How to pick the right lender to refinance your student loans

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In a Nutshell

Student loan refinancing could potentially save you money, but it's key to do your research to figure out if refinancing is a good option for you.
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If you’re one of the 40 million Americans with student loans, you may be curious if refinancing is worth pursuing.

Student loan refinancing could potentially save you money if you get a loan at a lower interest rate.

But with so many lenders to choose from, how do you know which one is right for you? Here are five steps to help you pick the best lender to refinance your student loans if you decide that refinancing is right for you.

  1. Compare repayment terms
  2. Assess your eligibility
  3. Understand the pros and cons of refinancing
  4. Understand the fine print
  5. Research reviews about each company
  6. Coronavirus and student loan repayment relief options

1. Compare repayment terms

When reviewing lenders, it’s wise to compare their repayment terms. The repayment term refers to the amount of time you have to pay back your loan. Each lender is different, but most repayment terms range from five to 20 years.

You’ll want to find a payment plan that works with your budget, since the repayment term will affect the size of your monthly payments. For example, if you choose a shorter repayment term, you’ll likely pay more each month, but less overall since you’ll have fewer interest payments.

2. Assess your eligibility

Before applying for student loan refinancing, you can try to assess your eligibility by looking at the loan requirements for each lender. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the minimum and maximum amounts you can borrow?
  • What are the credit score requirements? Most refinance companies use credit scores to assess risk.
  • What are their debt-to-income ratio requirements? Many lenders use this to assess how much you can afford to pay, based on your current income and debt load.
  • Are there specific income requirements? Lenders typically want to know that you have sufficient income to cover the payments.
  • Do they refinance student loans from your school? Some lenders only work with borrowers from specific schools.
  • Are you eligible for refinancing based on your degree? Some lenders, like Darien Rowayton Bank, offer loan programs for borrowers in certain fields including medicine and law.

3. Understand the pros and cons of refinancing

Different lenders typically come with their own unique advantages and perks. For example, some lenders offer unemployment protection, so if you lose your job, you can put your payments temporarily on hold.

Others offer more flexibility on the repayment term, monthly payments and interest rate. As a borrower, you’ll want to know what unique benefits each lender can offer you so you can choose appropriately.

Also keep in mind that if you decide to refinance, you may lose the benefits of certain programs that come with your current student loans. For example, if you work in a certain field — like in the public sector or as a teacher in a low-income area — you may qualify for loan forgiveness on your federal student loans. But when you refinance with a private lender, you no longer have access to those federal loan forgiveness programs.

In addition, the CFPB notes that loan discharge benefits or forgiveness in the case of death or permanent disability isn’t available with all private loan lenders, whereas federal loans do offer those as options.

In fact, the CFPB cautions that people should consider refinancing their federal student loan into a private student loan only if they have a “secure job, emergency savings, strong credit, [and] are unlikely to benefit from forgiveness options.”

And remember, once you refinance your federal student loan into a private loan, you can’t reverse it — so make sure it’s something you really want to do that will benefit you in the long run.

4. Understand the fine print

When looking at various lenders, it’s important to read the fine print so you can avoid any surprises down the road. Here are some things to look for.

  • Does the loan have an origination fee? This is a fee that lenders can charge to cover the costs associated with processing the loan.
  • Are there prepayment penalties if you pay off your loan early? If so, how much?
  • If you need a co-signer, does the lender offer co-signer release? This can release co-signers from the loan contract if you’ve proven you can make the payments by yourself.
  • What happens if you’re late making a payment?
  • Does the private loan come with a fixed rate or a variable rate? Most federal loans come with a fixed rate, meaning you don’t need to worry about your interest rate changing over the life of the loan. Private loans, on the other hand, can come with fixed or variable rates that mean your interest can change over time.

5. Research reviews about each company

When choosing the best lender to refinance your student loans, consider researching reviews about the company to see how others have rated their experience. Was the actual refinancing process as described? Were others satisfied with the overall service? When is customer support available (and are they helpful)?

Consider the fact that you’ll likely be with this company throughout your repayment journey, so you’ll want to choose a company that works best for you.

Bottom line

Student loan refinancing could potentially save you money, but it’s key to do your research to figure out if refinancing is a good option for you. If it is, it’s also key to research your refinancing options and find a plan that’s a good fit.

Coronavirus and student loan repayment relief options

If you’re struggling to make payments on your federal student loans because of COVID-19, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans have experienced layoffs, furloughs and reduced hours at work, which is making it difficult for many to pay bills they may otherwise be able to cover.

Payment relief for federal student loans

As part of the CARES Act, the federal government announced that payments on federal student loans — including direct loans, Perkins loans and Federal Family Education Loans owned by the U.S. Department of Education — are automatically suspended through Sept. 30, 2020.

Keep in mind that some Perkins loans and Federal Family Education Loans may be owned by private lenders, and therefore are not included in the CARES Act. You should consider reaching out to your loan servicer to find out who owns your student loan.

Payment relief for private student loans

Unfortunately, the announcement from the U.S. government doesn’t apply to private student loans. But there are a handful of private lenders who have also announced relief measures to help out those who may be struggling to make payments right now. You can see which private student loan lenders have made announcements here.

About the author: Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer and editor currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy and empowering people to take control of their finances. Her work has been f… Read more.