By Jamie Johnson, WCI Contributor
If you took on student loan debt to pay for medical school, it probably took a number of different loans to make that happen. This strategy made sense while you were still in school, but paying down multiple loans each month can get confusing once you graduate. That’s why consolidating your medical school student loan debt can be an attractive option.
Consolidation can help you lower your monthly payments and simplify your financial life overall. Read on to discover more about student loan debt consolidation and how you can use it to help you.
What Is Student Loan Consolidation?
When you consolidate your student loans, you take multiple loans with varying terms and interest rates and combine them into a single loan. So, instead of making multiple payments each month, you’ll make one monthly payment toward your student loan debt.
If you’re interested in pursuing student loan consolidation, there are two different ways you to do it:
- If you have federal loans, you can take out a Direct Consolidation Loan.
- If you have private loans, you’ll need to consolidate and refinance your loans through a private lender. Federal loans can also be consolidated and refinanced with a private lender.
What Is the Difference Between Consolidation and Refinancing?
When you consolidate loans, you are simply taking many loans and making one loan out of them. With federal student loans, all of your federals are combined into a single direct consolidation loan with a weighted average interest rate that is then rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of a point. You save no interest by consolidating federal loans. You do simplify your financial life and you may receive other benefits for doing so, but as far as interest, it will cost you about the same or even slightly more to consolidate your federal loans.
When you refinance loans with a private lender, you not only combine multiple loans into a single loan, but you generally get a lower interest rate. This new loan is a private loan and is no longer eligible for federal Income Driven Repayment (IDR) programs, the Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) subsidy, or federal forgiveness programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). Refinancing generally still makes sense at some point if you are paying back your student loans, but there are downsides to refinancing.
How to Consolidate Student Loans
How you consolidate your student loan debt largely depends on whether you have private or federal loans. The process of consolidating each loan type is very different.
How to Consolidate Federal Student Loans
When you take out a Direct Consolidation Loan, you combine multiple federal loans into a single loan. That means you’ll only have one monthly loan payment, and when you apply, you’ll get the opportunity to choose your loan servicer.
Best of all, there are no credit requirements when you consolidate your federal student loans. And consolidation can make you eligible for certain federal programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).
How to Consolidate Private Student Loans
When you consolidate your private student loans, you’re replacing multiple loans with a new, single loan. Ideally, this new loan comes with a lower interest rate so that you can save money on interest.
Unlike a federal loan consolidation, your financial history and credit score will determine the type of rate you receive. To qualify for the best rates, you’ll need excellent credit and a steady source of employment. If your credit score isn’t as high as you would like, you can apply with a creditworthy cosigner.
Can You Consolidate Private and Federal Student Loans?
A Direct Consolidation Loan is only available for federal student loans. But you can consolidate and refinance both federal and private student loans through a private lender.
However, you should think carefully before you do this. If you refinance federal loans through a private lender, you’ll lose access to the following federal benefits:
- Temporary loan deferment or forbearance
- Income-driven repayment plans
- Potential loan forgiveness through programs like PSLF or IDR
- Any future student loan holidays like the one associated with the COVID pandemic
Should I Consolidate My Student Loans?
Federal loan consolidation may be the right option if you’re looking to streamline your monthly payments. And if you’re looking to save money on interest, refinancing and consolidating private loans may be the right choice. However, you should weigh the pros and cons of that decision before moving forward.
Pros and Cons of Consolidating Student Loans
- Streamline your monthly payments: You take multiple student loans and combine them into a single loan when you consolidate your loans. That means you’ll have fewer payments to keep track of each month.
- Extend your repayment timeline: When you consolidate federal loans, you have the option to extend your repayment timeline. Doing this can help you earn a lower monthly payment and give you more financial breathing room.
- Possibly save money on interest: If you have a good credit score and decide to refinance your private student loans, you could earn a lower interest rate. This could help you save thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.
- Potentially lose federal loan benefits: If you refinance and consolidate your federal loans with a private lender, you’ll lose access to federal borrower protections.
- You might not save money: If you choose to extend the repayment period for your federal loans, you’ll pay less money each month, but you won’t save any money. Instead, you’ll end up paying more money in interest over time.
Still not sure what to do with your student loans and whether you should consolidate them? Hire Andrew Paulson at StudentLoanAdvice.com to help you sort it out.
How Long Does It Take to Consolidate Student Loans?
According to the office of Federal Student Aid, the application process is relatively simple and takes most borrowers 30 minutes to complete. However, it takes most borrowers between 30-45 days to receive a Federal Consolidation Loan.
If you consolidate and refinance private student loans, the timeline can vary depending on your lender. Some lenders offer instant approval, and they can complete the process within just a few weeks.
What Other Reasons Are There to Consolidate Federal Loans?
There are two other reasons to consolidate federal loans besides simplifying your payments.
The first is that you can sometimes take federal loans that were not otherwise eligible for the IDR and PSLF programs and make them eligible via a direct consolidation loans. These include Stafford loans, FFEL PLUS loans, FFEL Parent PLUS loans, and FFEL Consolidation loans.
The second is that by consolidating as soon as you get out of school, even before you officially start residency, you can skip the six-month grace period. This allows you to start making PSLF (or IDR) forgiveness qualifying payments ASAP—which helps you arrive at PSLF (or IDR) forgiveness six months sooner—and usually allows you to pay less total toward the loans before receiving forgiveness for the remainder.
When to Consolidate Student Loans?
Most borrowers are eligible for student loan consolidation once they graduate or leave school. This means you’ll be repaying your loans, or they will be in a grace period.
To be eligible for student loan consolidation, your loans must be in good standing. If one or more of your loans is currently in default, you need to make repayment arrangements before applying for consolidation.
Can I Consolidate Student Loans While Still in School?
No, you can’t consolidate your student loans while you’re still in college. Once you’ve graduated from school and entered a grace period, you’re eligible for student loan consolidation.
If you’re still in school, you might consider making extra payments toward your loans. This will lower the balance, so you’ll have less to repay once you graduate.
Best Student Loan Consolidation/Refinancing Companies
If you choose to consolidate and refinance your existing private loans, you’ll need to go through a private lender. Here are a few options you can consider:
- Earnest: Earnest is a good option for borrowers with fair to moderate credit scores. The company doesn’t charge any origination or application fees, and you can choose your loan terms.
- SoFi: SoFi got its start by focusing on student loan refinancing. The lender doesn’t charge any fees and offers a cosigner release option.
- Laurel Road: Laurel Road provides student loan refinancing for certain types of loans, including medical school loans. The company doesn’t charge any application, origination, or prepayment fees.
See even more WCI-vetted options—and for exclusive deals (cash back!) for those who use the WCI links—visit our student loan refinance page or simply click on the chart below.
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Consolidate Student Loans with Spouse
If you refinance your loans through specific lenders, you have the option to consolidate your student loans with your spouse. You can do this by using your spouse as a cosigner when you consolidate and refinance your loans.
If your spouse has student loans as well, you could consolidate both of your student loans into a new single loan. However, the US Department of Education ended its Joint Consolidation Loan Program in 2006, so that option is now only available through private lenders.
Whether you’re looking to consolidate your student loans with a spouse or on your own, it’s essential to do your homework first. Know whether you need to consolidate private loans or federal loans, and be sure to understand the pros and cons of each. For example, if you consolidate loans together and one of you dies, the other will still be responsible for the entire loan. Buy term life insurance accordingly to protect from that possibility.
And keep in mind, if you consolidate federal loans with a private lender, there are no do-overs. So, make sure to weigh all of your options carefully before moving forward.
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