are issued a Direct Consolidation Loan for the total combined balance,” says Jessica Ferastoaru, student loans specialist for Take Charge America.

You can complete the Direct Consolidation Loan application online. Once submitted, it may take 60 days for your application to process, says Ferastoaru.

“You should continue to make your regular payments on your loans, if payments are currently due, until your consolidation has been approved,” explains Ferastoaru. “Once approved, you will have one monthly payment due to the new servicer managing your Direct Consolidation Loan.”

Yet another option is a private loan refinance, meaning you combine your federal student loans or your private student loans, or some combination of both, with a private lender.

Private loan refinancing has some significant drawbacks to be aware of, however, including different eligibility criteria.

“You will need to meet certain income and credit score requirements to qualify,” says Ferastoaru. This means a co-signer may be required to qualify.

More importantly, it’s critical to understand that if you consolidate federal loans with a private lender, you’re no longer eligible for any federal programs, such as those that allow you to postpone payments when you’re unemployed. In addition, you will no longer be eligible for federal income-driven repayment options, loan forgiveness or any sort of loan discharge.

How can I get the best interest rate?

If you’re consolidating your student loans through the federal government, your overall interest rate will remain the same. This is because a Direct Consolidation Loan charges the weighted average of all loans you’re consolidating.

However, it’s a different story if you’re refinancing with a private lender. Interest rates are determined by the federal government and change each year on July 1, so it’s a good idea to shop around with lenders to see how they respond to rate fluctuation.

Improving your credit score will also help you get the best loan rates possible, says Katie Ross, education and development manager for American Consumer Credit Counseling.

“Having a good credit score is the key to getting the best interest rate with any loan,” says Ross. “A credit score of 750-plus is generally considered good, with 800 or higher considered exceptional. The higher your credit score, the better your interest rate when you apply for a loan.”

Additional things to consider

When is the right time to consolidate loans?

“The right time to consolidate will be different for every borrower,” says Ferastoaru. “If payments are affordable when you graduate college, there may not be any reason to consolidate your loans at that time. But if you need lower payments right after graduating from college, federal student loan consolidation may be a good option to consider.”

For those who may be considering a private loan refinance in order to obtain a lower interest rate, it may be best to wait to explore this option until you have a steady income and strong credit history in order to increase your chances of qualifying.

“If you’re not yet employed right after graduation, it will be difficult to qualify for a refinance without a co-signer,” says Ferastoaru.

What kind of terms do lenders offer?

With federal consolidation loans, you can choose from a variety of repayment plans, sometimes up to 30 years. No application or origination fees are allowed, and there are no prepayment penalties.

Private consolidation lenders, on the other hand, are not subject to those terms and may include variable rates and any number of fees. What’s more, some benefits of a federal consolidation loan, such as interest subsidies on deferred loans, are not available on private loans.

Bear in mind that not all consolidators are created equal. Some offer favorable terms like interest-rate reduction for making on-time payments or choosing automatic withdrawal. Others may offer repayment plans that better suit your financial situation.

FAQs on student loan consolidation

How is loan consolidation different from loan forgiveness?

Unlike student loan forgiveness, consolidation involves working with a lender that will pay off your existing balances. The lender will replace those loans with a new, consolidated loan and a new monthly payment.

Consolidation involves changing the way you repay student loans rather than relieving you of the obligation to repay all the money you’ve borrowed. Student loan forgiveness is a process that erases financial obligation. Students who have entered careers in the military or other forms of public service, for instance, may be eligible to have their loans partially forgiven.

How is loan consolidation different from refinancing?

The difference between student loan consolidation and refinancing is subtle, and the terms are often used interchangeably. Both methods involve taking out a new loan to better manage multiple outstanding balances.

“In general, the term consolidation is used to describe the process of combining one or more federal student loans within the Direct Loan Program,” says Ferastoaru. “Combining one or more of your loans with a private lender is considered refinancing your loans, as you may qualify for a lower interest rate on your new private loan. With federal consolidation, you may qualify for more repayment options, but it is not a way to reduce your interest rate.”

Can I consolidate more than once?

Current law dictates that you can consolidate student loans only once. There are two exceptions:

  1. If you’ve since gone back to school and acquired new student loans.
  2. If an outstanding loan was excluded from your original consolidation.

Will consolidating my student loans hurt my credit?

If you’re consolidating student loans through what’s known as a debt consolidation loan, rather than through the Department of Education, then your credit score may drop initially, says Ross.

This is because any time you apply for new loans, it results in a hard inquiry on your credit. Too many hard inquiries will hurt your credit score,” Ross explains.

Over the long term, though, consolidating your loans may help your score if you make the payments on time every month. This is because payment history is one of the most significant factors in determining your credit score.

Completing a federal student loan consolidation, on the other hand, typically does not have a significant impact on your credit, says Ferastoaru. “Your previous loans are being paid off and you’re issued a new loan for the same amount, so your total amount of debt has not changed.”

The bottom line

There are many options when considering loan consolidation, so make sure to do your homework and investigate all the possibilities before applying.

But bear in mind that if you have federal student loans, consolidating through the U.S. Department of Education program may ultimately provide the best option over the long term, allowing you to remain eligible for income-driven repayment programs, loan forgiveness or loan discharge.

Blog Writer: Barry Bridges For Bankrate.

credit score picCredit score is one of the most important aspects of an American’s life today. Individuals who have good credit scores qualify for the best interest rates, thereby paying less finance charges on loans and credit cards. People can save a lot of money with low markup rates and that money can be used to pay off debts faster and invest elsewhere. Credit scores primarily depend on five factors:

  • Credit usage
  • Payment history
  • New credit inquiries
  • Age of credit accounts
  • Credit mix

People who file for bankruptcy observe a significant drop in their credit scores for obvious reasons. Similarly, paying your bills past the due date and maxing out your credit cards produces a similar effect. If your credit score is below 500, then applying for a loan is certainly a bad idea. Allow your score to surpass 700 before thinking about leasing a car or mortgaging a property. Here are five steps to help you improve your score efficiently:

1.   Start Paying your Bills on Time

Perhaps the sole reason for your dwindling scores is a habit of issuing late payments. Most late payments are subject to a surcharge, which means you are also losing more cash. You will have to establish a budget for your regular expenses, such as utility bills, internet, and T.V subscriptions. You must always keep enough money aside for paying your bills, so you are not fumbling for pennies when the time arrives. If you forget to submit your bills on time, set up reminders on your phone’s calendar. It may seem like too much extra work in the beginning, though you will eventually get the hang of it.

2.   Decrease your Credit Utilization

Credit cards are not your best friends, but merely an emergency fund. Do not consider them as a ticket to unlimited shopping sprees. Remember that it is not free money; you have to pay back every cent with interest later on. Primarily rely on your debit cards, and only turn to credit cards as a last resort. Your credit utilization must fall within 30% of your card’s spending limit.

3.   Do not Open or Close Credit Accounts

When your credit score is down in the dumps, do not close unused credit cards. This will increase your credit utilization ratio, thereby further deceasing your credit score. Do not apply for new credit either, as enquires too have a negative impact on the score. Managing existing credit cards shall be the only priority.

4.   Organize a Payment Plan to pay off Debt

credit repair with calculatorIf you are struggling with debt owed to multiple creditors, organize a reasonable payment plan to get out of the situation. Start by talking and negotiating with your creditors to set up an installment schedule that works well with your current income. Paying off secured and unsecured debts like utility fees, medical bills, student loans, mortgage, and pending credit card payments will readily improve your score.

5.   Always check your Credit Report for Errors

Sometimes a low credit score may seem unexpected, so you must go through your credit report to make sure. If you spot errors in your credit history, report them immediately. The entity in charge will make the requested corrections and recalculate your score.

Author Bio

John Adams is a paralegal who writes about widespread legal and social issues. He helps readers overcome challenges and solve many personal problems the smart way, rather than the hard way. He aims to reach out to individuals who are unaware of their legal rights, and make the world a better place.

Financial planning is difficult when you’re single, but matters tend to get more complicated when you need to account for your partner, your kids, or both. Budgeting and making a savings plan isn’t always fun or easy, but it is necessary. Below, learn about a few steps you can take now to pave a smooth path for your family’s future.

Outline Your Goals

Everyone has life goals, so you’ll want to start by defining what these are for you as soon as possible. Perhaps you dream of owning a home, becoming debt-free, or retiring early. All of these dreams are attainable if you have a solid plan in place.

It’s easy to form a vague idea of your goals, but making them concrete is sometimes a challenge. If you don’t know where to start, Zen Habits suggests writing down ideas to help define what’s most important to you. This simple practice can be incredibly effective.  woman holding toddler

Learn How to Tackle Debt

For many families, debt is a major stumbling block on the path to success. If you’re dealing with student loans, credit card debt, personal loans, or a car loan, it can sometimes feel impossible to get out from under your payments.

There are numerous strategies for paying off debt, but the right one for you will depend on your individual situation. Forbes explains that the popular “snowball method,” which involves paying the smallest debts first regardless of interest, works great for some people.

However, you should always weigh other options to find the best one for you. Depending on the type of debt you have, it may make more sense to chip away at each debt equally or focus your attention on accounts with the highest interest rates first.

Seeking credit counseling from a reputable organization might be a good step if you don’t know where to start. In dire situations, you may also consider debt relief. However, this option can have major implications for your financial future. 

Start Saving for Specific Goals

A savings plan is just as important as your plan for handling debt. One of the easiest ways to start saving is to schedule recurring deposits to your savings account from your checking account. However, you might make more progress if you set specific goals.

Setting a savings goal starts with determining how much you need and knowing when you need it. For example, you may want to have $10,000 saved up for a down payment on a home within the next five years. With this basic information, you can determine how much of your income you need to save each month.

There are many savings strategies, but for many people, following the 50/30/20 rule works well. With this approach, you spend 50 percent of your income on needs, such as food and housing, and 30 percent of your income on wants, such as entertainment or hobbies. The remaining 20 percent then goes towards savings. Don’t forget the importance of creating an emergency fund.

Achieving Your Goals

When trying to achieve a specific financial goal, it helps to research everything that’s involved in making it a reality. For example, if you want to buy a house at some point down the road, it is important to understand your financing options. Each type of mortgage has its own credit requirements, interest rates, and down payment standards.

Generally speaking, you can choose between conventional financing and federally-backed loans, such as FHA loans. Conventional loans are more flexible and offer fixed or adjustable rates, but also require you to have more money for a down payment and a better credit score. FHA loans are a good option if you have limited money for a down payment and have a poor credit score. But there are still long-term costs, like annual mortgage insurance premiums.

Financial planning is one of the best things you can do to provide for your family. Keep in mind it’s not as simple as sitting down once and making a plan for the rest of your lives. A good financial plan is revisited often to ensure it still aligns with your current and future goals.

 

Blog contributor: Emma Grace Brown

Deferring your loan payments doesn't have a direct impact on your credit scores—and it could be a good option if you're having trouble making payments.

Putting off your payments can impact your finances in other ways, though. Your loans may continue to accrue interest, and you might pay more in the long run or have larger monthly bills once you resume making payments. It still may be a worthwhile trade-off compared with missing a payment altogether, which could lead to late payment fees and hurt your credit.

How Does Deferring a Payment Work?

When you request a loan deferment and your lender agrees to the arrangement, you're allowed to temporarily stop making payments on the loan. You don't need to worry about late payment fees or your loan servicer reporting missed payments to the credit bureaus.

Generally, you'll need to apply if you want to put your loan into deferment. The process can vary depending on the type of loan you have and which creditor or loan servicer you send your payments to each month.

  • If you have a federal student loan, you can submit your request to your loan servicer. You can review the eligibility requirements for loan deferment or forbearance (a similar option that lets you temporarily stop making payments) on the Department of Education's website. Your loans may automatically be put into deferment if you enroll in an eligible school with at least a half-time course load.
  • With an auto loan, the lender may refer to the arrangement as a loan extension or postponement. Each lender will have different criteria you must meet before they grant an extension. For example, you may need to show that you're requesting the extension due to a temporary setback, such as a medical emergency.
  • If you're having trouble with mortgage payments, you can contact your mortgage servicer to discuss your options. One option may be able to place your loan into forbearance and temporarily stop making payments or make smaller payments. You can get free assistance from a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) counselor who can help explain your options.

Whether it's called deferment, loan extension, postponement or forbearance, continue making your payments until you're certain that your lender or loan servicer has approved your application and is allowing you to stop making payments.

Also, remember that these arrangements are temporary and you may need to reapply if you want to keep postponing payments.

Can Deferred Payments Affect My Credit?

When a lender approves your deferment request, it should report that your payments are currently deferred to the credit bureaus. While this appears on your credit report, the deferment mark won't directly help or hurt your credit scores.

The accounts can continue to impact your credit scores, though. For example, your account will continue to age, which lengthens your credit history and could help your scores.

Also, keep in mind that if you apply for deferment and stop making payments, but your lender denies the deferment request or a payment is due before it's approved, the late payment could still get reported to the credit bureaus and hurt your scores.

If you missed payments before putting your loan into deferment, those late payments won't be removed from your credit history. However, if your account was past due when you entered deferment, their impact may temporarily be ignored while your loan is in deferment.

Will I Still Be Charged Interest During Deferment?

There are certain situations when you don't need to pay the interest that accrues during deferment. For example, if you have subsidized federal student loans, the government may make the interest payments during deferment (but not for student loan forbearance).

Subsidized student loans aside, you may be responsible for repaying the interest that accrues while you've postponed your payments. You may get a slight break if your interest rate only applies to your loan's principal balance during deferment—meaning you won't be charged interest on the interest that accrues.

However, even then, once you start making payments, the accrued interest could be capitalized—added to your principal balance—and your interest rate now applies to the larger principal balance. As a result, more interest may accrue each month after your deferment ends.

Depending on the arrangement, you may add additional loan payments to the end of your loan's term or your monthly payment amount may increase. In either case, you wind up paying more overall than if you hadn't deferred your payments.

For mortgages, you may have to make a large lump-sum payment for the entire amount past due that accrued during the forbearance. This can include the missed loan payments, interest and insurance.

Loan Deferment Alternatives

In the cases where you may have trouble affording your loan payments but don't want to put your loans into deferment, your deferment request is denied or you've reached the maximum amount of time your loans can be in deferment, you'll need to consider other alternatives.

Your options will depend on the type of loan you have, your lender or loan servicer, and the reasons you're having trouble affording payments. They may include:

  • Your lender could offer alternative hardship options, such as temporarily lowering your interest rate or monthly payment amount.
  • You may be able to switch to a different repayment plan with a lower monthly payment.
  • You might be able to permanently modify your loan agreement and lower your monthly payments.
  • You could refinance your loan and your new loan could have a longer term or lower interest rate, which can lead to a lower monthly payment. However, this may require good credit and a higher income.

Having Trouble? Act Quickly

If you're currently faced with a bill that you can't afford, or foresee being unable to afford bills due to losing a job, a medical emergency or another crisis, reach out to your lender or loan servicer right away. They may be able to explain your options and figure out an arrangement (deferment or otherwise) that can keep your account in good standing and help you avoid late fees and hurting your credit.

Blog Author: 

Growing a family can throw a wrench in your finances, no matter how well you budget. But planning for the future is a crucial part of protecting your loved ones and ensuring you can reach your goals. Here are three smart ways to begin planning for your finances and future, plus how you can start today.

money to pay debtsTake Small Steps Toward Saving for a Down Payment

If one of your financial goals isn’t to save for a home, you might want to reconsider. Buying a home is often the best decision for couples and families who hope to one day live rent-free. That said, it’s not always a simple financial path toward homeownership. The first hurdle is coming up with a down payment.

It’s possible to purchase property without a down payment, such as by using a USDA or VA loan, if you qualify. But by putting at least five percent of the purchase price down, you may be eligible for a better rate. That means increased savings over the life of the loan—and a more manageable monthly payment.

Plus, as Bankrate highlights, the average down payment in 2019 was 12 percent. So, you don’t need 20 percent down to buy a home these days. What you do need is a plan—and a family budget—for putting away funds so that you can stop renting and start owning.

Invest in Your Retirement from Day One

Though you may have good intentions, neglecting your retirement account to pad your children’s college fund isn’t wise. Focus on your retirement first, and budget for college savings second. After all, your child could always take out student loans or receive grants for college expenses.

In contrast, you have no safety net if you skip diverting cash for retirement. Most Americans receive Social Security after retirement age, but in an ideal scenario, the maximum potential payment would equal $3,790. That said, not every worker waits until age 70 to claim their benefits, which is only one part of the equation when it comes to receiving the highest disbursement possible.

The good news is that it’s not too late to begin building a retirement fund, especially if you start now. Less than half of Americans start saving for retirement in their 20s, while the average age hovers around 31. There’s still time to begin contributing to a 401(k) or IRA, and both involve significant tax benefits. 

Think About (And Beyond) College Funding

Most parents want their children to be able to attend college, and a financial boost is often helpful. But there is more than one way to pay for college, and not every path is right for every family.

The most common college savings option—a 529 plan—offers tax benefits if your child uses the funds for their education. They can choose to use the money elsewhere, but taxes will apply at that point. But you don’t have to have thousands of dollars in a savings account for college. NPR’s expert recommends that parents start small, if necessary, saving an amount each month automatically. Any balance you accrue will help your child pay for expenses—even if it’s for gas money to get to campus or the cost of their books.

If money is tight right now—or continues to be as your child grows—consider alternatives. For example, many students receive financial aid packages in the form of grants. As CNN explains, you can even “haggle” for a better financial aid offering from the college your child is admitted to. Private scholarships and work-study programs are also options that can ease the financial burden from parents’ shoulders.

It can be challenging to know what to plan for when growing your family. When it comes to finances, though, saving anything is better than not saving at all. Plus, increasing your savings now can help your family buy a home, give your kids an education, and allow you to enjoy a comfortable retirement when the time comes.

Blog contribtor: Emma G. Brown

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