How to Get Lower Rates on Your Student Loans

by : Court Tuttle

College can be a hectic way of life with many ups and downs and unexpected challenges. One of the biggest shocks is when you are confronted with the thousands of dollars in student loans that must be repaid after graduation. This is the time to evaluate your financial position.

If you are not financially able to start paying off, or keep paying on, your loans, you are eligible for financial hardship deferments. If you consolidate your loans, you lose your ability to defer payments, so be sure you desire is consolidation.

By consolidating your student loans, you can shield yourself from higher rates. You lock in the weighted average of all your loans up to the nearest one-eighth of 1 percent. Graduates that consolidate during their grace period are eligible for a 0.6 percent interest rate reduction.

If you consolidate Perkins loans, you lose repayment benefits like loan forgiveness and a nine-month grace period, as well as subsidized interest during any deferment period and a 5 percent fixed rate. So there is no advantage to consolidating them.

When you consolidate, you can also stretch out the payment period for up to 30 years. By doing this, you reduce your monthly payments, a useful feature for recent grads with little cash; but you should consider paying it off way before it's due or you will be paying extra interest.

You can always increase your payments. There are no penalties for paying off your loan early. Not everyone can consolidate. Most lenders require a minimum of $7,500 in loans, and some set the minimum balance at $10,000.

Federal law prevents most borrowers who have already consolidated from doing so a second time. And if all of your loans are with one lender, you are required to consolidate with them unless they do not offer the service. Some lenders offer a reduction after you make 36 on-time payments.

And other lenders offer a quarter-point reduction for borrowers who agree to have payments automatically debited from their bank accounts. So you need to shop around and talk with several companies before deciding which company to go with.

Another good idea is to narrow down your choice by using a loan analyzer at which will break down the discount rates in real dollars. This will help you to get a good idea of what each lender's discount is worth over the long term.

This may seem like a lot of time and effort by doing all of this research, but it will pay off in the end. You will be paying this debt for many years and will want to know you have made the best decision.