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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Student Loan Consolidation A Helpful Financial Aid Option

By Paul L. Johnson

Having a stressful time paying off your student loans? Monthly payments too high to handle? Feel that your interest rate is too high? If any of these questions describe your current situation with student loans, you may want to consider student loan consolidation. First of all, let's answer the question of what this is.

Student loan consolidation is the process of combining all of your individual student loans into a single loan from a single lender. While doing this will not really save you any money in the end (in fact, it may cost you more due to greater interest accumulation), consolidating your loans allows you to lower your monthly payments by extending the repayment period (by up to 30 years), which will make the process of paying off the loan much less stressful. By consolidating, you will have enough money to comfortably afford other costs like car payments, rent, and additional expenses in your life. In addition to this, you will have other benefits such as a single monthly payment, possible fixed interest rates, and a good chance to improve your credit (since successfully paying off the loan will be easier). Although extending your loan period will mean that you pay more in interest in the end, if it means easing the stress of paying back what you borrowed then it may be worth it.

There are consolidation programs available for both federal and private student loans. You should consolidate your federal and private loans separately, as consolidating them together will mean that you lose the benefits that come with federal loan consolidation.

For private student loan consolidation, you will take all of your private loans to a lender of your choosing and consolidate them there. For private consolidation loans, you will have benefits such as getting a better interest rate if you have better credit, chances for interest rate reductions (for example, if you sign up for automatic monthly payments from your bank account), and the chance to start off with interest-only payments. However, some drawbacks to private student loan consolidation are not having a fixed interest rate, being required to have a credit check (bad credit can mean you aren't eligible), and a minimum required balance in borrowed money to be eligible for private consolidation. One other benefit of private student loan consolidation is that if you have improved your credit since originally attaining your loans, you may be eligible to lower your current interest rates by consolidating.

You are eligible for federal student loan consolidation if you have borrowed money from the government to pay for college. Some benefits of federal student loan consolidation include having a fixed interest rate, alternate repayment plans, no need for a credit check, and not needing a minimum balance in federal loans to be eligible. As far as drawbacks, they are the same as you will find with any student consolidation loan (mainly paying more in interest and having the "burden" of the loan for a longer period of time). Also note that there are two different federal student loan consolidation programs, FDSLP (also known as a "Direct Loan") and FFELP.

In conclusion, if you are interested in lowering your monthly payments, extending your repayment period, lowering your interest, and/or improving your credit, you should definitely look into consolidating your student loans. When making the decisions, just weight how it will benefit you against the drawbacks that exist, such as larger costs in interest. Student Loan Consolidation may cost you more, but it can definitely make paying off student loans less of a burden.

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