Refinancing your student loans is like a veritable reboot of your finances. It’s one of the most actionable ways to break the oppressive cycle of debt, pay off your loans faster and save on interest.
In 2017, the total national student loan debt averages $1 trillion, and as borrowers just like you try to keep up with their payments and make ends meet, a refinance simply makes sense if you can get more favorable rates or repayment terms.
Instead of being stuck with an unmanageable payment schedule and interest rate for the next 10 or 20 years, refinancing your student loan gives you the chance to lock into new terms and a new, lower APR that fit better into your overall financial picture. Taking out a brand new loan helps you save money that you can use towards bigger and better needs -- like that mortgage down payment, retirement fund or saving for your own children’s future college education.
But refinancing with the first opportunity that comes along might be a risky move that could do you more harm than good, financially speaking. You’ll want to look for benefits inherent to a refinance loan that help, not hinder your budget, like:
The choice between a variable, fixed or hybrid interest rate
A wide range of loan amounts (ideally, anywhere from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars) and loan terms
Low or no fees (prepayment fees, origination fees, loan disbursement fees and the like)
Other services, like unemployment assistance
So, that’s why it’s wise to find the right bank, lender or financial provider before you get started.
Here are our top seven picks:
Starting rates: 2.22% (variable), 3.25% (fixed)
LendKey may appeal to undergraduate and graduate borrowers in the same way as Credible, in that it doesn’t offer loans directly; instead, it works with more than 300 banks and credit unions across the nation to connect you with the right refinance that suits your budget without having to compromise -- and these are community lenders, known for placing customer service and satisfaction over profits.
Here’s what kinds of terms you can expect from LendKey:
Loan amounts: Between $7,500 to $175,000
Terms: 5-, 7-, 10- and 15-year terms
0.25% rate reduction when signing up for autopay
Another unique perk from the lender: Borrowers who can’t afford both their interest and principal at once have the choice to get a head start on their payments by paying interest just for the first four years of their loan.
Starting rates: 2.38% (variable), 3.74% (fixed)
Credible is an online student loan refinance marketplace that can connect you with several lenders in one place to compare your refinancing options. By signing up for a Credible account, student loan borrowers can get personalized interest rate quotes that thankfully won’t affect your credit.
Low starting interest rates (variable and fixed) are available through Credible’s 7-partner lender lineup, including:
Filling out one simple application form produces rate estimates from all seven lenders. While Credible itself doesn’t have any minimum credit score or income requirements to apply, its partners may vary in the credit score or income they look for in borrowers.
Credible boasts a 3-step, 7-minute application process -- fill out the application form, choose the lender(s) you want, and enter your loan details for an evaluation. Borrowers who work with Credible incur no service, origination or prepayment penalty fees of any kind. Federal, private and Parent PLUS loans are all available.
Starting rates: 2.55% (variable), 3.75% (fixed w/automatic payments)
If you’re sensitive about your FICO score not meeting the refinance standards of some lenders, Earnest’s merit-based approval process may be more to your liking.
Earnest is wise to the fact that many student loan borrowers don’t have exemplary credit, so it looks past your credit profile and considers other factors if you’re going to refinance; its analytics-driven "Precision Pricing" platform takes into account your savings patterns, your bill payment history, debt-to-income ratio and your current career/income/educational standing.
Once you’re approved and your terms and APR are secured, use the Earnest dashboard on your computer or mobile device to customize to tailor your payment structure. Set up bi-weekly payments, make extra payments, or schedule an increase in your payments a few months out to save money in the long run.
Earnest’s loan balances range from a $5,000 minimum to a $500,000 maximum.
Starting rates: 2.35% (variable), 3.37% (fixed), 3.87% (hybrid)
The common bond that CommonBond shares with its customers is a desire for more options and choices in the lending process. CommonBond offers three types of interest rates you can choose from in your refinanced loan: a variable rate that fluctuates when the market changes, a fixed rate that stays permanent for the life of the loan, and a hybrid rate starting off as fixed and switching to variable after five years.
Terms are also varied:
For fixed or variable rates, choose between 5-, 10-, 15- and 20-year terms
For a hybrid refinanced loan, a 10-year term is available (five years fixed, five years variable)
Opt for autopay and receive a 0.25% rate discount
Maximum loan amounts extend to $110,000
If you’re unable to make your payments -- even with a refinance in place -- CommonBond lets you put your loan into forbearance up to 24 months, but take note: interest will still accrue during this time.
5. Citizens Bank
Starting rates: 2.37% (variable), 3.74% (fixed)
You may already have a savings account with Citizens Bank, and you may have banked with them for years, but did you know that you can also refinance your loans with them?
The bank’s proprietary Education Refinance Loan is available for borrowers who owe more than $10,000 in student loans, in amounts ranging from $10,000 to $300,000 according to your level of education and the degree you’ve earned:
$90,000 maximum loans for bachelor’s degree holders and below
$225,000 for graduate and doctoral degrees
$300,000 for professional degrees (like dental, medical and law)
Applicants can take heart that they’ll encounter zero application, origination or loan disbursement fees, with the flexibility that comes with several choices of loan terms: 5-, 10-, 15- and 20-year options.
Education Refinance Loan holders can obtain one of the biggest interest rate discounts compared to other loan providers; get 0.25 loyalty percentage points off your APR if a cosigner has a Citizens Bank account, and another 0.25% discount for automatic payments, for a potential 0.5% rate reduction.
6. College Ave
Starting rates: 2.75% (variable), 4.75% (fixed)
Figuring that student lending should be a two-way street full of choices, College Ave gives borrowers 11 different loan repayment options ranging between five to 15 years, with loan amounts between $5,000 to $250,000.
"The sooner you repay it, the more money you save" is its patented advice to customers; in a show of community-minded banking, we like that College Ave emphasizes its clients saving money over earning more money for its bottom line.
With College Ave, the lender’s big priority isn’t so much about getting you the lowest rates, per se, but saving you money in the long run, hence part of the reason why their repayment term choices are a bit more flexible and varied than most.
College Ave gives you two options: an interest-only payment and a full principal/interest payment depending on how high you’d like your payment to be, and how low the cost. With an interest-only payment, you’ll pay off only your interest for the first two years of the loan, with full principal and interest portions resuming in year three. This can save you money in the long run because when you pay off your interest first, you prevent it from capitalizing, building and accruing, which can drive up your total costs.
With the full principal and interest payment, borrowers begin paying both right away. This can raise your overall monthly payment, but lets you pay off your loan sooner. Whichever option you choose, College Ave is one of the few lenders that gives you the freedom to choose the payment plan that fits best into your budget.
7. Darien Rowayton Bank (DRB)
Starting rates: 3.89% (variable), 4.45% (fixed)
DR Bank is another lending choice for anyone looking to refinance their existing federal or private loans, not just for undergraduate and graduate degree holders, but Parent PLUS loans, as well.
Like CommonBond, DRB’s refi loan borrowers can defer their payments up to 12 months -- in separate 3-month periods -- in the event of undue financial circumstances. The plan is also backed by unemployment assistance, a loan forbearance for short-term economic hardship.
DRB’s terms are the standard 5-, 10-, 15, and 20-year plans to extend your payments over the time period you choose, but a 7-year loan term is also available. Signing up for automatic payments earns borrowers a 0.25% interest rate reduction. According to the bank, borrowers with a variable loan with a term of five, seven or 10 years will have a maximum APR of 9%; variable loan borrowers with 15- or 20-year terms won’t have an interest rate exceeding 10%.
How much can you refi for from DRB? The bank lets you borrow from $5,000 up to the full balance of your student loans.
There’s nothing worse for college graduates than to settle for terms and interest rates on their student loans that are unsustainable in the long run. When your payments don’t fit into your budget easily, refinancing can make all the difference in making your loans affordable, keeping you out of debt, and taking the struggle out of your student loans.