Back in the early 2000’s, consolidation of student loans was a very common practice. The reason for this, especially for federal student loans, is that the loans at that time had variable interest rates. By consolidating when the rates were low, borrowers could lock in that lower interest rate. Starting in 2006, new federal student loans came with fixed interest rates, making consolidation not as valuable an option. Consolidation can still be useful, but must be considered carefully.
If you are interested in private loan consolidation, click here to skip down.
Pros of Consolidating Your Federal Student Loans
If you do have older federal student loans with a variable interest rate, and the current rates are low, consolidation may still be a good option for you. The interest rates on a consolidation loan are the weighted average of the rates of the underlying loans rounded up to the nearest 1/8 of a per cent. If you have fixed rate loans, consolidation will not help you interest rate wise. In fact, you end up with a slightly higher rate as explained above.
Consolidation can put all of your federal student loans in one place. These days, the Department of Education does a pretty good job ensuring that all of a borrowers student loans are handled by one servicer already, so for most people, there isn’t a need to do this. Payment options including automatic payments also make managing loans are multiple places easier.
There are some situations however, where consolidation is a very good idea. If you have Federal Family Education Loan program, or Perkins loans, consolidation can help make those loans eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. If you have Parent Plus loans, consolidation will make those loans eligible for the income contingent repayment plan. Consolidation is also one way of getting your federal loans out of default.
Consolidation can also lower your monthly payments by extending the term of the loan. This can be useful if your income does not make the income driven plans affordable for you. You can find out what your payment will be under consolidation and the other repayment plans by using this calculator we like.
Drawbacks of Consolidating Your Federal Student Loans
Consolidation pays off your underlying loans and creates one new loan. This means that any progress you have made towards forgiveness under an income driven repayment plan or Public Service Loan Forgiveness does not carry over to the new consolidation loan. You will start at zero payments made for the purposes of those forgiveness programs.
Consolidation can make you ineligible for certain benefits your underlying loans are qualified for. Perkins loan cancellation eligibility is lost by consolidating these loans. Access to the income sensitive repayment option under the Federal Family Education Loan program is also lost by consolidating these loans into the Direct Loan program.
As previously stated, consolidation calculates the interest rate by taking the weighted average of the underlying loans and rounding up to the nearest 1/8 of a per cent. This means that consolidation can cost you more due to this slightly higher overall interest rate.
Consolidation can also cost you more by extending the term of the loan. The longer you take to repay the loan in full, the more you will pay in interest.
One last warning about consolidation. Many borrowers consolidate their loans and pursue Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which is not necessary if you already have federal Direct Loans. The standard repayment plan that you are placed on if you don’t choose something else is often mistakenly assumed to be an eligible plan for Public Service Loan Forgiveness purposes. Only payments made under an income driven repayment plan, or a ten year standard plan count for PSLF purposes. You can read the full eligibility rules for PSLF here.
How to Consolidate Federal Student Loans
You can consolidate your federal student loans at www.studentloans.gov. There is no fee to do this. On the application, you can choose to consolidate all loans, or fill in the loans you do not want to consolidate on the “Do Not Consolidate” page. You will also be prompted to choose a repayment plan and will have the option to choose which loan servicer if you have a preference.
The process generally takes up to 60 days. You are required to continue to make your payments during this process.
The following loans are eligible for federal Direct Loan consolidation. With some exceptions, you may only consolidate once.
- Federal Family Education Loan Program Subsidized Federal Stafford Loans
- Federal Family Education Loan Program Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans
- Graduate and Parent 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
In general, you can only consolidate your loans once. Exceptions to this rule include:
- Consolidating a delinquent loan
- To gain access to a benefit your current loan is not eligible for, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness or income contingent repayment
- Consolidating a Federal Family Education Loan program consolidation to gain access to the no-interest benefit for active duty service members.
The term of your Direct Loan consolidation will be as follows:
|Total federal loan balance being consolidated||Direct consolidation loan repayment terms|
|Less than $7,500||10 years|
|$7,500 to $9,999||12 years|
|$10,000 to $19,999||15 years|
|$20,000 to $39,999||20 years|
|$40,000 to $59,999||25 years|
|$60,000 or more||30 years|
There is no pre-payment penalty for paying these, or any other federal loans, off early.
Defaulted federal student loans may be ineligible for consolidation if they are currently under a wage garnishment or judgment order. If they can be consolidated, you may be required to make several on time payments before the loans are released for consolidation. You may also be required to utilize an income driven repayment plan if you consolidate a defaulted loan.
Double Consolidation Method for Parent Plus Borrowers
Parent PLUS loans in and of themselves are not eligible for any of the income driven repayment plans. They can be made eligible for the income contingent repayment plan (ICR) only by consolidating the Parent Plus. There is a loophole however, that will allow Parent Plus loans to be eligible for the other, often lower cost, income driven plans. We call this the “double super secret consolidation method.” It can be a little confusing, so bear with us.
Essentially what you need to do is consolidate each Parent Plus loan twice. Think of consolidation as say a semi-transparent screen. If you put one screen over the Parent Plus loan you can still see it, but if you put two over it you can’t.
This will only work if you have at least two separate outstanding loans. An existing consolidation is only one loan even though they book it in two parts on your account.
Say you have four Parent Plus loans. We will call them loans 1, 2, 3 and 4.
Step One: Consolidate loans 1 and 2 only. Now you have one consolidation loan and loans 3 and 4
Step Two: Consolidate loans 3 and 4 only. You can start this process only after step one is completed and loans 1 and 2 show a zero balance. Be sure to create a new consolidation for loans 3 and 4, not an “add on” to the existing consolidation. If you try to consolidate within 180 days of another consolidation they will often steer or even require the add on to the existing consolidation. You do NOT want to do this – you want to end up with two separate consolidation loans. If the system wont’ let you do a separate consolidation, only an add on, wait the 180 days to attempt the second consolidation. Now you should show no Parent Plus, just two consolidation loans that we will call consolidation loans A and B.
Step Three: Consolidate the two consolidation loans A and B together. Again, do not do the add on process and do not start this third consolidation until the first two are completed. You should now have one consolidation loan and that’s it. At this point you have successfully completed the double consolidation of the Parent Plus and this final consolidation should be eligible for the REPAYE and IBR repayment plans if you are otherwise eligible. Possible the PAYE plan as well depending on when your original loans were taken out.
Warning: Consolidation will often reset any forgiveness counts such as for PSLF or IDR forgiveness unless done under one of the temporary waivers offered between the 2021-2023 COVID period.
Private Loan Consolidation
Private loan consolidation is a very different animal than federal loan consolidation in that it is more of a traditional refinancing option that borrowers with good credit can use to obtain a lower interest rate and/or longer term and lower payments. Private loan consolidation can also be a way of having your co-signer removed from responsibility for the loans.
You should only attempt private loan consolidation if your credit, including your debt to income ratio, will garner you a lower interest rate or other more beneficial term. Private loan consolidators can be picky in who they choose to accept for consolidation. Those companies with more lenient credit criteria tend to have higher interest rates.
While you can consolidate federal student loans into a private consolidation, we almost always recommend against this. Doing so means losing access to all federal benefits, discharges, repayment options and other protections. You should only consolidate your federal loans into a private loan consolidation if you have an extremely robust emergency fund, steady employment, and a very affordable payment.
TISLA has a policy not to recommend or dissuade consumers from one company over another. In the interest of assisting you in your student loans however, we are providing a list, in alphabetical order, of all the private loan lenders we know of that offer consolidation. If you know of others, please let us know. Note if the interest rate section states “not listed” the lender requires users to fill out personal information to obtain possible rates.