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Student Loan Refinance FAQs
Editorial disclosure: Our goal is to give you the tools and confidence you need to improve your finances. Although we receive compensation from our partner lenders, whom we will always identify, all opinions are our own. Credible Operations, Inc. NMLS # 1681276, is referred to here as "Credible."
Should you refinance student loans during the COVID-19 pandemic?
This mainly depends on what type of student loans you have.
- If you have private student loans, refinancing might get you a lower interest rate or reduced monthly payment (or both), which could help you more easily manage your loans during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can check rates and potentially prequalify for a much lower rate than what you have right now.
- If you have federal student loans, it’s likely better to wait for updates on the CARES Act and forgiveness plans before consolidating with a private lender. Due to the pandemic, federals student loan payments and interest accrual have been suspended during the pandemic into 2023. If you refinance your federal student loans, you’ll lose access to this suspension as well as other federal benefits and protections, such as income-driven repayment plans and student loan forgiveness programs.
Learn more: Federal Student Loans and COVID-19: What You Need to Know
What is student loan refinancing?
Refinancing your student loans is when you take out a new loan to pay off your old loans, leaving you with just one loan and payment to manage. Depending on your credit, you might be able to lower your interest rate through refinancing — which could save you money on interest and even help you pay off your loan faster.
Or you could opt to extend your repayment term through refinancing, which could reduce your monthly payments and lessen the strain on your budget. Just keep in mind that choosing a longer repayment term means you’ll pay more in interest over time.
What types of loans are eligible to be refinanced?
There are several types of student loans that are eligible for refinancing, including loans for undergraduate, graduate, and professional studies. These loan types include:
- Federal student loans are offered by the U.S. Department of Education and have their interest rates set by Congress. They also provide benefits and protections that don’t come with private loans, such as access to federal deferment and forbearance, income-driven repayment plans, and student loan forgiveness programs.
- Private student loans are offered by private lenders, including traditional banks and credit unions as well as online lenders. The interest rates on these loans vary by lender and are determined by market conditions. While private loans don’t offer federal protections, they do offer benefits like potentially higher loan amounts and the ability to apply at any time with no deadline to worry about.
- Medical school loans are available to help students pay for medical school. You might be able to get a general student loan for this purpose or a specialized medical school loan from a private lender. Some lenders also allow students to defer payments until after residency.
- MBA loans can be used to cover your expenses while attending business school. While you can use a general student loan for this, there are also private lenders that offer specialized MBA student loans.
- Law school loans can be used to pay for a law degree. You can take out general student loans for this or apply for a specialized law school loan from a private lender. There are also lenders that offer bar study loans to help you cover your expenses while studying for the bar exam.
Keep in mind that while you can refinance both federal and private student loans, refinancing federal student loans will cost you federal benefits and protections — such as access to income-driven repayment plans and student loan forgiveness programs. You’ll also no longer be eligible for the payment and interest suspension under the CARES Act.
What are the benefits of refinancing a student loan?
Refinancing offers several potential benefits. Here are a few to keep in mind if you’re considering whether refinancing is a good idea for your situation:
- Might get a lower interest rate: Depending on your credit, you could lower your student loan interest rate through refinancing. This could save you money on interest charges and might even help you pay off your loan faster.
- Could reduce your monthly payments: If you choose a longer repayment term, you could reduce your monthly payments. Just remember that doing so means you’ll pay more in interest over time.
- Can combine multiple loans: If you refinance your student loans, you’ll be left with just one loan and payment to worry about.
- Can remove cosigners: If you’d like to remove a cosigner from your student loan, you can do so through refinancing as you’ll be paying off the old loan. This will release your cosigner from sharing responsibility for your loan.
Are there any downsides to refinancing a student loan?
While refinancing could be a smart move in some cases, there are also some potential downsides to consider:
- Fewer options for bad credit: If you have poor or fair credit, it could be harder for you to get approved for refinancing. Additionally, you might not qualify for the best interest rates if you have less-than-perfect credit.
- Loss of federal benefits: If you refinance federal student loans into a private loan, you’ll no longer have access to federal benefits and protections — such as student loan forgiveness programs and federal forbearance options. However, keep in mind that if you’re refinancing private student loans, you won’t have to worry about this risk.
- Lack of repayment options: Private student loan repayment options are generally much more limited compared to federal loans. For example, private refinanced loans typically don’t offer income-driven or extended repayment plans.
What do I need to qualify for student loan refinancing?
The requirements to qualify for refinancing can vary by lender. However, there are a few common eligibility criteria you’ll likely come across, including:
- Good credit: You’ll typically need good to excellent credit to qualify for refinancing — a good credit score is usually considered to be 700 or higher. While some lenders offer refinancing for bad credit, these loans generally come with higher interest rates compared to good credit loans.
- Verifiable income: Some lenders have a minimum required income while others don’t — but in either case, you’ll likely need to provide documentation showing proof of income.
- Low debt-to-income ratio: Your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is the amount you owe in debt payments each month compared to your income. Lenders typically like to see a DTI ratio of 50% or below — though keep in mind that some lenders might require lower ratios than this.
- Loan information: The lender will need information regarding each of the student loans you want to refinance, such as loan balances, your current lenders, and what schools you attended.
If you’re struggling to get approved for refinancing on your own, consider applying with a cosigner to improve your chances. A cosigner simply needs to be someone with good credit — such as a parent, other relative, or trusted friend — who’s willing to share responsibility for the loan.
Even if you don’t need a cosigner to qualify, having one could get you a lower interest rate than you’d get on your own.
How do I refinance my student loans?
If you’re ready to refinance your student loans, follow these four steps:
- Research and compare lenders. Be sure to compare as many lenders as possible to find the right loan for you. Consider not only interest rates but also repayment terms, any fees charged by the lender, and eligibility requirements.
- Pick your loan option. After you’ve compared lenders, choose the loan option that best suits your needs.
- Complete the application. Once you’ve picked a lender, you’ll need to fill out a full application and submit any required documentation, such as tax returns or pay stubs.
- Manage your payments. If you’re approved, continue making payments on your old loans while the refinance is processed. Afterward, you’ll start making payments on your new loan. You might also consider signing up for autopay so you won’t miss any payments in the future — many lenders offer a rate discount to borrowers who set up automatic payments.
What’s the difference between student loan refinancing and student loan consolidation?
Refinancing and consolidation are both ways to combine student loans. However, they mean something different for federal and private student loans. Here’s how it breaks down:
- Federal student loan consolidation: If you have federal student loans, you can consolidate them into a federal Direct Consolidation Loan. The interest rate on a Direct Consolidation Loan is the weighted average of the loans you consolidated. You also have the choice to extend your repayment term up to 30 years.
- Private student loan refinancing: Private student loan consolidation and refinancing refer to the same process — paying off your old loans with a new private loan. Through refinancing, you might be able to get a lower interest rate or extend your term to reduce your monthly payment. Remember that you can consolidate both federal and private student loans, but doing so will cost you access to federal benefits and protections.
What’s the difference between a fixed-rate and a variable-rate loan?
When you’re refinancing a student loan, you’ll see a lot of numbers contained in your loan documents. One of these is your annual percentage rate (APR), which includes your interest rate as well as any fees that come with your loan.
Another number to be aware of is your interest rate. There are two types of interest rates available for refinanced loans:
- A fixed interest rate will stay the same throughout the life of your loan. This also means your monthly payment won’t ever change. Fixed rates often start out higher than variable rates. However, they offer stability for your loan costs, which can make them a better choice if you plan to pay off your loan over several years.
- A variable interest rate can fluctuate according to the market conditions — which means your payment could go up in the future. While a variable rate can be lower than a fixed rate to start, there’s no guarantee your rate won’t change as time goes on. However, a variable rate might be a good idea if you plan to pay off your loan quickly before the rate can change too much.
Can you refinance a student loan more than once?
Yes, there’s no limit to how often you can refinance a student loan. For example, you might choose to refinance again if your credit score has improved and you can get a better rate. Or you might refinance again to extend your repayment term and reduce your monthly payment.
Learn more: How Often Can You Refinance Student Loans?
Can you refinance your loan if you have bad credit?
Yes, you might be able to refinance student loans with bad credit. While many lenders require good to excellent credit to refinance, others work with borrowers who have poor or fair credit — though keep in mind that you’ll likely be offered higher interest rates compared to the rates received by borrowers with good credit.
Another option that could help you get approved with bad credit is to apply with a creditworthy cosigner. Just remember that your cosigner will share responsibility for the loan — meaning they’ll be on the hook if you can’t make your payments. Depending on the lender you choose, you might be able to release your cosigner if you make a certain number of consecutive, on-time payments — usually for 12 to 48 months — and are able to meet the underwriting criteria.
If you can wait to refinance your loans, you might consider spending some time improving your credit before you apply to more easily qualify in the future. Some potential ways to do this include:
- Making on-time payments on all of your bills
- Paying down credit card balances
- Becoming an authorized user on the credit card account of someone you trust
When should you refinance your student loans?
Here are a few scenarios where refinancing your student loans could be the right move:
- You can qualify for a better interest rate, which will save you money on your loan
- You need a lower monthly payment that fits more comfortably in your budgeting
- You have multiple student loans and want to combine them to simplify your repayment
- You have private student loans, so won’t lose any federal benefits by refinancing
Ultimately, you’ll have to decide whether refinancing your student loans is a good idea depending on your individual circumstances and financial goals.
Learn more: When to Refinance Student Loans
Can you refinance only some of your student loans?
Yes — if you refinance your student loans, you can choose whether you’d like to refinance some or all of your student loan debt.
For example, if you have a mix of federal student loans and private student loans, you could refinance just the private student loans while leaving your federal student loans alone. This way, you could take advantage of refinancing for your private loans while maintaining the federal protections on your federal loans.
Just keep in mind that once you’ve refinanced, it can’t be undone — you’ll have to decide beforehand how much of your student loan balance you want to refinance.
How do I choose the best lender to refinance with?
To find the right lender for your situation, you should always compare loan rates and terms from multiple lenders. You should specifically look at the interest rate, length of repayment, fees, and any special repayment options each lender might offer (like deferment, forbearance, etc.). This way, you’ll know which lender will best help you pay off your student loan debt.
These are Credible’s best companies to refinance student loans:
Additional resources to help you refinance student loans:
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