If you’re struggling with private student loans, consolidating them can potentially reduce the long-term cost. MyBankTracker reviews the best banks for refinancing in 2015.
Student loan debt in the U.S. has surpassed $1.2 trillion and private loans account for slightly more than 10 percent of the total. Private student loans can fill the gap when federal borrowing limits are exhausted, although they typically come with a higher interest rate. Refinancing with a different lender can make your monthly payments more manageable. If you’re looking for the right bank, here are three to consider.
1. Wells Fargo
Wells Fargo (MyBankTracker grade: B) offers both variable and fixed rate loans for students who are interested in refinancing up to $120,000 in private education debt. There are no application or origination fees and the bank doesn’t charge a penalty if you pay the loan off early. At the time of publishing, variable APR rates range from 3.49-8.49% and fixed APR rates range from 6.74-11.79%.
Students who have an annual income of $12,000 or more and have established a solid credit history may be able to qualify without a cosigner. If you do require someone to cosign, you can request that they be released from the loan after making 24 consecutive payments as long as your credit is in good standing.
There’s no grace period, which means your first payment will be due as soon as the consolidation process is complete. If you’re already in repayment status, you’ll need to continue making your regular payments until the new loan is approved. If you or your cosigner is an existing Wells Fargo customer, you may be able to get a 0.25% discount on your loan rate as well as an additional 0.25% discount for enrolling in automatic payments.
Tip: You may pay less in interest with a variable rate loan but a fixed rate loan guarantees that your payments won’t increase over time.
2. Darien Rowayton
If you borrowed from private lenders to finance more than one degree, Darien Rowayton (MyBankTracker grade: B+) offers a consolidation program that allows you to combine both undergraduate and graduate loans. That includes private loans as well as those issued by the Department of Education. The minimum loan balance required is $5,000 and there’s no upper limit on how much you student debt you can refinance.
Variable APR rates range from 1.92-3.98% and fixed APR rates are between 3.5-6.25%.
Cosigners aren’t required to apply but if you don’t meet the minimum credit guidelines, you will need one to finalize the loan. Spouses can act as one another’s cosigners if they’re consolidating their individual loans into one.
You do need to have earned your degree and be employed to qualify, although exceptions are made for medical students who are in their final year of residency. Loans are issued for 5, 10, 15 or 20 years but you can request a different loan term if you need to. If you’re still covered by a grace period with your existing lender, your payments on the new loan won’t kick in until it has expired.
As an added perk, Darien Rowayton offers a $200 referral bonus for every friend or family member who consolidates their loans through the bank on your recommendation.
Did you know? Student loans issued by private lenders are not eligible for federal income-based repayment plans.
3. Citizens Bank
Any private or federal student loans are eligible for consolidation through Citizens Bank (MyBankTracker grade: B) although you’ll need to have least $10,000 in debt to apply. The maximum amount you can refinance ranges from $90,000 for undergraduate loans to $170,000 if you borrowed money for a professional degree, such as an MD or JD.
Variable APR rates are as low as 2.32% and fixed APR rates are as low as 4.74%.
Your loans must be in repayment status and you can’t be enrolled in school to qualify. If you didn’t graduate, you have to have made at least 12 consecutive payments towards what you owe to be considered for a consolidation loan. Citizens Bank requires applicants to have a solid credit score and a minimum household income of $24,000; otherwise, a cosigner may be necessary. A cosigner release may be granted after you’ve paid on the loan for three years consecutively.
Like Wells Fargo, you can receive a 0.25% discount on your interest rate if you’re an existing Citizens Bank customer or by signing up for automatic payments. Loan terms range from 5 to 20 years and there’s no penalty for paying it off ahead of schedule.
Other refinancing alternatives
SoFi isn’t a traditional bank but it’s become one of the largest student loan refinancing lenders around, with nearly $2 billion in loans issued. There’s a $10,000 minimum to consolidate but you can include both undergraduate and graduate school private loans.
Variable rates range from 1.92-5.17% while fixed rates range from 3.5-7.24%.
In addition to your credit history, SoFi requires applicants to have completed their degree and be employed or have a confirmed offer of employment in place. Law school grads have to have passed the bar and earned their license.
Refinance loans aren’t available in Idaho and Nevada and variable rate loans aren’t available in Minnesota or Tennessee. If you lose your job, you may be able to get Unemployment Protection, which is something that most private lenders don’t offer. SoFi suspends your monthly loan payments and they’ll even help you find a job while you’re in forbearance so you don’t end up in default.
CommonBond is another online lending company that caters to students who have earned a graduate degree and are interested in refinancing their private loans. You must have graduated from a program that’s listed in CommonBond’s partner network, which currently features more than 100 schools.
Variable APR rates are as low as 1.92% and fixed APR rates are as low as 3.89%.
A credit check is required during the application process and if you don’t meet the minimum guidelines, you’ll need to enlist the help of a cosigner.
Once your refinance is complete, your payments will begin within 30 to 60 days, unless you’re still covered by your previous lender’s grace period. Deferment and forbearance periods are available if you go back to school or you experience a financial hardship. The total amount you can consolidate through the program is $220,000.
In addition to fixed and variable rate loans, CommonBond also offers a 10-year hybrid loan, which features a fixed rate for the first years and a variable rate for the rest of the loan term. A 0.25% discount is available on all loans that are paid through automatic drafts each month.
Refinancing private student loans can lower your monthly payment and reduce the amount of interest you have to pay overall. When comparing banks, be sure to carefully review the rates and loan terms each one is offering before settling on a lender.
To recap the above information, here is a comparison table:
|Company||Fixed APR (As of Feb 17, 2015)||Variable APR (As of Feb 17, 2015)||MyBankTracker Rating|
|Wells Fargo||6.74% to 11.79%||3.49% to 8.49%||B|
|Darien Rowayton||3.5% to 6.25%||1.92% to 3.98%||B+|
|Citizens Bank||As low as 4.74%||As low as 2.32%||B|
|SoFi||3.5% to 7.24%||1.92% to 5.17%|
|CommonBond||As low as 3.89%||As low as 1.92%|
MyBankTracker was not compensated for listing the banks in this article.