Refinancing your student loans can be a great way to accelerate debt repayment or free up some of your monthly budget. I recently refinanced my student loans for a second time, which was a strategic move to improve my overall financial health.
Here’s why I think this can be a smart idea, if you do it at the right time in the right way.
What Is Student Loan Refinancing?
If you’re new here and wondering what refinancing even is, allow me to explain. When you refinance your student loans, you essentially apply for a new loan so that a new lender will buy out your current student loans and give you a new loan with better terms.
“Better” terms depends on what your goal is. For many people, getting a better loan means getting a lower interest rate. If you want to save hundreds of thousands of dollars of interest over the life of your loan, refinancing is a great way to do that. You can structure your loan to pay it off faster at a lower interest rate. This might mean higher monthly payments than you’re used to but a much lower cost of your loan overall.
If you’re having trouble paying your student loans and your monthly payment is too high right now, you can also refinance your student loans to lower your monthly payment. So if you’re on a 10-year plan now, you could refinance to a 15- or 20-year plan to spread out your payments until you get on better financial footing.
Why I Refinanced Twice
About a year ago, I refinanced my federal student loans with SoFi because I wanted to get a better interest rate and pay off my loans faster. My student loans totaled $33,000 with an interest rate of 6.8% with 15 years left on the loan. My monthly payment was around $295 a month. I dropped over a half a percentage point in the interest rate to 6.25% and chose to pay off my loans in 7 years, which increased my monthly payment to about $485. Had I stayed with this loan, I would have saved almost $12,000 in interest fees over time.
I paid my monthly payments dutifully every month, but when my husband and I recently sat down to plan an aggressive debt payoff using the snowball method, we realized that I had been a bit too aggressive with my initial refinance.
Essentially, we wanted to throw as much money as possible at our high-interest debt. Our student loans were at manageable interest rates compared to our credit cards, and we wanted to restructure things a bit to free up more cash.
After receiving a refinance advertisement from College Ave in the mail, I decided to see if I could refinance my student loans and my husband’s graduate school loans with them. It had been only a year or so since my first refinance, but I was still interested. For the record, I tried twice previously to refinance my husband’s loans with SoFi, but they didn’t like his current salary as a medical resident, and they said I was not a qualified co-signer.
Well, luckily College Ave thought I was, so I was able to refinance both my student loans and my husband’s graduate school loans with College Ave. Our interest rates remained the same but I was able to customize a payoff plan that works well with our current debt snowball.
Basically, I chose a plan that allowed us to make graduated payments, so my payments for the next two years are significantly lower than they used to be. That gives me two years to knock out some of our credit card debt without worrying about having large student loan payments.
The Benefits of Student Loan Refinancing
In addition to getting longer or shorter payoff periods and better interest rates, there are other reasons why you might choose to refinance your student loans. For example, if you co-signed your student loans with your parents, sometimes student loan refinance companies will let you get a new loan entirely in your name, getting your parents off the hook.
Many people also refinance their student loans to be more organized. If you have several different student loans and bills with a mixture of interest rates, consolidating your student loans allows you to finally have one monthly bill with one interest rate in one place. This helps reduce the possibility of being late on your payments.
Things to Watch Out for Before You Refinance
While I’m obviously an advocate of refinancing, it’s important to know the downsides as well. The main downside is that if you refinance to a private company from having federal student loans, you lose a lot of the flexibility and perks of the federal student loan system.
Not all private lenders have as many repayment options as federal loans have, and most of them do not offer the perks that come with income-based repayment. For example, my husband’s medical school loans are under the income-based repayment plan called REPAYE, where the government is subsidizing his interest payments (several hundred dollars a month). This is not a perk I was willing to give up, but I was happy to refinance his private graduate school student loans to another private lender with better terms.
It’s Easier Than You Think
I know that switching student loan providers might sound like a complicated process, but with all the online financing companies available now, it’s easier than ever. The process to apply to refinance my student loans took less than 20 minutes both times.
Just make sure to have some identification documents on hand, like your driver’s license and Social Security card, to keep the process running smoothly. After my application was approved, it took about two weeks for my student loans to be completely moved over. Plus, since my new servicer paid off my own loans, that counted as a “payment,” which freed up even more cash this month.
Ultimately, student loan refinancing can be a strategic tool you can use when it comes to bettering your finances and getting out of debt faster. As long as you understand the process, ask to make sure you’re aware of any possible fees, and double-check that the process runs smoothly, you could be well on your way to financial freedom just by adjusting your interest rates and your payments on your student loans.