Everything You Need to Know Before Refinancing Your Student Loans

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Student loans can be stressful, especially if you have a mix of federal and private loans as well as multiple lenders or loan servicers you make payments to each month. Adding to the challenge is that each loan can have a different interest rate and a different type of rate, like variable rates that change every month or quarter in comparison to fixed rates that don’t change. That’s a lot of information to keep track of month after month.

By now you’ve probably heard about student loan refinancing, but is it the right option for you?

What is student loan refinancing? How does it work?

When you refinance your student loans, you receive a new private loan with a new interest rate and a new repayment term to pay off your existing student loans. This is a great option for people who have private and federal student loans, but you can also refinance if you have just one or the other. Refinancing allows you to gather all or some of these loans into one new loan, often at a lower interest rate that will save you money or a longer repayment term that will lower your payment.

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What is the difference between refinancing and consolidation?

These two words are frequently used interchangeably but refinancing and consolidation are different. Consolidation typically refers to combining all your federal student loans into one new federal loan. It does not necessarily lower your interest rate as your current rates will be averaged and rounded into one new rate. Consolidation makes is easier to manage multiple federal payments. Learn more about federal loan consolidation from Federal Student Aid.

Should I refinance my student loans?

There are generally three main reasons people consider refinancing their student loans. The biggest draw to refinancing is to lower the interest rate you’re currently paying and thus save money. The other two reasons you may want to consider refinancing are to lower your monthly payment amount to help with other debt obligations or living expenses and to simply bring all your student loans together so that you only have to make one monthly student loan payment.

It’s important to note that not everyone with student loans can save money. Before jumping into refinancing, spend some time determining if you can lower your interest rate and how much money you could actually save.

Because private student loans are not guaranteed by the government, private loan lenders take on more risk, so they typically look for candidates with good credit. If you’re a working adult with a decent income and pay your loans and other bills on time every month, you should consider refinancing. Look at lenders who are upfront with their loan details. At Iowa Student Loan, we’ll provide the different interest rates and options you’re eligible for based on your credit score and you don’t have to complete a full application to learn that.

You can pre-qualify in less than a minute with no impact to your credit score and no obligation to apply.

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What is a good student loan interest rate?

It can be difficult to tell if you’re getting a good rate on your student loans. The rates you’re eligible for will always vary based on your credit score and the terms of the loan. Typically, rates between 3.00% and 7.00% are good rates in today’s market. If you have a student loans with interest rates higher than 7.00%, you should definitely consider refinancing to see if you can receive better rates. Even if your current loans have rates between 5.00% and 7.00%, it may still makes sense for you to look into your refinancing options. Simply lowering your rate from around 5.50% to closer to 3.50% can make a significant difference in the amount you repay over the life of your loan.

How much student loan debt can I refinance?

This varies depending on the lender. Iowa Student Loan will refinance up to $200,000 in education debt. Be sure to research this before you choose a lender.

Is refinancing worth it? What are the risks?

Refinancing can help you save money and simplify student loan repayment, but there are some risks to consider before refinancing. The biggest risk to keep in mind is if you choose to refinance federal loans into a private loan, you will lose the federal loan benefits. It’s important to understand these benefits before you make any decisions regarding your federal loans.

What does this mean? Federal student loans come with more options for repayment, such as income-driven repayment plans, which use a borrower’s income and family size to determine the minimum monthly payment amount. Federal student loans also include more deferment and forbearance options as well as loan forgiveness programs for certain borrowers. These vary depending on the specific loan, but if you choose to refinance federal loans into a private loan, you will forfeit the federal benefits. If you do not foresee any difficulty paying your minimum payments, then refinancing is a viable option. It’s important to note that if you have federal PLUS Loans for parents, those loans do not offer the same federal benefits as federal loans made to student borrowers.

How do I refinance my student loans?

If you determine that you’re a good candidate for refinancing, you should shop around for the best refinancing option. Many lenders will ask you for some personal information (like your name, address and Social Security number) to give you an idea of the rates you’re eligible for and to pre-qualify you for their loan. After you’ve chosen the best fit, you will submit an application to officially be approved for refinancing.

graphic with text that reads credit score, income and debt-to-income ratio

Lenders look at a few main factors when you apply to refinance. As with most loans, they consider your credit score, income and your debt-to-income ratio. Before refinancing, you may want to look at your credit score to see if you are eligible for better rates. But understand that your credit score varies by different rating agencies and the calculation that is used, so they credit score you see from one source may not match the one the lender uses. It is also a good idea to limit other debt, such as credit cards, if possible. Lenders want to know you will be able to repay your new loan.

Will refinancing my student loans hurt my credit score?

Refinancing your student loans will not hurt your credit score, as long as you don’t refinance multiple times in a short period. When you apply to refinance your student loans, the lender will perform a hard credit inquiry to view your credit history and score. This shows up on your credit score and multiple inquiries close together can have a negative impact.

However, this does not mean you shouldn’t look around and compare different rates. Getting pre-qualified for student loan refinancing to see potential rates typically does not involve a hard credit inquiry. Lenders typically do what is called a soft credit inquiry to get an idea of your credit history and those do not impact your credit score.

What else, besides interest rates, should I consider when refinancing?

Student loan interest rates are important, but they’re not the only consideration. You’ll want to understand the repayment terms and consider the services each lender offers, such as ways they accept payment and if assistance, should you need it, is an option. If a lender has a reputation for being difficult to communicate with, this can be a major deterrent even if their rates are competitive.

Can I refinance my loans with Iowa Student Loan?

If you’re a good candidate for refinancing, we want to help you save money. Complete our pre-qualification process to see what rates you can receive. There’s no credit impact to pre-qualify, and you only have to answer nine quick questions to reset your student loans and reduce your stress!

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By: Iowa Student Loan

How to Pay off Student Loans Smarter (And Faster)

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Have you ever felt like you’ll be repaying student loans your entire life? You’re not alone. Racking up student loan debt can seem like the end of the world, but there are many manageable ways to chip away at your debt. With these tips, you can work toward paying off your student loans faster.

Refinance Your Student Loans to Save

Refinancing is an option everyone should look into as it is one of the most effective ways to save money on loans and pay them off quicker without breaking your budget.

When you refinance your student loans, you may get a lower interest rate, which would mean paying less interest. In some cases, paying less interest can mean you pay thousands less in interest charges over the life of the loan.

Iowa Student Loan provides a simple and very quick way to find out the rate you would qualify for without impacting your credit score. And, if you have someone with good credit who is willing to cosign a refinancing loan with you, you may qualify for an even better rate, saving you even more in interest charges.

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Pay More than Your Minimum Student Loan Payment

One of the most effective ways to pay your student loans off quicker is to pay extra money each month. Paying your minimum required amount might be enough to keep you in good standing but that means it will still take you the entire repayment term to get out of debt.

Adding just a little extra money each month can make a huge difference, and if you have the disposable income to pay an additional amount each month you’ll save money on interest and time in repayment.

Infographic titled how to conquer student loans with extra payments

Download this infographic as a PDF.

Make Additional Student Loan Payments Throughout the Year

If putting extra money toward your student loans each month is unattainable, you can instead make a few extra payments throughout the year. This is a great place to start if you’re still trying to figure out just how much you have left over in your budget each month. Set a goal to make an extra payment once every three or six months and slowly reduce your student loan debt.

Make Some Extra Money to Put Toward Student Loans

If you feel like you don’t have enough income to contribute extra to your student loan payments, consider getting a part-time job to help with your budget. The best kind of part-time job is one where you get to do something you enjoy. For some people that means taking up tutoring, babysitting or music lessons. Others prefer to work at a restaurant or get a job at the mall (did somebody say discount?). Find something that works well with your lifestyle and schedule.

Just remember to make a plan to manage your money. Come up with a schedule for saving money or putting it directly toward the balance of a loan as you reach a certain amount. It can be too easy to spend money that is designated for loans if it’s just sitting around, so make sure you develop a good system for accountability.

Creative Ways to Make Extra Money

If you don’t want to commit to a part-time job, try a more creative way to make money. Driving for Uber or Lyft allows you to earn some extra cash on your own time, without an ongoing commitment. Or, you may be able to find freelancing work on different websites that fit with your skills. These are just a few of the more unique ways to make extra money to put toward your student loans debt.

See if Loan Forgiveness Is an Option

Loan forgiveness is not necessarily too good to be true! Not all people are eligible for this benefit, but some careers are eligible for loan forgiveness. And if you’re eligible, loan forgiveness can save you thousands of dollars.

The federal government offers several loan forgiveness programs depending on your career and types of debt. Be sure to use a reputable source for information on federal student loan forgiveness programs, like the Federal Student Aid website.

Many states also offer loan forgiveness programs for teachers, nurses and workers in other high-demand but lower paying fields. Be sure to check out what the state you live in offers as far as loan forgiveness programs. Another source is the financial aid office at the college or university you attended; as those experts can help you find loan forgiveness or grant programs.

Don’t Blow Raises and Bonuses

Everyone loves getting a bonus or raise at work. You can put this money to good use by paying off your student loans. If you receive an unexpected bonus or raise and are not relying on the money for anything specific, put it directly toward the balance on your loans. These can really help to reduce your debt and won’t even break the bank.

Budget to Save Money in Other Areas

Not sure how people manage to have left over money after bills, loans and fun? You should try out budgeting! Budgeting is great because it establishes boundaries for your spending and helps you keep track of where your money is going. When you’re not tracking your spending, you might not even realize just how much you’re spending on silly things.

Once you’re actively managing your spending, you’re more accountable and you’ll likely find you have more money to spend — money that you can put toward paying off loans, saving or investing. Making small changes is the best place to start. Consider cooking more at home to save on eating out, making coffee at home instead of stopping on your way to work or renting a movie instead of seeing one in the theater. This monthly budget calculator can help you get started.

Tips to Chip Away at Debt

Remember these tips to work toward paying off your student loans faster:

  • Consider refinancing your existing student loans. See if you pre-qualify today.
  • Pay more than the required minimum monthly payment amount.
  • Make additional student loan payments when you can.
  • Put any extra earnings or bonuses toward student loans.

Get creative! With a little bit of effort your student loans will be gone before you know it.

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By: Iowa Student Loan

How to Keep Student Loan Debt From Taking Over Your Life

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So, you graduated college, and now you have a degree, a job and mounds of student loan debt. You’re not alone. Student loans can seem daunting and you may have to do more than cut out a Starbucks run here or there, but student loans do not have to take over your life! Understanding your student loans is the best way to conquer them. Here are some common student loan repayment questions and answers.

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When are my first student loan payments due?

This depends on the type of loan. Most federal student loans have a six-month grace period. This means, for the first six months after graduation or leaving school, you will not need to make loan payments. In addition, many private loan lenders offer a similar automatic deferment period, sometimes called a separation period, after college. However, this is not the case for all loans. Private loans that required full principal and interest payments or interest-only payments throughout college usually don’t have a separation period.

You may have loans with different requirements. Check your promissory notes or credit agreements to see if you have a grace or separation period. It’s very important to understand when your first payment comes due for each loan. If you don’t know or don’t have your original loan documents, call your lender or loan servicer. This is also a good time to ask what your minimum monthly payment is if you don’t already know. If possible, it’s a good idea to begin making payments of some amount during your grace period to save money and time in repayment. Being prepared with this information will give you time to plan ahead so you don’t miss your first payment.

How do I start paying off my student loans?

Starting something brand new, like paying off loans, can be very overwhelming. If you have a variety of student loans, figuring out who to pay and how much you owe is even more complicated. Like many students, you may have taken out both private and federal student loans with different terms.

Once you’re no longer in your grace period, the first step to managing your loans is organizing and understanding each loan you have. To begin, create an accurate list of all your loans, including interest rates, the repayment term length, the minimum monthly payment amount, and the lenders’ or loan servicers’ contact information. You may want to keep track of this information in a notebook or spreadsheet that you can easily access for reference. If you’re not sure if your loans are private or federal, don’t worry, you are not alone.

Some common types of federal loans include:

  • Stafford Loans (subsidized or unsubsidized)
  • Perkins Loans
  • Federal Direct Loans (subsidized or unsubsidized)
  • Parent PLUS Loans
  • Grad PLUS Loans

How much time do I have to pay off my student loans?

This depends on the repayment terms of your loans. Most federal student loans have repayment terms of 10 years with longer terms available for larger balances. Private student loan repayment terms vary by lender but generally are between 10 and 20 years.

In addition, there are different repayment plan options. Standard repayment plans usually require consistent monthly payment amounts, depending on if the loan’s interest rate is fixed or variable, and generally help you pay the least amount of interest over the life of the loan. Graduated repayment plans start with a lower payment amount that gradually increases over time. The graduated plan can be helpful for those just starting in their careers with limited incomes. Remember, however, you will be paying more interest on a graduated repayment plan, so if you need to use this type of plan, any extra payments you can make will help decrease the overall amount you will have to pay over time.

If you’d like to pay off your loans sooner, the good news is, just because your repayment term is for 10 years doesn’t mean it has to take you that long! Budgeting will help you save money in the long run so you can work on paying your loans off sooner.

jars with money saved in them labelled debt, savings and invest

How do I budget for my student loans?

This is exactly the right question to ask! To have the best possible handle on your loans, it’s necessary to budget around your loans. Start with determining your monthly income and subtracting your minimum monthly student loan payment amounts. This will give you a sense of how much money you have left over for other expenses and entertainment. You can use an online monthly budget calculator so you know where your money is going each month.

Making your budget balance may take a few tries. If you come in negative, you’ll have to adjust your expenses or develop a plan for more income. Saving is important, but don’t forget to budget a little bit of money for fun in your life.

Which student loans should I pay off first?

You should always pay your minimum monthly payments on time for every loan. If you have extra money to put toward student loan payments, it’s best to put that extra toward the loans with the highest rates first. Loans with high interest rates will cost you the most money in the long run. If those rates are also variable, you may want to focus on those too as interest rates in general have been rising over the last year and that is impacting variable rates. If you have a mix of private, subsidized and unsubsidized loans, PLUS or Grad PLUS loans, determine which loans have the highest rates or balances and focus extra payments to those first.

How do I save and pay off my student loans? Which should I do first?

If you have money left over after paying your minimum monthly payments, you might want to split it between savings and extra loan payments. Applying additional money above your minimum payment amount will help pay your loans off quicker. While it’s important to pay off loans, especially high interest loans, it is also a good idea to have a safety net for emergencies. Work on building an emergency fund that covers three to six months of expenses.

Also, consider any big events or purchases that are coming up in your life as they may shift your priorities. If you are getting married or want to buy a house, make sure you start to budget for these future expenses.

How do I save money for retirement while paying off student loans?

The best way to save money for retirement is to take advantage of employer-sponsored retirement programs. If your company offers 401(k) with match, you basically earn free money simply by contributing. Most financial experts recommend that you contribute at least as much as your employer will match to maximize money going toward retirement.

Can I buy a house if I have student loans?

Mortgage lenders generally look at your credit score and debt-to-income ratio (DTI) and consider your down payment when determining whether to approve an application, so focus on these areas to make yourself an attractive candidate for lending.

A high DTI can make it harder to obtain a mortgage. One way to lower your debt-to-income ratio while you have student loans is to pay off other types of debt such as high-interest credit cards or car loans.

While you may not be able to purchase your dream home just yet, begin by looking at starter homes that are within your means and start saving for your down payment. You may also want to consider government programs that help first-time home buyers and individuals who want to buy a home but are struggling with student loan debt.

How do I lower my student loan payments?

If you have private student loans, or a mix of federal and private, you may be able to lower your monthly payments by refinancing. While you may need a creditworthy cosigner if you haven’t established much credit, refinancing can be worth it in savings. The federal government also offers a consolidation program for federal student loans only, although it doesn’t typically lower interest rates as the existing rates are instead averaged.

By consolidating your loans and refinancing, you may be eligible for a lower interest rate that can save you thousands of dollars, so you have more money to live your life. To find out if you pre-qualify for refinancing with Iowa Student Loan, complete our simple pre-qualification process!

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By: Iowa Student Loan