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What Is Debt Consolidation & How Does it Work?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Dealing with multiple personal debts might feel a lot like playing whack-a-mole – different bills with different due dates, minimum balances and late fines and penalties. Just when you’ve sent in one payment, another bill pops up. It’s easy to see how people get behind when repaying multiple debts overwhelms them. Debt consolidation can help by essentially rolling all your debt payments, like credit card bills, into one with a single due date and a fixed interest rate that is typically lower, depending on your credit score. Sounds easy right? While debt consolidation does provide a bevy of benefits, it does have its pitfalls if one isn’t careful. But don’t fret, we here at MagnifyMoney got your back! Continue reading our guide on consolidating debt to learn the in’s and out’s of debt consolidation!

Debt Consolidation: Understanding the Basics

As stated above, a key component to debt consolidation is rolling all monthly payments into one. There are two primary ways to concentrate debt payments into one bill: transferring the debt to a 0% balance transfer credit card, or a debt consolidation loan. Your credit score is a big determining factor as to which of the two options you should choose. If you have a credit score of 700 or higher it’s probably better to consider a balance transfer credit card. We will talk move about balance transfers further down. If you have a credit score below 700, which is common with someone dealing with a good amount of credit card debt, a debt consolidation loan is right up your alley. Let’s jump into learning exactly what a debt consolidation loan really is!

Looking to increase your credit score so you can qualify for a balance transfer credit card? 6 simple steps to improve your credit score!

What is a debt consolidation loan?

A debt consolidation loan is any type of loan that is used to pay off all existing debts, which allows you to focus on just paying one monthly payment opposed to several. (More about this in the section below!) In many cases, debt consolidation loans offer lower interest rates and extended terms compared with your current payments. People typically choose to consolidate debt to simplify their finances or to save money on interest payments. Borrower beware: Upfront fees or temporary terms could eat into that savings. Make sure to read the fine print before committing to your debt consolidation loan! Plus, consolidating debt without a plan to address the behavior that got you into financial trouble in the first place may actually exacerbate your debt if new lines of credit tempt you to start spending again.

How debt consolidation works

When you obtain a debt consolidation loan, you receive a lump sum to pay off your existing debts. Then, instead of juggling multiple payments, you can focus on making the one new loan payment. “You essentially take multiple loans that might be causing confusion with different interest rates and different terms, and roll them into a single loan, which leaves you with one single payment needing to be made,” said Todd R. Tresidder, money coach at FinancialMentor.com. Debt consolidation works best when you have a credit score that allows you to qualify for a loan with interest rates lower than what you’re currently paying. The higher your credit score, the better debt consolidation can work for you.

— If you are dealing with average or poor credit, and want to consolidate your debt.

View our list of debt consolidation loans for fair credit or our list of debt consolidation loans for bad credit

What types of debt can I consolidate?

Debt consolidation can be used to simplify almost any type of unsecured consumer debt. This includes:

“Though debt consolidation is most often used for credit cards, there’s not a boundary line. You could consolidate pretty much any type of loan that you have,” Tresidder said.

Which loans can be used to consolidate debt?

Based on LendingTree data, personal loans are the most popular option for debt consolidation, but a home equity loan or HELOC work as well. There are companies that specialize in debt consolidation loans, or you may choose to work with your preferred local bank or credit union. To make it easier for you, we’ve compiled a list of the best personal loans for debt consolidation.

One caveat: You will need good credit to ensure you’re able to obtain a loan with better rates and terms than your existing debt.

Depending on your unique needs and situation, there are different loan products that can help you consolidate and streamline your debt payments. View our guide on choosing the right debt consolidation method to get a better understanding of the options available for you.

Where can I find the best debt consolidation loans?

Since achieving a lower interest rate and better terms are imperative when consolidating debt, comparing offers is essential. Since this will require that the lender do a credit check, be sure to get all your shopping done within 45 days. Multiple hard credit pulls outside of that time window can be damaging to your FICO credit score.

Online lending marketplaces such as LendingTree simplify the process by enabling you to see offers from multiple lenders. Local financial institutions are another place to start shopping for debt consolidation loans. “The familiar is good if you have a credit union or a trusted bank. Start there just as your comparison point before you start looking at … companies online,” Dlugozima said.

LendingTree
APR

As low as 3.99%

Credit Req.

Minimum 500 FICO®

Minimum Credit Score

Terms

24 to 60

months

Origination Fee

Varies

SEE OFFERS Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

LendingTree is our parent company

Advertiser Disclosure

LendingTree is our parent company. LendingTree is unique in that you may be able to compare up to five personal loan offers within minutes. Everything is done online and you may be pre-qualified by lenders without impacting your credit score. LendingTree is not a lender.


A Personal Loan can offer funds relatively quickly once you qualify you could have your funds within a few days to a week. A loan can be fixed for a term and rate or variable with fluctuating amount due and rate assessed, be sure to speak with your loan officer about the actual term and rate you may qualify for based on your credit history and ability to repay the loan. A personal loan can assist in paying off high-interest rate balances with one fixed term payment, so it is important that you try to obtain a fixed term and rate if your goal is to reduce your debt. Some lenders may require that you have an account with them already and for a prescribed period of time in order to qualify for better rates on their personal loan products. Lenders may charge an origination fee generally around 1% of the amount sought. Be sure to ask about all fees, costs and terms associated with each loan product. Loan amounts of $1,000 up to $50,000 are available through participating lenders; however, your state, credit history, credit score, personal financial situation, and lender underwriting criteria can impact the amount, fees, terms and rates offered. Ask your loan officer for details.

As of 17-May-19, LendingTree Personal Loan consumers were seeing match rates as low as 3.99% (3.99% APR) on a $10,000 loan amount for a term of three (3) years. Rates and APRs were based on a self-identified credit score of 700 or higher, zero down payment, origination fees of $0 to $100 (depending on loan amount and term selected).

Dlugozima advised contacting the National Foundation for Credit Counseling’s referral service. “They have stringent industry standards, so you will be referred to a legitimate nonprofit organization that can help you choose the best approach.”

When does debt consolidation make sense?

Read the fine print, Sokunbi said, since some debt consolidation products have terms that may be temporary. “People should be mindful of whether there are any penalties or fees or if you’re going to lose any special perks or be charged any fines,” Tresidder added. “You also have to find out from the company offering the bulk loan what types of loans they will allow to be consolidated.”

Don’t dig a deeper hole. Most importantly, consumers should examine their budgets to determine whether they can comfortably afford the new monthly payment. “Do not add insult to injury when you’ve already got a debt problem,” said Tresidder. “The fact that you’re a debtor shows that you lack financial savvy to begin with, so do extra due diligence and recognize that you’re trying to solve a problem and you don’t want to make it worse.” Make sure to get the lowest interest rates possible. Shopping around to find the best offer will save you money in the long run.

Calculate your loan payments and how long it will take to repay your debts using LendingTree’s debt consolidation loan calculator.

When is debt consolidation a good idea?

Chris Dlugozima, education specialist with GreenPath Financial Wellness, said that debt consolidation is ideal for individuals with a reasonably good credit score who have an isolated reason for having fallen behind on their debts. “A debt consolidation loan can make sense for someone who has identified the cause of why their debt has crept up and has already addressed that. Like, ‘I lost a job, but now I’m back at work.’ Or, ‘I was overspending, but now I’ve had some success following a budget and I’m confident I won’t get back into that situation,’” he said.

Having a good credit score allows more options to be available when deciding to consolidate debt at a lower interest rate. Whether you decide using a personal loan, home equity, or even potentially qualifying for a balance transfer card, your credit score will likely be the biggest determining factor when deciding which option is best.

It may be a necessity for others, a lifeline for those in danger of falling behind on bill payments. “If you’re in a situation where you can’t make your payments at the lower interest rate, and the extended terms allow you to make your payment so you don’t go into default, then that helps as well,” said Tresidder.

When is debt consolidation a bad idea?

A certified credit counselor might recommend a debt-management plan as an alternative to debt consolidation for those with significant debt, or for people who are struggling to address the root cause of their debt.

“If you’ve ever tried to shovel in a blizzard, it might feel like you’re accomplishing something, but are you?” said Dlugozima. Debt consolidation can often feel the same way. “You get a sense of relief that you’ve solved a problem when you maybe haven’t.” When existing debts are paid off with a debt consolidation loan, some consumers may start feeling comfortable and become tempted to let those debts creep back up again, especially with credit cards.

Debt consolidation isn’t an ideal fit for those with below average to poor credit scores. The main benefit of debt consolidation is to roll all debt into a loan with a lower interest rate than what’s currently being paid. Having a below average to poor credit score pretty much nullifies this since you’ll end up with a loan with a sky-high interest rate.

What’s your goal? Debt consolidation may even increase your financial burden if you don’t carefully review an offer. A lower monthly payment might be deceptive if the terms are significantly longer. “A lot of people think only in terms of monthly payments, but you’ve got to look at the total of what you’re paying. You might have a lower interest rate and a longer term, but effectively you’re paying a higher total cost,” Tresidder said.

If you aren’t focused on the end game of becoming debt-free, a debt consolidation loan might not be the best approach for dealing with existing debts. “If you’re just trying to avoid a creditor or shift your pay dates around, that doesn’t solve a problem, it just delays the inevitable,” Sokunbi said. She advised searching online or picking up a book on debt repayment strategies to start you off on the right foot. “They will talk you through the best approach to paying off this now consolidated debt because that’s just Step 1 to getting yourself out of debt.”

 – Still unsure of when debt consolidation can be a good or bad idea? View this article

How does debt consolidation affect your credit?

Consolidating debt with a loan can have both positive and negative effects on your credit score. “It’s very nuanced. It depends,” said Dlugozima. “If it’s done in a way that doesn’t allow additional debt to accumulate, it probably won’t immediately affect the credit until the debt gets paid down.”

The negative effects of debt consolidation on your credit score

If you close your accounts as they are paid off, that can be damaging to your score. Older accounts make for a better credit score; closing accounts means that your credit utilization ratio increases as your credit limit decreases, which also negatively impacts your score. On the flip side, if you continue to spend on the accounts you’ve paid off with your loan, your credit score can take a dive. “If you just pay the minimum balance on your debt consolidation loan and go back to those old zero-balance credit cards and start racking up debt, it’s going to negatively impact your credit,” said Sokunbi.

How debt consolidation can improve your credit score

Successfully paying off debt will most certainly have a positive effect on your score in the long term, as large debts and late payments can really bring your score down. “If you’re currently incurring penalties because you can’t make your payments and by consolidating you’re able to make your payments, clearly that’s going to help your credit score over time,” said Tresidder.

— Click here to get a deeper understanding of the effects of debt consolidation on your credit.

Alternative options to pay off debt

A debt consolidation loan is just one approach to consolidating debt. Depending on your unique needs and financial situation, another option might be preferable.

Balance transfer

A balance transfer is a popular approach to managing credit card debt. By transferring the balances on existing cards to a new card with a more attractive interest rate, consumers get the mutual benefits of simplified payments and cost savings. Many individuals take advantage of introductory offers of 0% interest for a certain length of time in order to make headway on their debt without the added expense of interest. To qualify for a balance transfer credit card, it’s best to have a good or excellent credit score.

“You have to read the fine print and you have to understand the numbers. If you know you’ll be able to pay off the entire balance before the introductory offer expires, it can save you a significant amount of money,” Sokunbi said. “But once that introductory rate expires, it’s often much higher than where you are coming from.” Some intro 0%-interest credit cards also have severe penalties and rate increases if you miss a payment, so proceed with caution.

It is convenient to shop for a balance transfer credit card online with our list of the best balance transfer credit card offers.

Pros

  • Potentially an intro 0% interest rate for up to 21 months
  • Easy to create a repayment schedule
  • Easy to shop for online

Cons

  • Good or excellent credit recommended
  • Attractive rates are often for a limited time only
  • May have penalties and rate increases

Recommended balance transfer card:

Discover it® Balance Transfer

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on Discover Bank’s secure website

Rates & Fees

Read Full Review

Discover it® Balance Transfer

Regular APR
14.24% - 25.24% Variable
Intro Purchase APR
0% for 6 months
Intro BT APR
0% for 18 months
Annual fee
$0
Rewards Rate
5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com and more up to the quarterly maximum, each time you activate, 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases - automatically.
Balance Transfer Fee
3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*
Credit required
good-credit
Excellent/Good

– Learn how to use a balance transfer to attack debt here!

Budgeting

Snowball versus avalanche. If you have the willpower to stick with a DIY debt repayment strategy, a debt snowball or debt avalanche approach might be right for you. With both approaches, you pay the minimum balance each month on all but one debt.

In a debt snowball, you pay all extra money toward the smallest debt until it is paid off and then move on to tackling the next smallest until all of your debts are gone. In a debt avalanche, you pay your debts off in order of their interest rate (highest first), which gives you the lowest mathematical cost of paying off the loan.

“One is focused on cost, but the other gives you the highest emotional satisfaction because you can see those loans getting paid off quicker, which allows you to stick with it better,” said Tresidder. “One is financially the best solution and the other is emotionally the best solution. It’s going to depend on the individual, what they need to stick with the plan.”

>> Enter your debts into our Debt Snowball vs Debt Avalanche calculator to see which method is best for you!

Sticking to a budget is self-satisfying and free of fees. But, you need to be realistic about whether or not you have the determination to stay on task. In many cases, people who are already deeply in debt might not be equipped to make the most responsible financial choices.

Pros

  • No-cost option
  • Emotionally satisfying
  • Building good financial habits for the future

Cons

  • May be difficult to stick with

Debt relief programs

When engaging with a debt settlement company, it is essential to first check their reputation. “You have to be very careful with these companies. They’re one of the top consumer complaints,” Tresidder warned. “But, there are people who have gone down the tube so far they’re completely desperate and this may be their only choice.”

With debt settlement, a company will negotiate your debts with your creditors on your behalf for a fee. Often, you pay the settlement company and they make your payments for you. In the process, they allow some of your accounts to go into default so your creditors will be more motivated to negotiate down the balances. “I would not go with any debt settlement company that tells you to pay them before they have a negotiated deal and before you begin payments directly on the amount,” Tresidder said.

Pros

  • Offers help for individuals in serious debt trouble
  • Provides strict payment schedule
  • People who complete the program usually pay-off their unsecured debt in 24 to 48 months. This assumes that they complete the program.
  • Better option than filing bankruptcy.

Cons

  • Some companies in this space may use predatory practices
  • Can negatively impact your credit score
  • May result in legal ramifications if not done properly
  • For some people, depending on their financial situation, they may have to pay tax on amount of debt that was reduced

– Learn more about debt relief in this guide.

If you have time and patience, you can try to negotiate your debt directly with the creditors. If you would like professional help to negotiate your debt on your behalf, then a debt relief company can help. Click here to compare leading debt relief companies.

How to make debt consolidation work for you

When deciding the best way to consolidate your credit card debt, or whether a debt consolidation loan is the right step for you, first consider your financial habits and your commitment to make a change. “A debt consolidation [loan] is putting a Band-Aid on a problem. It’s not a solution. Debt consolidation is merely changing the terms of your loan to create a payment that’s easier for your situation,” Tresidder said.

As part of your debt consolidation efforts, consider speaking with a debt management planner or a credit counselor. “There are a lot of great non-profit ones that are actually there to support you and help you and guide you. When you meet with a legitimate credit counselor, you will have a budget, you will look at your credit report, you will analyze your debt and your options, and you will leave with a detailed written action plan,” said Dlugozima.

Most importantly, do your research. Shop around and find an offer that helps you streamline your payments and saves you money.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Ashley Sweren
Ashley Sweren |

Ashley Sweren is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Ashley here

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College Students and Recent Grads, Pay Down My Debt

7 Best Options to Refinance Student Loans – Get Your Lowest Rate

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Are you tired of paying a high interest rate on your student loan debt? You may be looking for ways to refinance your student loans at a lower interest rate, but don’t know where to turn. We have created the most complete list of lenders currently willing to refinance student loan debt. We recommend you start here and check rates from the top 7 national lenders offering the best student loan refinance products. All of these lenders (except Discover) also allow you to check your rate without impacting your score (using a soft credit pull), and offer the best rates of 2019:

LenderVariable APRFixed APRMax Loan Amount 
Laurel Road Bank

2.43% - 6.65%

3.50% - 7.02%

No Max

Visit Lender Secured

on Laurel Road Bank’s secure website

Earnest

2.27% - 6.89%

3.47% - 7.59%

No Max

Visit Lender Secured

on Earnest’s secure website

SoFi

2.27% - 7.55%

3.49% - 7.94%

No Max

Visit Lender Secured

on SoFi’s secure website

CommonBond

2.37% - 7.95%

3.48% - 8.24%

No Max

Visit Lender Secured

on CommonBond’s secure website

LendKey

2.24% - 6.67%

3.49% - 7.50%

$125k / $175k

Visit Lender Secured

on LendKey’s secure website

Citizens Bank

2.46% - 9.24%

3.45% - 9.62%

$90k / $350k

Visit Lender Secured

on Citizens Bank (RI)’s secure website

Discover Student Loans

$150k

Visit Lender Secured

on Discover Bank’s secure website

*Discover’s lowest rates shown include a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.

You should always shop around for the best rate. Don’t worry about the impact on your credit score of applying to multiple lenders: so long as you complete all of your applications within 14 days, it will only count as one inquiry on your credit score.

We have also created:

But before you refinance, read on to see if you are ready to refinance your student loans.

Can I get approved?

Loan approval rules vary by lender. However, all of the lenders will want:

  • Proof that you can afford your payments. That means you have a job with income that is sufficient to cover your student loans and all of your other expenses.
  • Proof that you are a responsible borrower, with a demonstrated record of on-time payments. For some lenders, that means that they use the traditional FICO, requiring a good score. For other lenders, they may just have some basic rules, like no missed payments, or a certain number of on-time payments required to prove that you are responsible.
LenderMinimum credit scoreEligible degreesEligible loansAnnual income
requirements
Employment
requirement
 
Laurel Road Bank

Not published

Undergraduate
& Graduate

Private, Federal,
& Parent PLUS

None

Yes


(or signed job offer)
Learn more Secured

on Laurel Road Bank’s secure website

Earnest

660

Undergraduate
& Graduate

Private, Federal,
& Parent PLUS

None

Yes


(or signed job offer)
Learn more Secured

on Earnest’s secure website

SoFi

Good or Excellent
score needed

Undergraduate
& Graduate

Private, Federal,
& Parent PLUS

None

Yes


(or signed job offer)
Learn more Secured

on SoFi’s secure website

CommonBond

660

Undergraduate
& Graduate

Private, Federal,
& Parent PLUS

None

Yes


(or signed job offer)
Learn more Secured

on CommonBond’s secure website

LendKey

680

Undergraduate
& Graduate

Private & Federal

$24K

Yes

Learn more Secured

on LendKey’s secure website

Citizens Bank

680

Undergraduate
& Graduate

Private, Federal,
& Parent PLUS

$24K

Yes

Learn more Secured

on Citizens Bank (RI)’s secure website

Discover Student Loans

Not published

Undergraduate
& Graduate

Private & Federal

None

Yes

Learn more Secured

on Discover Bank’s secure website

Diving Deeper: The best places to consider a refinance

If you go to other sites they may claim to compare several student loan offers in one step. Just beware that they might only show you deals that pay them a referral fee, so you could miss out on lenders ready to give you better terms. Below is what we believe is the most comprehensive list of current student loan refinancing lenders.

You should take the time to shop around. FICO says there is little to no impact on your credit score for rate shopping as many providers as you’d like in a single shopping period (which can be between 14-30 days, depending upon the version of FICO). So set aside a day and apply to as many as you feel comfortable with to get a sense of who is ready to give you the best terms.

Here are more details on the 7 lenders offering the lowest interest rates:

1. Laurel Road

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on Laurel Road Bank’s secure website

Laurel Road Bank : Variable Rates from 2.43% and Fixed Rates from 3.50% (with AutoPay)

Laurel Road Bank offers a highly competitive product when it comes to student loan refinancing.

Pros Pros

  • Forgiveness in the case of death or disability: They may forgive the total student loan amount owed if the borrower dies before paying off their debt. In the case that the borrower suffers a permanent disability that results in a significant reduction to their income,Laurel Road Bank may forgive some, if not all of the amount owed.
  • Offers good perks for Residents and Fellows: Laurel Road Bank allows medical and dental students to pay only $100 per month throughout their residency or fellowship and up to six months after training. It is important for borrowers to keep in mind that the interest that accrues during this time will be added on to the total loan balance.

Cons Cons

  • Higher late fees: While many lenders charge late fees,Laurel Road Bank’s late fee can be slightly steeper than most at 5% or $28 (whichever is less) for a payment that is over 15 days late.
  • You lose certain protections if you refinance a federal loan: While not specific to Laurel Road Bank, it is important to keep in mind that you will give up certain protections when refinancing a federal loan with any private lender.

Bottom line

Bottom line

As a lender,Laurel Road Bank prides itself on offering personalized service while leveraging technology to make the student loan refinancing process a quick and simple one. Consider checking out their low-rate student loan refinancing product, which is offered in all 50 states.

2. Earnest

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on Earnest’s secure website

Earnest : Variable Rates from 2.27% and Fixed Rates from 3.47% (with AutoPay)

Earnest focuses on lending to borrowers who show promise of being financially responsible borrowers. Because of this, they offer merit-based loans versus credit-based ones. 

Pros Pros

  • Flexible repayment options: Earnest offers some of the most flexible options when it comes to repayment. They allow you to choose any term length between 5-20 years. You can choose your own monthly payment, based upon what you can afford (to the penny). Earnest also offers bi-weekly payments and “skip a payment” if you run into difficulty.
  • Ability to switch between variable and fixed rates: With Earnest, you can switch between fixed and variable rates throughout the life of your loan. You can do that one time every six months until the loan is paid off. That means you can take advantage of the low variable interest rates now, and then lock in a higher fixed rate later.
  • Loans serviced in-house: Earnest is one of just a few lenders that provides in-house loan servicing versus using a third-party servicer.

Cons Cons

  • Cannot apply with a cosigner: Unlike many of the other lenders, Earnest does not allow borrowers to apply for student loan refinancing with a cosigner.
  • No option to transfer Parent PLUS loans to Child: If you are a parent that is looking to refinance your Parent PLUS loan into your child’s name, it is important to note that this cannot be done through refinancing with Earnest.
  • You lose certain protections if you refinance a federal loan: When refinancing with any private lender, you will give up certain protections if you refinance a federal loan to a private loan.

Bottom line

Bottom line

Earnest, who was recently acquired by Navient, is making a name for themselves within the student refinancing space. With their flexible repayment options and low rates, they are definitely an option worth exploring.

3. SoFi

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on SoFi’s secure website

SoFi : Variable rates from 2.27% and Fixed Rates from 3.49% (with AutoPay)*

SoFi was one of the first lenders to start offering student loan refinancing products. More MagnifyMoney readers have chosen SoFi than any other lender. The only requirement is that you graduated from a Title IV school. In order to qualify, you need to have a degree, a good job and good income.

Pros Pros

  • Borrowers can refinance private, federal and Parent PLUS loans together: Through SoFi, borrowers have the ability to combine all of their student loans (private, federal and Parent PLUS) when refinancing. Along with the ability to refinance Parent PLUS loans, parents can also transfer the PLUS loans into their child’s name.
  • Access to career coaches: SoFi offers their borrowers access to their Career Advisory Group who work one-on-one with borrowers to help plan their career paths and futures.
  • Unemployment protection: SoFi offers some help if you lose your job. During the period of unemployment they will pause your payments (for up to 12 months) and work with you to find a new job. However, just remember that any unemployment protection offered by SoFi would be weaker than the income-driven repayment options of federal loans.

Cons Cons

  • No cosigner release: While they offer you the opportunity to refinance with a cosigner, it is important to know that SoFi does not offer borrowers the opportunity to release a cosigner later on down the road.
  • You lose certain protections if you refinance a federal loan: This con is not unique to SoFi (and you will find it with all other private lenders). Federal loans come with certain protections, including robust income-driven payment protection options. You will forfeit those protections if you refinance a federal loan to a private loan.

Bottom line

Bottom line

SoFi is really the original student loan refinance company, and is now certainly the largest. SoFi has consistently offered low interest rates and has received good reviews for service. In addition, SoFi invests heavily in building a “community” – which means you can start to get other benefits once you are a SoFi member.

SoFi has taken a radical new approach when it comes to the online finance industry, not only with student loans but in the personal loan, wealth management and mortgage markets as well. With their career development programs and networking events, SoFi shows that they have a lot to offer, not only in the lending space but in other aspects of their customers lives as well.

4. CommonBond

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on CommonBond’s secure website

CommonBond : Variable Rates from 2.37% and Fixed Rates from 3.48% (with AutoPay)

CommonBond started out lending exclusively to graduate students. They initially targeted doctors with more than $100,000 of debt. Over time, CommonBond has expanded and now offers student loan refinancing options to graduates of almost any university (graduate and undergraduate).

Pros Pros

  • Hybrid loan option: CommonBond offers a unique “Hybrid” rate option in which rates are fixed for five years and then become variable for five years. This option can be a good choice for borrowers who intend to make extra payments and plan on paying off their student loans within the first five years. If you can a better interest rate on the Hybrid loan than the Fixed-rate option, you may end up paying less over the life of the loan.
  • Social promise: CommonBond will fund the education of someone in need in an emerging market for every loan that closes. So not only will you save money, but someone in need will get access to an education.
  • “CommonBridge” unemployment protection program: CommonBond is here to help if you lose your job. Similar to SoFi, they will pause your payments and assist you in finding a new job.

Cons Cons

  • Does not offer refinancing in the following states: Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, South Dakota and Vermont.
  • You lose certain protections if you refinance a federal loan: When refinancing with any private lender, you will give up certain protections if you refinance a federal loan to a private loan.

Bottom line

Bottom line

CommonBond not only offers low rates but is also making a social impact along the way. Consider checking out everything that CommonBond has to offer in term of student loan refinancing.

5. LendKey

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on LendKey’s secure website

LendKey : Variable Rates from 2.24% and Fixed Rates from 3.49% (with AutoPay)

LendKey works with community banks and credit unions across the country. Although you apply with LendKey, your loan will be with a community bank. Over the past year, LendKey has become increasingly competitive on pricing, and frequently has a better rate than some of the more famous marketplace lenders.

Pros Pros

  • Opportunity to work with local banks and credit unions: LendKey is a platform of community banks and credit unions, which are known for providing a more personalized customer experience and competitive interest rates.
  • Offers interest-only payment repayment: Many of the lenders on LendKey offer the option to make interest-only payments for the first four years of repayment.

Cons Cons

  • Rates can vary depending on where you live: The rate that is advertised on LendKey is the lowest possible rate among all of its lenders, and some of these lenders are only available to residents of specific areas. So even if you have an excellent credit report, there is still a possibility that you will not receive the lowest rate, depending on geographic location.
  • No Parent PLUS refinancing available: Unlike several of the other student loan refinancing companies, borrowers do not have the ability to refinance Parent PLUS loans with LendKey.
  • You lose certain protections if you refinance a federal loan: As when refinancing federal loans with any private lender, you will give up your federal protections if you refinance your federal loan to a private one.

Bottom line

Bottom line

LendKey is a good option to keep in mind if you are looking for an alternative to big bank lending. If you prefer working with a credit union or community bank, LendKey may be the route to uncovering your best offer.

6. Citizens Bank

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on Citizens Bank (RI)’s secure website

Citizens Bank (RI) : Variable Rates from 2.46% and Fixed Rates from 3.45% (with AutoPay)

Citizens Bank offers student loan refinancing for both private and federal loans through its Education Refinance Loan.

Pros Pros

No degree is required to refinance: If you are a borrower who did not graduate, with Citizens Bank, you are still eligible to refinance the loans that you accumulated over the period you did attend. In order to do so, borrowers much no longer be enrolled in school.

Loyalty discount: Citizens Bank offers a 0.25% discount if you already have an account with Citizens.

Cons Cons

Cannot transfer Parent PLUS loans to Child: If you are looking to refinance your Parent PLUS loan into your child’s name, this cannot be done through Citizens Bank.

You lose certain protections if you refinance a federal loan: Any time that you refinance a federal loan to a private loan, you will give up the protections, forgiveness programs and repayment plans that come with the federal loan.

Bottom line

Bottom line

The Education Refinance Loan offered by Citizens Bank is a good one to consider, especially if you are looking to stick with a traditional banking option. Consider looking into the competitive rates that Citizens Bank has to offer.

7. Discover

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on Discover Student Loans’s secure website

Pros Pros

  • In-house loan servicing: When refinancing with Discover, they service their loans in-house versus using a third-party servicer.
  • Offer a variety of deferment options: Discover offers four different deferment options for borrowers. If you decide to go back to school, you may be eligible for in-school deferment as long as you are enrolled for at least half-time. In addition to in-school deferment, Discover offers deferment to borrowers on active military duty (up to 3 years), in eligible public service careers (up to 3 years) and those in a health professions residency program (up to 5 years).

Cons Cons

  • Performs a hard credit pull: While most lenders do a soft credit check, Discover does perform a hard pull on your credit.
  • No Parent PLUS refinancing available: Discover does not offer borrowers the option of refinancing their Parent PLUS loans.
  • You lose certain protections if you refinance a federal loan: Be careful when deciding to refinance your federal student loans because when doing so, you will lose access federal protections, forgiveness programs and repayment plans.

Bottom line

Bottom line

If you’re looking for a well-established bank to refinance your student loans, Discover may be the way to go. Just keep in mind that if you apply for a student loan refinance with Discover, they will do a hard pull on your credit.

1. Discover’s lowest rates shown include a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.

 

Additional Student Loan Refinance Companies

In addition to the Top 7, there are many more lenders offering to refinance student loans. Below is a listing of all providers we have found so far. This list includes credit unions that may have limited membership. We will continue to update this list as we find more lenders:

Traditional Banks

  • First Republic Eagle Gold. The interest rates are great, but this option is not for everyone. Fixed rates range from 1.95% – 4.45% APR. You need to visit a branch and open a checking account (which has a $3,500 minimum balance to avoid fees). Branches are located in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Newport Beach, San Diego, Portland (Oregon), Boston, Palm Beach (Florida), Greenwich or New York City. Loans must be $60,000 – $300,000. First Republic wants to recruit their future high net worth clients with this product.
  • Wells Fargo: As a traditional lender, Wells Fargo will look at credit score and debt burden. They offer both fixed and variable loans, with variable rates starting at 3.75% and fixed rates starting at 3.99%. You would likely get much lower interest rates from some of the new Silicon Valley lenders or the credit unions.

Credit Unions

  • Alliant Credit Union: Anyone can join this credit union. Interest rates start as low as 3.75% APR. You can borrow up to $100,000 for up to 25 years.
  • Eastman Credit Union: Credit union membership is restricted (see eligibility here). Fixed rates start at 6.50% and go up to 8% APR.
  • Navy Federal Credit Union: This credit union offers limited membership. For men and women who serve (or have served), the credit union can offer excellent rates and specialized underwriting. Variable interest rates start at 4.81% and fixed rates start at 4.29%.
  • Thrivent: Partnered with Thrivent Federal Credit Union, Thrivent Student Loan Resources offers variable rates starting at 4.00% APR and fixed rates starting at 3.99% APR. It is important to note that in order to qualify for refinancing through Thrivent, you must be a member of the Thrivent Federal Credit Union. If not already a member, borrowers can apply for membership during the student refinance application process.
  • UW Credit Union: This credit union has limited membership (you can find out who can join here, but you had better be in Wisconsin). You can borrow from $5,000 to $150,000 and rates start as low as 4.05% (variable) and 3.99% APR (fixed).

Online Lending Institutions

  • Education Loan Finance:This is a student loan refinancing option that is offered through SouthEast Bank. They have competitive rates with variable rates ranging from 2.80% – 6.01% APR and fixed rates ranging from 3.29% – 6.69% APR.
  • EdVest: This company is the non-profit student loan program of the state of New Hampshire which has become available more broadly. Rates are very competitive, ranging from 4.53% – 7.20% (fixed) and 4.30% – 6.97% APR (variable).
  • IHelp : This service will find a community bank. Unfortunately, these community banks don’t have the best interest rates. Fixed rates range from 4.00% to 8.00% APR (for loans up to 15 years). If you want to get a loan from a community bank or credit union, we recommend trying LendKey instead.
  • Purefy: Purefy lenders offer variable rates ranging from 2.82%-8.42% APR and fixed interest rates ranging from 3.75% – 9.66% APR. You can borrow up to $150,000 for up to 15 years. Just answer a few questions on their site, and you can get an indication of the rate.
  • RISLA: Just like New Hampshire, the state of Rhode Island wants to help you save. You can get fixed rates starting as low as 3.49%. And you do not need to have lived or studied in Rhode Island to benefit.

Is it worth it to refinance student loans?

If you are in financial difficulty and can’t afford your monthly payments, a refinance is not the solution. Instead, you should look at options to avoid a default on student loan debt.

This is particularly important if you have Federal loans.

Don’t refinance Federal loans unless you are very comfortable with your ability to repay. Think hard about the chances you won’t be able to make payments for a few months. Once you refinance student loans, you may lose flexible Federal payment options that can help you if you genuinely can’t afford the payments you have today. Check the Federal loan repayment estimator to make sure you see all the Federal options you have right now.

If you can afford your monthly payment, but you have been a sloppy payer, then you will likely need to demonstrate responsibility before applying for a refinance.

But, if you can afford your current monthly payment and have been responsible with those payments, then a refinance could be possible and help you pay the debt off sooner.

Like any form of debt, your goal with a student loan should be to pay as low an interest rate as possible. Other than a mortgage, you will likely never have a debt as large as your student loan.

If you are able to reduce the interest rate by refinancing, then you should consider the transaction. However, make sure you include the following in any decision:

Is there an origination fee?

Many lenders have no fee, which is great news. If there is an origination fee, you need to make sure that it is worth paying. If you plan on paying off your loan very quickly, then you may not want to pay a fee. But, if you are going to be paying your loan for a long time, a fee may be worth paying.

Is the interest rate fixed or variable?

Variable interest rates will almost always be lower than fixed interest rates. But there is a reason: you end up taking all of the interest rate risk. We are currently at all-time low interest rates. So, we know that interest rates will go up, we just don’t know when.

This is a judgment call. Just remember, when rates go up, so do your payments. And, in a higher rate environment, you will not be able to refinance your student loans to a better option (because all rates will be going up).

We typically recommend fixing the rate as much as possible, unless you know that you can pay off your debt during a short time period. If you think it will take you 20 years to pay off your loan, you don’t want to bet on the next 20 years of interest rates. But, if you think you will pay it off in five years, you may want to take the bet. Some providers with variable rates will cap them, which can help temper some of the risk.

You can also compare all of these loan options in one chart with our comparison tool. It lists the rates, loan amounts, and kinds of loans each lender is willing to refinance. You can also email us with any questions at [email protected]

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Nick Clements
Nick Clements |

Nick Clements is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Nick at [email protected]

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Life Events, Pay Down My Debt

23 Ways to Get an Engagement Ring Without Going Into Debt

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

23 Ways to Get an Engagement Ring Without Debt

A marriage proposal can lead to much happiness, but it also can mean having to purchase an expensive engagement ring and, subsequently, getting into debt. If the diamond industry has anything to say about your engagement ring purchase, you’ll spend anywhere from one to three months’ salary on a diamond engagement ring. On average, couples spent $4,000 on engagement rings in 2012, according to a 2013 report from Jewelers of America.

However, a little forethought and some creativity can lead to significant savings and even a debt-free engagement ring. Think of it this way: It can be far more romantic to propose with a paid-for ring than to drag the equivalent of a car payment into your marriage. Here’s how you can purchase that ring without breaking your bank.

Set a budget

1. The first step you should take in the ring-buying process is setting a realistic budget for yourself. Don’t just go shopping with no maximum price in mind, as that may lead to you making a purchase you can’t really afford. If you know what you want to spend beforehand, and make sure you stick to that, you are already showing the kind of discipline that can help you avoid serious debt.

Heirlooms are a wallet’s best friend

Jewelry passed from generation to generation denotes sentimentality and fiscal prudence. Ask your family, or your future spouse’s family, if they have any heirlooms they would like to pass on. Keep in mind: Heirloom jewelry will be free, but the service and upgrades can run from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. If you do obtain an heirloom ring, consider these three options.

2. Leave the ring intact (except for resizing and repair).

3. Create a new setting for an heirloom diamond.

4. Incorporate a new band into the old ring design.

Buy your diamond on the cheap-ish

Real diamonds are never truly inexpensive, but knowing what and when to buy can save you a bundle.

5. Shop in the summertime. Because winter proposals are very popular (think Valentine’s Day), it can make a lot more financial sense to buy your diamond in the off-season. The summer months can offer stable pricing at a discount.

6. Buy diamonds shy of critical weights. If you want a full-carat diamond, look for something around .9 carats instead. You’ll get close to the same look at a nice discount.

7. Look before you buy. Compare diamonds at various areas of the color and clarity spectrum. If you can’t tell the difference in the diamond’s appearance, choose the less-expensive option. Also, be sure to comparison shop at different retailers; don’t just go with the first ring you love, as you may find something very similar, for less, at another shop.

Replace the diamond, save the difference

Thanks to the diamond industry’s multi-decade, multi-billion dollar advertising campaign, diamonds remain the most popular stone in engagement rings, but forgoing the traditional gem can save you thousands. Consider these emerging trends.

8. Choose synthetic diamonds. Diamonds created in labs share the same properties as mined diamonds, but they cost up to 75% less than traditional diamonds, and they are a great choice for those seeking to avoid conflict diamonds.

9. Replace a diamond with moissanite. A gemologist will never tell you this, but moissanite (a synthetic material) is the hardest gemstone used in jewelry next to diamonds, and it ranks high on clarity and color scales, too. It’s not a valuable gem, but it is beautiful. (Pro tip: Ask your future spouse before you go this route. Many people do prefer authenticity.)

10. Pick an alternative gemstone. Pearls or jade are popular choices outside of the United States, and garnet and topaz are gaining popularity stateside. If you want something out of the ordinary, consider alternative gemstones, but be aware that some gemstones are actually even more expensive than diamonds.

11. Skip gemstones altogether. Ornamental rings (especially knots) are popular choices for those who want to skip traditional gemstones. Handcrafted gold rings can be purchased for as little as $200 on Etsy.

Forgo tradition

Some of the best ways to save money on engagement rings involve breaking tradition, and some couples are more open to an alternative ring style than others. These are a few ring choices that definitely buck tradition.

12. Wooden rings: Wooden engagement rings occupy a large niche in the market, and can be a cost-effective alternative to precious metals. Wooden rings run anywhere from $50 for simple bands to several thousand dollars for rings that include ornate details and gemstones.

13. Tattooed rings: Some couples chose to get tattoos instead of rings, citing that nothing says forever quite like a tattoo. Keep in mind that this may be a dangerous option, as you will have a much harder time removing a tattoo than a ring if your relationship ends (either before or after the marriage).

14. Leather rings: Leather rings can include braiding, engraving and colored beads, among other stylings, and will certainly save you a bundle compared to a diamond. If you don’t want to go with real leather, faux leather can work as well.

15. Go dutch. If the ring in question is outside of your price range, consider asking your sweetheart to split the cost with you. As you’ll be combining finances after you’re married, this may actually lead to some great money-focused conversations.

Save money now, upgrade later

If your partner has a big diamond taste, but you’ve got a small budget, then consider upgrading later on. Here’s how.

16. Propose with costume jewelry. If you think you can save up for the real ring by the time of your wedding, an inexpensive piece of costume jewelry may be just right for the proposal.

17. Build as you go. Start with a simple band and stone, and add more or bigger gems for anniversary milestones, or upgrade when you can afford it.

Buy used

Consider buying a ring that already has a history. You can have the ring professionally cleaned to give it new beauty and make it “yours.”

18. Visit pawn shops. You may be buying the ring of a recent divorcee, but the savings can be irresistible.

19. Search estate sales. If you regularly shop estate sales, you might uncover a vintage ring at a spectacular price. Rings that aren’t presented with a certificate of authenticity will give you room to negotiate on price, but you may accidentally buy overpriced junk. This technique is best for people with an eye for authenticity.

20. Shop on eBay. Pre-owned rings from eBay can represent about a 30% discount over identical new rings, and many owners provide certificates of authenticity.

Creative ways to get cash

Whether you’ll spend a few hundred dollars or thousands, an engagement ring doesn’t have to mean big debt. Consider a few creative ways to save the cash you need to pay for a ring in full.

21. Sell your memorabilia. Your partner may not be too enthusiastic about your KISS memorabilia, or your 27 signed hockey jerseys. Selling these to help pay for an engagement ring will be a double sign of your love.

22. Save up, way in advance. If you’re not currently in a serious relationship, but you think you’re the marrying kind, consider setting aside some cash for a future ring purchase. While some people may find this a strange thing to do, there is no harm in being over-prepared. If you don’t end up using the money to buy a ring, it will be on-hand for other potential purchases (think a wonderful vacation, or a luxury item you really want).

23. Get a side hustle. People are increasingly taking on side hustles to earn extra cash, even if they have full-time jobs. This can include selling your artistic creations on Etsy, becoming an Uber or Lyft driver or writing freelance articles. Then you can put all the extra money you earn into an account for a ring.

Consider a personal loan

It is definitely ideal to be able to purchase an engagement ring without going into debt at all. However, if you simply have to finance at least part of the ring’s purchase, you might consider a personal loan, as you may be able to get a better interest rate than with a credit card, depending on your own credit and where you are able to obtain your loan.

Bottom line

Getting married can be an expensive undertaking, and you don’t want to put yourself in a difficult financial place just by purchasing the engagement ring. Keep in mind the alternatives to the traditional pricey diamond, and also remember that the love you share with your partner should be far more important than buying a ring with a sky-high price tag. Avoiding debt as much as you can also means you’ll be starting off your new marriage on a financially healthy note.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah here