The Best Student Loan Refinancing Options (2017 Update)

Student loan debt is a tricky beast.

Not only do student loans now account for $1.2 trillion, student debt is currently the second biggest source of personal debt after mortgages.

The big difference between a mortgage and a student loan, however, is the fact that refinancing a mortgage is a (relatively) simple and well-known process, whereas student loan refinancing is a new and confusing option.

Thankfully, many new banks and other types of lenders have been popping up to fill this very real need for student loan refinancing. However, not all refinancers are made equal, and it is important to understand what costs are associated with your decision to refinance.

Consolidation vs. Refinancing

The first issue to understand on your journey to student loan relief is the difference between federal loan consolidation and student loan refinancing. The two options are similar and the terms refinance and consolidate are sometimes used interchangeably, but all borrowers ought to know the difference between them.

Federal Student Loan Consolidation

This option is just what it sounds like. Borrowers may consolidate multiple federal student loans into a single loan with a single repayment schedule. This kind of consolidation is only available for federal loans—you may not consolidate a private loan.

In general, federal student loan consolidation does not save you money, since you are charged the weighted average interest rate of all the loans being combined. However, consolidation can switch out a variable rate loan for a fixed loan, and it may lower monthly payments (although that usually means a longer payment term).

The main reason to consider a federal student loan consolidation is to maintain the benefits available to federal borrowers, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness, income-driven repayment plans, and deferral and forbearance options.

Private Student Loan Refinancing

Refinancing a loan allows a borrower to apply for a new loan that is used to pay off one or more existing loans—which is remarkably similar to consolidation. The difference is the fact that you may refinance both federal and private loans, and you can potentially improve your interest rate and/or your monthly payment through refinancing.

Refinancing federal student loans does mean you are no longer eligible for the federal benefits. Also, refinancing could increase your monthly payment, depending on your repayment term.

Best Refinancing Options

Each of the following refinancing options has different requirements and alternatives for student loan borrowers. Read on to see which one will work best for you:

SoFi

SoFi

SoFi

SoFi is a non-traditional lender that uses a novel underwriting process. Their approach focuses on only lending to financially responsible borrowers, and they analyze “forward-looking” factors to determine each applicant’s future potential and ability to pay. For instance, as of early last year, SoFi no longer uses FICO credit score in underwriting but instead takes employment history and other factors into consideration. More info…show

  • Loan Repayment Terms: 5, 10, 15, and 20 years
  • Rates: Variable as low as 2.39% and fixed as low as 3.5%
  • Fees: None
  • Pros: Unemployment protection, career counseling, startup mentor, 0.25% savings if you pay through AutoPay.
  • Cons: SoFi’s underwriting process makes it more difficult for borrowers to qualify, meaning you are less likely to be approved with SoFi compared to other private lenders.
  • Get Started with SoFi

CommonBond

CommonBond

CommonBond

This peer-to-peer style platform offers refinancing for graduate and undergraduate students for graduates of over 2,000 universities. According to CommonBond’s promotional literature, borrowers save over $14,000 over the life of the loan by refinancing with them. More info…show

  • Loan Repayment Terms: 5, 10, 15, and 20 years
  • Rates: Variable as low as 2.13%, fixed as low as 3.5%, and hybrid as low as 3.79%
  • Fees: None
  • Pros: Financial hardship forbearance, networking opportunities, consulting service for borrowers between jobs, Social Promise, 0.25% savings if you pay through AutoPay
  • Cons: The list of eligible schools may not include your alma mater.
  • Get Started with CommonBond

Upstart

Upstart

Upstart is geared toward recent and upcoming college graduates, so it evaluates your potential based on factors that include what college you attended, your GPA, and even your SAT scores. This means borrowers who have not had the time to build a credit history can use their academic history and other proof of financial responsibility to qualify for a refinance. However, if you do have a credit score, it must be at least 640 in order for you to be eligible for an Upstart loan. More info…show

  • Loan Repayment Terms: 3 years
  • Rates: 4.67% – 29.99% APR
  • Fees: Origination fee between 1% and 6%. This fee is rolled into your APR.
  • Pros: Young adults who have not built up a credit history can qualify for refinancing with Upstart.
  • Cons: The loan term is relatively short, and the maximum amount to borrow is relatively low, making this a poor choice for a graduate with a lot of student debt. In addition, because of the unusual underwriting, qualifying for an Upstart loan may take longer than it would with other lenders.
  • Get Started with Upstart

Earnest

Earnest

http://oc.cardsynergy.com/t/?cr=19050&c=246211251&aid=128310&sid=17946&last_updated=1456868459

Like Upstart, Earnest is a lender created for individuals without a long credit history. Instead of focusing on credit scores, Earnest looks other markers of financial responsibility, such as employment history and salary, savings, income-to-expense ratio, and retirement savings. Earnest analyzes more than 80,000 data points for each prospective borrower, which means you must be comfortable giving the lender permission to scan your bank account. More info…show

  • Loan Repayment Terms: 5 years to 20 years
  • Rates: Variable (with autopay) 2.55% – 6.03% and fixed (with autopay) 3.75% – 6.64%.
  • Fees: None
  • Pros: Student loan borrowers who otherwise try to avoid debt can get a much better APR with Earnest than they could with a traditional refinanced loan. The flexibility can be a boon to any responsible borrower with a non-traditional job or irregular income.
  • Cons: You must be willing to offer Earnest a very intimate look at your finances to qualify.
  • Get Started with Earnest

Comparison Tools

The following tools offer a marketplace for student loan options. The benefits of using a marketplace: you can quickly compare real offers from multiple lenders, they have the widest eligibility criteria, and you can compare rates before finishing the application process. A marketplace also compares a wide range of financial histories with some lenders accepting lower credit scores with a co-signer.

Credible

Credible

Credible

Credible offers a marketplace of student lenders for borrowers looking to refinance. Credible’s unique dashboard allows for side-by-side comparison of refinanced loans, which you can then sort by and compare by APR, monthly payment, or total repayment amount. More info…show

  • Fees: None
  • Pros: In less than two minutes, Credible lets you see whether you qualify for student loan refinancing and exactly what rates your qualify for. Credible’s dashboard does an excellent job of helping you sort and compare each offer without having to go through multiple applications.
  • Cons: Credible works with a larger group of lenders, but not all are represented. That said, their platform contains a wide range of rates and products available so users will have an opportunity to find a loan which is right for them.
  • Compare Offers with Credible

LendEDU

LendEDU

LendEDU

Like Credible, LendEDU is a student lending marketplace which allows private student lenders compete for borrowers’ business. Signing up with LendEDU allows you to compare rates for refinancing your student loan with up to 9 different lenders. This gives you a one-stop-shop when you decide to refinance. By using LendEDU, borrowers only need to enter a single lender application, and there are no hard credit pulls—so shopping around via LendEDU does not affect your credit. More info…show

  • Fees: None
  • Pros: Educational video courses and guides offered for free.
  • Cons: As of now, LendEDU works with a relatively small group of lenders. Also, you may end up having to resubmit the same information over again to the lender once you have chosen one.
  • Compare Offers with LendEDU

Many new banks and other lenders have been popping up to fill the very real need for student loan refinancing. However, not all refinancers are made equal, and it is important to understand what costs are associated with your decision to refinance.

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Last Edited: March 17, 2017 @ 12:09 pmThe content of ptmoney.com is for general information purposes only and does not constitute professional advice. Visitors to ptmoney.com should not act upon the content or information without first seeking appropriate professional advice. In accordance with the latest FTC guidelines, we declare that we have a financial relationship with every company mentioned on this site.
About Emily Guy Birken

Emily Guy Birken is a former English teacher and respected personal finance blogger. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her engineer husband and two high-energy little boys. She has written two books: The Five Years Before You Retire and Choose Your Retirement. Emily's thoughts on parenting and life in general are found at The SAHMnambulist.

Comments

  1. Nice summary article! There are 43 million Americans with some form of student debt, yet not many even know that refinancing is an option. We did a survey of current college students and we found that less than 5% of current college students know that student loan refinancing is even an option! As more students realize the benefits of refinancing, I believe the $1.2 trillion student loan problem will shrink dramatically.

    Glad to see that we were included. Wishing you all the best!

  2. John Stevens says:

    I am not anxious to refinance my Parent Plus loans taken out for my daughter. My fear is that I will lose some of the advantages of having the loan forgiven if my daughter or myself, the signer of the Master Promissory Note either becomes fully disabled or die and the repayment obligation doesn’t transfer to the estate. When the loan is forgiven, it will appear as a taxable gift but my estate and final income tax return will only pay a much lower tax on the principal forgiven, not repay the principal.

    I approached some of the student loan refinance companies and I would lose that benefit, along with the others such as forgiveness after 20 to 25 years if the loan is in income based repayment (IBR). Also, if my daughter goes to graduate school, the loan returns to deferred with no payments due until the deferment ends and although interest accrues during deferment, again IBR will limit the exposure. Payments may be continued voluntarily.

    Refinancing for a parent is something that should be considered carefully. Having automatic payments does reduce the interest rate by 0.25% and Obama dropped the 7.9 % rate to 6.41% which I do appreciate. Signing up for IBR (income based repayment) limits the monthly payment to no more than 20% of one’s income and starts the clock towards general (as opposed to Public Service) forgiveness, something that a person approaching retirement can really take advantage of.

    Young married couples with loans in their own name may choose to refinance but it would be wise to cover the loan with a term life / disability insurance policy so as not to burden the surviving spouse with a huge loan in the case of demise.