Refinancing Private Student Loans

Jon O'Donnell Updated on May 14, 2019

Paying student loans is a fact of life for more than 70 percent of college graduates – but paying too much for those student loans doesn’t have to be. Many people don’t realize that once they’ve been out of school for a few years, they could be eligible for lower interest rates on their private student loans.

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Unlike federal loans, which charge everyone the same rate of interest, the terms of private loans vary based on certain factors at the time you apply. If those factors change, you might be able to renegotiate and get a better deal. The key word is “change.” If you took out student loans prior to 2014 and are paying more than 4 percent interest, there are at least two big developments that could save you money if you refinance:

  • Industry-wide changes. Several innovative start-up companies have entered the student lending industry in recent years, transforming the experience of taking out student loans much like Travelocity revolutionized buying plane tickets and Amazon changed buying books. These companies have brought lower interest rates, faster applications, and a greater emphasis on customer service. To remain competitive, traditional banks have responded by revamping their offerings with more flexible and affordable payment plans. All of this competition is good news for borrowers, who are getting more choices and better deals.
  • Credit profile changes. Private loans are based on your credit profile when you apply. Students who are about to start college or are still enrolled generally don’t have much of a credit history. Graduates who’ve been working for a while often have much higher FICO scores. Chances are, if you graduated and are currently employed, you are much less risky to banks now than when you took out your loans.

How does student loan refinancing work?

Refinancing is paying off existing debts by taking out a new loan, with new terms. By refinancing student loans, many borrowers can get a lower interest rate and consolidate multiple bills into a single monthly payment. A recent analysis by the National Student Loan Union found that people who refinanced student loans saved an average of $259 a month and $19,231 over the life of the loan. Some borrowers saved more, and some less, depending on the size of their debt and their credit histories.

What are the benefits of refinancing student loans?

The biggest benefit to refinancing is saving money. Even small decreases in the interest rate can add up to huge savings over time. But there are also other benefits, as well. People with multiple loans from different servicers can consolidate their debts into a single monthly bill. When you refinance, you can choose a shorter or longer time frame for paying off the loan, depending on your goals. Most refinancing companies offer a variety of term lengths from 5 to 20 years. When you refinance, you can remove a co-signer and take out the new loan in your own name. Or you can add a co-signer to boost your chances of being approved and getting a low interest rate. Lastly, almost all modern student loan refinancing companies pride themselves on their customer service. Many companies offer networking events, career counseling, financial planning, and so forth. These perks can be helpful as you grow in your career.

What are the risks of refinancing student loans?

Many lenders are willing to refinance both private and federal student loans. But it’s important to note that if you add federal loans into the mix, you give up forbearance, deferment, or income-based repayment options on those loans. You also become ineligible for loan forgiveness programs. Before refinancing federal loans, it’s important to weigh the amount of money you’d save against the potential value of the benefits you’d be giving up.

Other risks are the same as with any loan you might get. Most lenders offer both fixed and variable interest rates. Variable rates are lower and can be very appealing in the short term, but they can change over time. Consider your risk tolerance carefully before choosing a variable rate. Also, if you refinance your student loans to a longer time frame (ex. 20 years instead of 10) you will likely pay more overall, even if the interest rate is lower.

Who should consider refinancing?

People who took out their loans before 2014 and are paying more more than 4% interest should definitely consider refinancing. People who have multiple loans from different lenders also could benefit by streamlining their debts into a single monthly payment. Most banks that offer student loan refinancing have stringent underwriting standards. They are looking for borrowers with reasonably good credit, a low debt-to-income ratio, and steady employment. But even if your credit isn’t perfect, there may be ways to qualify.

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What do you need to do to refinance private student loans?

The first step in conquering your student loan debt is to gather some documents. You will need your most recent student loan statements, last month’s pay stubs, your most recent tax return, proof of graduation, and a driver’s license or passport. Once you’re ready, it’s just a matter of choosing some companies and comparing rates.

There are dozens of companies that specialize in student lending, but not all are created equal. Here at the National Student Loan Union, we regularly review student lenders. The following are the companies we consider the nation’s best banks for student loan refinancing, based on their interest rates, transparency, product offerings, track record, ease of applying, and customer service.

We recommend that you start here

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Frequently asked questions (FAQs):

Q:  How long does the application take? 

  • A:  Most companies that offer student loan refinancing have very simple applications. Potential borrowers can get rate quotes in less than 5 minutes with no impact on their credit scores.

Q:  Does it cost money? 

  • A:  No. With most lenders, there are no application, origination, or disbursement fees, and there is no penalty for prepayment.

Q:  Will it affect my credit score? 

  • A:  The initial rate inquiry is considered a “soft pull” and does not affect your credit. If you execute a new loan, it will have a short-term effect, but the benefits are usually worth it.

Q:  What if I don’t qualify at this point?  

  • A:  If you don’t get approved right away, don’t despair. You can try another company, work on building your credit, or consider getting a co-signer.

Q:  How long does it take to start saving, once my application is approved?  

  • A:  It depends on the bank. Generally, you should see the payoff post with your original lender approximately 3-4 weeks after you receive your final disclosure. It’s important to continue making payments to your original lender until you’ve confirmed that the payoff has posted. 

Ready to lower your student loan payments and get out of debt faster? Find out how much you can save right now with these industry leading refinancing lenders.

Published in: Refinance

About the Author
Jon O'Donnell

Jon is a writer and marketer for Nitro who is passionate about bringing transparency to the student loan process along with providing families with the information needed to make smart financial decisions. He also just recently refinanced his student loans allowing him to pay them off 5 years faster all while saving an additional $152/month. As he continues to pay them off himself, he strives to help others do the same. Jon also has a long history of connecting people with educational opportunities to help them improve their careers and their overall personal finances. In his free time you can find him reading travel blogs and researching destinations around the world in search of his next adventure. Read more by Jon O'Donnell

Refinance and Save Today With These Lenders

#1 - Comet Recommended View More Details

Works with 275+ not-for-profit community lenders for higher approval chances

  • APR: 2.49% - 7.50%
  • Minimum credit score: 660
  • Refinance up to $300K
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Visit LendKey View Loan Disclosure

LendKey operates student loan programs for over 275 not-for-profit and community lenders across the country. By partnering with these lenders, LendKey is able to give consumers direct access to the best rates available from the most borrower friendly institutions. As the servicer of all loans obtained through its platform, you can rest easy knowing your personal information will be safe and that the best customer service team will be ready to answer your questions from application until your final payment.

LendKey Student Loan Refinance review

  • Lightning fast rate check - 2-minute rate check with no impact on your credit score
  • More lenders, more options - see the best offers from over 275 not-for-profit and community lenders for higher approval chances
  • Life of loan relationship - With LendKey, your personal information will never be sent or passed on to third parties. Their customer service team is with you from the moment you land on their website until you've completely repaid your loan.
  • Unmatched benefits- Community lenders put people over profits and offer unique benefits like cosigner release after 12 on-time payments, interest only repayment options to keep monthly payments low, the largest unemployment protection period in the market, and more.

Get a personalized quote from LendKey now.

#2 View More Details

Offers unemployment protection and career/coaching/networking

  • APR: 2.490% - 8.074%
  • Minimum credit score: 650
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Visit SoFi View Loan Disclosure

SoFi, which stands for “Social Finance,” was created by a group of Stanford business students who found themselves with a mountain of debt after graduation. They set out to change the student loan industry and help borrowers like themselves to get lower interest rates. SoFi has some of the lowest interest rates and, unlike the other lenders we reviewed, it has no maximum amount you can finance. However, Nevada residents can’t currently refinance with SoFi. Minimum loan balances are higher in Arizona, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania due to state laws. Additional state restrictions may apply.

SoFi Student Loan Refinancing Review

  • Low interest rates - For well-qualified borrowers, SoFi offers some of the lowest rates we have found.
  • Strong customer service - It has more than 350 customer service reps available to help applicants through process.
  • Career coaching and networking - Perks include career services representatives who can help you find a job or negotiate a higher salary. SoFi also hosts networking events, happy hours and educational lectures on topics like buying a home in major cities around the country.
  • Unemployment protection - Borrowers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own may apply for Unemployment Protection. If approved, SoFi will suspend their monthly SoFi loan payments and provide job placement assistance during the forbearance period. These benefits are offered in three month increments, and are capped at 12 months, in aggregate, over the life of the loan. Note that interest will still accrue while loans are in forbearance.

Find out what interest rate SoFi can offer you here.

#3 View More Details

For every loan they fund, they contribute to the education of a child in need

  • APR: 2.48% - 6.25%
  • Minimum credit score: 660
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Visit CommonBond View Loan Disclosure

CommonBond was founded in 2011 by three MBA graduates from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School who wanted to help their peers escape from high-interest student loan debt. Its original focus was on grad students, but it has since expanded to cover undergrads as well.

Of all the companies we reviewed, CommonBond has some of the best customer service. The company prides itself on being easy to reach by email, phone, or live chat. It offers networking events, expert panels, insider newsletters, and even has a program help borrowers who lose their jobs to find new ones. CommonBond also makes you feel good about choosing to refinance with them by donating money to an education nonprofit for each loan they write.

CommonBond Student Loan Refinance review

  • Unemployment protections - If you lose your job or decide to go back to school, you can delay your payments for up to 24 months.
  • Social promise - For every loan they fund, they also contribute to the education of a child in need.
  • Hybrid loan option - Offerings include a 10-year hybrid loan with fixed interest for the first five years, and variable interest for the final five.
  • Referral bonus - For every friend you refer who refinances their loans with CommonBond, you’ll earn a $200 cash bonus.
  • Qualification - Borrowers must have graduated at least 2 years prior if they want to apply without a co-signer. And borrowers in 6 states – Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, South Dakota, and Vermont – cannot currently refinance through CommonBond.

Get a personalized review of your refinancing options with CommonBond today.

#4 View More Details

Earnest empowers people with the financial captial they need to live better lives.

  • APR: 2.49% - 7.89%
  • Minimum credit score: 650
  • Refinance up to $500K
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Visit Earnest View Loan Disclosure

Using technology, data, and design to build affordable products, Earnest's lending products are built for a new generation seeking to reach life's milestones. The company understands every applicant's unique financial story to offer the lowest possible rates and radically flexible loan options for living life.

  • Commitment-free 2 minute rate check
  • Client Happiness can be reached via in app messaging, email, and phone 
  • No fees for origination, prepayment, or loan disbursement
  • Flexible terms let you pick your exact monthly payment or switch between fixed and variable rates
  • Skip a payment and make it up later
  • Online dashboard is designed to make it easy to apply for and manage your loan

Click here to apply with Earnest and to see how much you can save.

#5 View More Details

Operates in all 50 states; 2nd largest student loan refinancing lender

  • APR: 2.50% - 7.02%
  • Minimum credit score: 660
  • No refinancing amount maximum
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Visit Laurel Road View Loan Disclosure

Laurel Road is a national online lender with customers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Many of our non-bank competitors are not able to lend in all 50 states.Laurel Road has grown to be the second largest player in the student loan refinancing space in large part because of our reputation as the go-to low rate provider.

Laurel Road Student Loan Refinance Review

  • National reach - Online lender that is available in all 50 US states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
  • No fees & the lowest rates in the space - Laurel Road is the most transparent about the rates they provide customers, and offer the lowest rates where it counts. Our customers will save more than $20,000 over the life of their loans on average. 
  • Customer service reputation - Laurel Road's customer service representatives are no rookies. With 19 years of experience on average, Laurel Road’s Customer Service team delivers an experience that is best in the industry. They work to build meaningful, life-long relationships with our valued customers to improve their overall financial wellness.
  • The stability & security of a bank - They are a division of Darien Rowayton Bank, a stable and secure FDIC-insured bank, regulated by the FDIC and the Connecticut Department of Banking.

Get your personalized, pre-approved rates in less than 5 minutes.

#6 View More Details

Special offers for medical resident and fellow refinance products

  • APR: 3.10% - 7.84%
  • Minimum credit score: 670 w/cosigner
  • Refinance up to $350K
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Visit Splash View Loan Disclosure

Splash Financial is a leader in student loan refinancing with new rates as low as 3.25% fixed APR which can save you tens of thousands of dollars over the life of your loans. No application or origination fees and no prepayment penalties. Splash Financial is in all 50 states and is intensely focused on customer service. Splash Financial is also one of the few companies that offers a great medical resident and fellow refinance product. You can check your rate with Splash in just minutes.

  • Low interest rates – especially for graduate students
  • No application or origination fees. No prepayment penalties.
  • Co-signer release program - you can apply for a cosigner release form your loan after 12 months of on-time payments
  • Specialty product for doctors in training with low monthly payment

Click here to see more of Splash's offerings and to see how you can save money.

Comments

I reduced my student loan payment by $152 per month, by refinancing thru Nitro:

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