After College: Should You Refinance Your Federal Student Loan Debt?

If you owe on federal student loans borrowed to pay for college, and especially if you watch late night TV commercials, you may be wondering what “refinancing” is and whether it’s the right thing for you?

When you “refinance” you borrow a private loan to pay off your federal loans, IMG_6807pledging to repay the new loan according to terms and conditions stated in its promissory note.

This sounds a lot like a Federal Direct Consolidation Loan but it’s not. Your new loan isn’t coming from the U.S. government so your rights and responsibilities on it are no longer based on laws governing federal student loans. Instead, the promissory note you’ll sign with your new lender defines your rights and responsibilities, and certain benefits and protections you now enjoy most likely won’t be available on your new, private, refinancing loan. Here are some key examples:

Interest Rates: Your federal student loan interest rates are generally fixed for the life of those loans. Refinancing lenders stress that their loans offer lower interest rates than you’re currently being charged — thereby lowering your monthly payments and saving you money in the long run. However, their promissory notes IMG_6803may allow their lenders to raise their interest rates later, perhaps many times.

Deferment and Forbearance: You may defer or forbear payment on your federal loans under certain conditions — returning to college, part-time employment, financial distress, etc. But such postponements may not be available once you refinance, or at least not available for the same circumstances.

Repayment Flexibility: When you owe the government, you get a 6-9 month grace period and the right to make payment under any of 7 different federal repayment plans that best meet your needs. Some of these plans will lower your monthly payments. Your grace period may not be the same on a refinancing loan, and refinancing lenders don’t usually offer you all the same repayment options.

Debt Cancellation, Discharge, and Forgiveness: Federal law creates opportunities through which your debt to the government may be cancelled, discharged, or forgiven. Understand none of these opportunities exist on refinancing loans.

How can you tell if a refinancing loan is good for you? Closely scrutinize its promissory note. If that note doesn’t explicitly guarantee benefits and protections you may need or want, don’t borrow it!

Looking for ways to make your college debts more manageable? Feel free to contact College Affordability Solutions for help.

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Special Bulletin: Status of IRS Data Retrieval Tool

A key tool used by students seeking financial aid borrowers applying for income-driven repayment plans on their federal student loans is still offline. However, a new government announcement outlines a schedule for getting it back up and running.

In March, the government shut down the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), expressing concerns about the need for extra system security. Here’s where things are now according to a recent status announcement from the U.S. Department of Education —

DRT in October for Student Financial Aid Applicants: For the next 5 months, students will need to keep finding and using recent federal tax returns for themselves and their parents in order to accurately complete their Free Applications for Federal Student Aid (FAFSAs). The government’s announcement says it’ll be October 1 when a new, more secure DRT will become available to them.

DRT on May 31 for Student Loan Borrowers: Parents and ex-students seeking to certify their eligibility for one of the 4 federal student loan income-driven repayment plans will again be able to access to the DRT beginning May 31, the announcement says. Until then, they’ll need to keep submitting alternative documentation when applying for these plans. Alternative documentation could be paper copies of their federal tax returns or pay stubs.

If and when more information about this problem becomes available, College Affordability Solutions will post another bulletin.