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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Understanding Your Student Loan Consolidation Program Options

By Dennis Powell

Ok, you've worked your butt off at college for the last four years, and thanks to your student loans you were actually able to spend most of your time on schoolwork instead of flipping burgers. But now you're out of school, starting on a new career path, and suddenly those friendly student loans are looming ominously as your grace period draws to a close. Fortunately there are a variety of student loan consolidation programs available to help grads and former students make the transition to the regular work world without the specter of unreasonably high payments.

Most people start their borrowing with a Federal Family Education Loan or FFEL. FFELs cover both subsidized and unsubsidized loans, and an FFEL consolidation loan can wrap both of a borrower's federal loans into a single manageable package. FFEL consolidation programs offer extended repayment terms and fixed rates, and in some cases even those who have been in default in the past can qualify. If you have any federal education debt an FFEL consolidation loan should be the first place you look.

Of course not everyone was fortunate enough (or thrifty enough) to have their federal loans cover all of their expenses while in school. People who needed Private loans aren't left out in the cold though. Many companies also offer consolidation packages that will let you put all of your private loans into a single payment. Private consolidation offers many of the same benefits as an FFEL consolidation, but be aware that FFEL and private loans cannot generally be consolidated into a single package. You may need to get two separate consolidation loans, one for your federal loans and another for the private ones.

PLUS loan consolidation offers the chance for parents who have borrowed to fund their child's education to get many of the same benefits as FFEL and private loan consolidation. In addition to an interest rate reduction Plus loan consolidation offers the option of extended terms to make repayment more manageable. As with any consolidation loan, extended terms also increase the total amount of the loan so borrowers need to make sure that they are making the right choice for their financial situation.

There are many alternative ways of consolidating education financing. For homeowners a second mortgage may provide a better solution to a consolidation loan giving the borrower the option to put of their education loans into a single package. Private loans from family members are another way some grads handle their finances, and for a lucky few, some employers even offer tuition reimbursement programs.

New technologies have come to the lending world where the idea of peer-to-peer programs and micro-financing has taken root. Peer to peer financing allows the borrower to present a request for funding to a group of potential "micro-investors" who then bid on the loan by offering different rates and terms. Once a deal is struck the network services the loan, ensures payments are made and the necessary paperwork is taken care of. For borrowers with needs outside the comfort zone of traditional banks a P2P loan may help them get started down the path to getting their loans paid off.

Making the transition from school life to your career is a road with more than its share of lessons and challenges. Having to make large student loan payments on an entry level salary while trying to save cash for a professional wardrobe, deposits on housing, and other "grown-up" essentials is enough to stop that progress dead in its tracks. There are many things to consider when applying for a consolidation, but knowing that you have options available can help make your transition manageable.

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