If you are graduating college soon, now is the time to begin preparations for your student consolidation loan. You have a six month grace period after graduation before payments begin, but the consolidation loan application process can take several weeks, especially if you haven’t gathered all your loan information and decided on a lender.
Inventory your student loans. Make a list of all your loans, including type of loan, lender, the amount of your loans, interest rates and the amount of your payments. Review your loan documents, contact your lenders or loan servicers or go to the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) website.
If you don’t know your PIN (Personal Identification Number) to log in, you will have to request a new one and it will be mailed to you. Expect to wait a week or two for the PIN to arrive, so best to get it done early
Calculate Your Current Monthly Payments. If you are already in a repayment status, you will know your exact monthly payments. However if you are still in school or in your grace period, you should estimate your monthly non-consolidated loan payment based on the current interest rates and your loan balance. You can also check your estimated payment amounts by contacting your lenders or loan servicers.
Budget? What’s a Budget? Though many people wander through life from paycheck to paycheck without knowing where their money is going, you really need to set up a budget to see if student loan consolidation is for you. Once you have that first job, determine a reasonable amount of your income that can be allocated to your student loan payments. This percentage should be based on a realistic budget. Then see if the estimated loan payment amounts you calculated above will fit into your budget.
If your estimated or actual payment exceeds that monthly budgeted amount, reevaluate your income and outflow. Can you trim any areas of your budget? Can you increase your income?
If it’s a short term issue (expected raise in pay, getting a part time job, etc.), consider your deferment or forbearance options.
However, if there is no light at the end of the tunnel, it is time to consider consolidating your student loans.
Select loans for consolidation. Determine which of your loans are eligible for federal consolidation. A listing of the loans that can be consolidated in addition to Stafford and Perkins can be found at Eligible Consolidation Loans
Private student loans are not eligible to be consolidated through the Federal consolidation programs.
You might lose some discharge (cancellation) benefits or deferment benefits if you include certain types of loans in your consolidation loan like Federal Perkins Loans, for example. You can contact the holders of your loans to find out what the impact of consolidation will be on your current benefits.
Consolidate Your Loans. Try going through the Federal Direct Loan Consolidation Program. You can make the application online
If you have graduated, but are still in the grace period, start the consolidation process approximately two months before the end of the grace period. This will allow enough time to have your consolidation loan processed before the grace period expires, yet not so early that you lose too much of your grace period if you have a FFEL consolidation loan.
(If you consolidate FFEL loans during the grace period, you will give up whatever portion of your grace period remains. You retain all of your grace period, however, if you get a Direct Consolidation Loan.) Some FFEL lenders offer to hold disbursement of consolidation loans until the end of the grace period to enable borrowers to minimize their interest rate and maximize their grace period. Check with your lender to be certain.
Keep in mind that if you consolidate during your grace period, you can lock in an interest rate at least a half percent lower than the current repayment rate. Many lenders will give you a discounted rate if you sign up for electronic payment and also for making a certain number (usually 36) of on-time payments.
When filling out the consolidation application, make sure you provide complete and correct address information, include two references, and sign the promissory note. Miss any of these and you will delay the processing of your application.
If you are already in repayment, continue making payments on your loans until consolidation is completed. If you need immediate payment relief, request deferment or forbearance.