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Best Student Loan Consolidation & Refinance Lenders of 2021

If you’re saddled with student debt and worried about making payments on your federal loans during the coronavirus pandemic, you can breathe a sigh of relief. An executive order in January extended the pause in payments on federal loans and set interest rates at 0% through September. Private lenders may offer their own special relief programs, or you can refinance your private student loans to save money.

Whether you have federal, private or both types of student loans, consolidating or refinancing them might help you reduce your student debt, better manage payments and work toward other financial goals. Too much student debt can hamper your ability to save for retirement or qualify for other loans, such as a mortgage. This guide explains the differences between refinancing private student loans and consolidating federal student loans, the pros and cons of each, and the best options for different situations.

The Best Student Loan Refinance Companies of 2021

No student loan refinancer is perfect for every borrower. These lenders are a good starting point for most people, but you should read student loan reviews and research each company on your own.

Earnest

2.48% to 5.79% with autopay* Fixed APR
Up to $500,000 Max. Loan Amount
650 Min. Credit Score

Laurel Road

2.25% to 5.75% Fixed APR
No maximum Max. Loan Amount
Not disclosed Min. Credit Score

Splash Financial

2.49% to 6.31% with autopay Fixed APR
No maximum Max. Loan Amount
640 Min. Credit Score

Citizens Bank

2.69% to 9.15% Fixed APR
Up to $750,000 Max. Loan Amount
Not disclosed Min. Credit Score

SoFi

1.99% to 6.94% with autopay Fixed APR
No maximum Max. Loan Amount
Not disclosed Min. Credit Score

College Ave

2.99% to 6.84% with autopay Fixed APR
Up to $300,000 Max. Loan Amount
Mid 600s Min. Credit Score

CommonBond

2.59 to 6.74% with autopay Fixed APR
Up to $500,000 Max. Loan Amount
Not disclosed Min. Credit Score

LendKey

2.49% to 7.63% with autopay Fixed APR
Up to $300,000 Max. Loan Amount
Not disclosed Min. Credit Score

Find the Best Student Loan Refinance Lenders

Best for fair credit

Earnest is an online lender offering private student loans to current college and graduate students and student loan refinancing to graduates. The company was founded in 2013. Borrowers can choose their loan terms to fund up to the full cost of their education.

Before You Apply

  • Loan types: Undergraduate, Graduate, Parent Loans, Refinance, MBA, Law School, Medical School.
  • Minimum FICO credit score: 650.
  • Co-signer required: No.
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A.

Best Features

  • There are no origination, application or late fees.

  • You can choose your monthly payment and loan term length.

  • You can use a co-signer on undergraduate or graduate student loans, and student loan refinancing is available.

See full profile

Best for graduate health care program loans.

Laurel Road originates graduate student loans and offers refinancing for undergraduate, graduate and certain associate degrees. In 2019, Laurel Road became part of KeyBank, which offers community and corporate banking services.

Laurel Road’s student loans are serviced through the Higher Education Loan Authority of the State of Missouri, also known as MOHELA, and the company is headquartered in New York City.

Before You Apply

  • Loan types: Refinance, Graduate, Medical School, Dental School.
  • Minimum FICO credit score: Not disclosed.
  • Co-signer required: No.
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A.

Best Features

  • Loans are available from $5,000 up to 100% of the student’s school-certified cost of attendance.

  • Borrowers can make full payments while in school or choose to pay interest only, pay a flat fee or defer payments.

  • Laurel Road student loans have no application, origination, disbursement or prepayment fees.

See full profile

Best for speedy credit decisions

Splash Financial is a student loan refinance lender marketplace based in Cleveland, with its own lender network of banks and credit unions. Splash Financial gives borrowers quotes from its partner lenders with loans available in all 50 states. Refinancing is available for federal, private and Parent PLUS loans. A specialized refinance program is designed for doctors completing residencies or fellowships.

Before You Apply

  • Loan types: Refinancing, Parent Refinancing.
  • Minimum FICO credit score: 640.
  • Co-signer accepted: Yes.
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A-.

Best Features

  • Refinancing is available for a range of student loans.

  • Splash Financial works with a network of banks and credit unions to provide the best possible rates.

  • There are no application fees, origination fees or prepayment penalties.

See full profile

Best for streamlined approval process

Citizens Bank was founded in the 1800s in Rhode Island. Today, it’s one of the largest commercial banks in the U.S., with branches in 12 states in New England, the mid-Atlantic and the Midwest. U.S. citizens and permanent residents can apply for Citizens Bank student loans, as can non-citizens with creditworthy citizen or permanent resident co-signers.

Before You Apply

  • Loan types: Undergraduate, Graduate, Refinance, Parent Loan, MBA, Medical School, Dental School, Law School, International Student Loan.
  • Minimum FICO credit score: Not disclosed.
  • Co-signer required: No.
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A+.

Best Features

  • Citizens Bank offers multiyear approval loans, meaning that once you get started, you will continue to secure funding for subsequent years in school without needing to go through a credit check every year.

  • Borrowers who sign up for automatic payments can reduce their interest rates by 0.25 percentage points.

  • If you have a qualifying Citizens Bank account, you can earn an additional 0.25 percentage point discount.

  • International students can apply if they have a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with good credit.

See full profile

Best for customer service

Education Loan Finance, also known as ELFI, is a student loan refinancing program offered by SouthEast Bank. Options are available in all 50 states to refinance private and federal student loans, including undergraduate, graduate, parent and MBA loans, as well as loans for law, dental and medical school.

Before You Apply

  • Loan types: Undergraduate, Graduate, Parent Loan, Refinance, Medical School, Dental School, MBA, Law School.
  • Minimum FICO credit score: Not disclosed.
  • Co-signer required: No.
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A-.

Best Features

  • There’s no maximum loan amount.

  • All types of student loans are eligible for refinancing.

  • Borrowers with up to a 50% debt-to-income ratio may be approved.

See full profile

Best for multiple repayment options and no fees

SoFi is an online lender founded by Stanford business school students in 2011. Originally focused on student loan refinancing, the company added private student loans in 2019. Its student loans for undergraduates, graduates and parents start at $5,000 and charge no fees.

Before You Apply

  • Loan types: Undergraduate, Graduate, Parent Loan, MBA, Medical School, Law School, Refinance.
  • Minimum FICO credit score: Not disclosed.
  • Co-signer required: No.
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A+.

Best Features

  • Zero fees: You won’t have to pay origination fees, application fees, late fees or insufficient funds fees.

  • Flexible repayment options: SoFi offers co-signer release options, plus borrowers hit by financial hardship can access programs and benefits.

  • Prequalify: Whether seeking undergraduate, graduate or parent loans, you and your co-signer can check rates and terms before submitting a full loan application without hurting your credit scores.

See full profile

Best for instant approval

College Ave exclusively offers student loans. Founded in 2014 and based in Wilmington, Delaware, College Ave offers undergraduate, graduate and parent loans for students enrolled at schools affiliated with College Ave in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. College Ave’s advantage is speed, with applications that take a few minutes to complete and instant decisions.

Before You Apply

  • Loan types: Undergraduate, Graduate, Parent Loan, Refinance, MBA, Law School, Dental School, Medical School, International Student Loan.
  • Minimum FICO credit score: Not disclosed.
  • Co-signer required: Yes.
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A+.

Best Features

  • Rapid application and approval process.

  • Career loan programs with a completion incentive available.

  • College Ave Student Loans have no origination fees.

See full profile

Best for forbearance options

Founded in 2011, CommonBond has funded more than $2 billion in student loans. The lender offers undergraduate, graduate, medical, dental and Master of Business Administration loans, along with student loan refinancing.

You need a co-signer for undergraduate and graduate loans, but not for medical, dental and MBA loans. It can take from five days to three weeks for your school to confirm your loan amount and enrollment status after CommonBond approves your loan. Fees are generally low, though there is an origination fee for MBA, dental and medical loans.

Before You Apply

  • Loan types: Undergraduate, Graduate, Refinance, MBA, Dental School, Medical School.
  • Minimum FICO credit score: Not disclosed.
  • Co-signer required: Yes.
  • Better Business Bureau rating: B+.

Best Features

  • Loans are available from $1,000.

  • Borrowers can defer payments while in school or elect to make up to full payments each month, depending on their loan type.

See full profile

Best for online refinancing

PenFed Credit Union has been originating refinanced student loans and refinanced parent loans since 2016 via a partnership with fintech company Purefy. PenFed does not originate traditional student loans, but it does refer customers to student loans issued by Sallie Mae Bank. Established in 1935, PenFed – which is short for Pentagon Federal Credit Union – has more than 1.6 million members, and serves customers in all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and U.S. territories.

Before You Apply

  • Loan types: Refinance.
  • Minimum FICO credit score: 670.
  • Co-signer required: Yes.
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A+.

Best Features

  • No origination fees or application fees.

  • Spouses can refinance their loans together.

  • Get a co-signer release after 12 consecutive months of on-time payments.

  • Phone or email consultations are free.

See full profile

Best for minimal fees

LendKey’s digital platform connects borrowers who need private student loans or student loan refinancing with credit unions and community banks. Since 2009, LendKey has helped more than 120,000 people by funding $4.1 billion in loans. The company offers fixed- and variable-rate loans for undergraduate and graduate students.

Before You Apply

  • Loan types: Undergraduate, Graduate, Refinance.
  • Minimum FICO credit score: Not disclosed
  • Co-signer required: No.
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A.

Best Features

  • Borrowers can receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate discount by signing up for automatic monthly payments from a checking or savings account.

  • Co-signers are not required but may improve your chances of approval or help you obtain better terms that could save you money.

  • LendKey does not charge origination or application fees.

See full profile

What Does It Mean to Refinance or Consolidate a Student Loan?

Refinancing means getting a new (lower) interest rate on an existing loan. Consolidating student loans means combining multiple loans into one monthly payment. Federal loans can only be consolidated. Private loans can be consolidated and refinanced together.

You can consolidate loans through the U.S. Department of Education. The consolidation will give you one monthly payment with a new loan term and fixed interest rate that is the weighted average of your previous rates.

When you refinance student loans, a private lender repays your loans and issues a new loan based on your creditworthiness. If you can qualify for a better interest rate, you could save money and get lower monthly payments when you refinance student loans.

How Can You Refinance or Consolidate Student Loans?

Refinancing terms for your new private student loan are based on many factors, including your annual income, debt, employment and credit.

You can refinance federal student loans through private lenders, but it’s not always a good idea. That’s because you’ll lose access to flexible repayment options, including federal income-based repayment plans and student loan forgiveness programs.

Consolidating your federal loans neither changes the interest that accrues on them nor your ability to get more federal student loans. Consolidating your federal student loans requires no hard credit check and could offer you access to more flexible repayment options or forgiveness programs.

Rather than consolidate your loans, you could consider changing repayment plans to extend your loan terms and get lower monthly payments. But this also won’t reduce the cost of borrowing.

U.S. News Survey

U.S. News Survey: Student Loan Payments Can Hinder Retirement Savings and Personal Goals

Many borrowers don’t regret their student loans and haven’t explored refinancing them for savings, according to a U.S. News survey of consumers with federal or private student loans. They revealed how much they borrowed, whether their payments are affordable and other details about how their student loans have affected their lives.

Among the survey’s key findings:

More than 11% of respondents have student loan balances more than $50,000.

Seventy-three percent of respondents have had to postpone significant life goals, including 37.9% of people who have put off buying a house. Only 27% of respondents haven’t had their plans significantly delayed because of student loans.

Survey Results

Are You Eligible to Consolidate or Refinance Student Loans?

Before you proceed with consolidating or refinancing, check that your loans are eligible and make sure your choice is the right fit.

Federal student loan consolidation eligibility

Private student loan refinance eligibility

Eligibility can vary by lender, but many private student loan refinancing companies look at these factors:

  • Minimum credit score. You’ll usually need a minimum credit score of 670 or higher, which falls in FICO’s good range. But even if you qualify for refinancing, you may not get a lower interest rate than you have now.
  • Credit history. Lenders typically review your credit history for derogatory marks, such as late payments, and consider this information to determine your creditworthiness. You can order free copies of your credit reports – now weekly through April 2022 – at AnnualCreditReport.com to monitor for errors and dispute them, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of research for Savingforcollege.com, a resource for saving and paying for college.
  • Proof of stable work and income. Some lenders may have minimum annual income requirements.
  • Debt-to-income, or DTI, ratio. This is the percentage of your total monthly income that goes toward debt payments, and it can help lenders determine if you’ll have trouble making your loan payments. A lower DTI ratio is better because it indicates that you have more room in your monthly budget. The maximum DTI ratio is typically 40-50%, according to the lenders that disclose it. You can reduce your DTI ratio by switching to longer repayment plans, Kantrowitz says.

Also, lenders may require you to meet other conditions for refinancing student loans. If you can’t qualify on your own, some lenders might approve you with a creditworthy co-signer.

Lenders could restrict refinancing to those who:

  • Complete degrees
  • Have certain types of degrees, such as law or medicine
  • Live in certain states

How soon can you refinance student loans? You’re not likely to get approved for refinancing while still in school, unless you have income. Once you graduate and find a job, you should be able to refinance.

Parent PLUS loan refinance eligibility

Parents can refinance student loans, too. Parent PLUS refinancing is available with private lenders. When you refinance Parent PLUS loans or private parent loans, you could lower your interest rate, transfer the debt to your child or both.

Kantrowitz says, “You don’t lose as many benefits when refinancing a federal Parent PLUS loan into a private loan since parent borrowers are not eligible for income-driven repayment plans and Public Service Loan Forgiveness.”

Should You Consolidate or Refinance Student Loans?

Use this chart to compare consolidating federal student loans with refinancing private student loans.

Federal Direct Consolidation Loan

Private Student Loan Refinancing

Are federal loans eligible?

Yes Yes

Are private loans eligible?

No

Yes

Can you lower your monthly payments?

Yes

Yes
Is a hard credit check needed? No Yes
Can you lower your interest rate? No Maybe, if you have good credit
Can you use a federal repayment plan? Yes No
Can you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness programs? Yes No

Consolidation does nothing for your interest rate, but it does make your loans easier to manage, says Travis Hornsby, founder of Student Loan Planner, a consulting firm that helps borrowers manage student loans.

Consolidation could make sense if:

  • You’re having trouble making payments. Consolidating and increasing your loan’s term could give you a lower monthly payment. You’ll keep access to federal loan repayment plans as well as deferment or forbearance, which can offer a safety net.
  • You’re struggling to manage multiple loans. By consolidating, you will combine all of your federal student loans into one new loan and one monthly payment.
  • You plan to work in a profession eligible for student loan forgiveness. If you have federal loans that aren’t eligible for a federal student loan forgiveness program, consolidating those loans could make them eligible. But don’t consolidate loans that are eligible for forgiveness if you’ve been making payments on them, because that will restart the clock on forgiveness.
  • You have a loan in default. You may be able to consolidate your loan and bring it out of default.

On the other hand, choose refinancing “if you’re trying to reduce your interest rate and you need to pay off your balance in full,” Hornsby says. Refinancing your student loans with a private lender could be a good idea, as long as:

  • You qualify for better terms. If you have good credit and meet the loan refinance lender’s minimum income requirement and other requirements, you may qualify for a better interest rate that can decrease your monthly payment and the cost of the loan.
  • You want to combine your federal and private student loans. You’ll have to refinance student loans with a private lender to combine private and federal loans.
  • Your income is stable. Refinancing federal student loans means you’ll no longer be eligible for income-driven repayment plans or federal hardship programs.
  • You don’t plan to use federal student loan forgiveness options or alternative payment plans. Private loans aren’t eligible for these federal loan programs.

Could You Save by Consolidating or Refinancing?

Congratulations! You just graduated and were hired for your first job earning $65,000 a year in San Francisco.

You have three federal direct subsidized loans: one for $10,000, one for $6,000 and the other for $5,000. To pay down your student debt under the standard repayment plan, you will spend 10 years and roughly $24,000, including interest.

Here’s how this scenario could change by either consolidating your federal loans or refinancing them with a private lender.

New APR

New monthly payment

Interest paid

Total paid

Consolidate with a 20-year term

5.53%

$145 $13,755

$34,755

Refinance with a five-year term

4.99%

$396

$2,772

$23,772

Refinance with a 10-year term

5.25%

$225 $6,038

$27,038

Refinance with a 15-year term

5.5%

$172

$9,886

$30,886

Be sure to compare the monthly payment with the total cost when you are considering consolidating or refinancing student loans, Kantrowitz says. Your monthly payment could be lower – sometimes much lower – but you could pay thousands of dollars more in interest.

Of course, you’ll want to compare more than just your monthly payment and interest rate to determine whether consolidating or refinancing your student loans might make sense.

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Student Loan Refinancing Company

You can select the right loan refinance company for your needs by reviewing eligibility requirements and these key factors:

Loan refinance rates

Low interest rates are key. When you compare student loan refinance companies, look for competitive interest rates so you can pay the lowest annual percentage rate possible. You can choose between fixed rates and variable rates, depending on the lender.

  • Fixed-rates range. Loan refinance rates will vary based on your lender and credit, as well as loan terms and market rates. Fixed-interest-rate loans have a rate and monthly payment that doesn’t change over the life of the loan.
  • Variable-rates range. Variable-rate loans may initially have lower interest rates than fixed-rate loans.

Student loan companies usually advertise interest rate ranges on their websites, so that’s a good place to start. Some lenders offer a rate check option. This allows you to prequalify or see estimated loan refinance rates and terms using a soft credit check, which won’t hurt your credit. It’s a good idea to check rate options before you formally apply.

Loan and refinancing terms

Make sure a student loan refinancing company offers terms that meet your needs. Compare loan amounts and repayment terms to determine a good fit.

  • Maximum loan amount. Most people won’t need to worry about maximum loan amounts. Loan amounts range from $75,000 to $500,000. In some cases, lenders don’t have maximums. But this could be a concern for some borrowers with an exceptionally high student loan balance.
  • Minimum loan amount. Many student loan refinancing companies will require you to refinance at least $1,000, and some may expect you to refinance more. If you have a small amount of student debt, you might not be able to refinance it.
  • Loan repayment term. Most refinancing lenders offer loan repayment terms of 10, 15 and 20 years. Choosing a shorter repayment term could increase your monthly payment but reduce the interest you pay and get you out of student debt sooner.
  • Autopay deduction. Many lenders offer borrowers a 0.25-point APR discount if you sign up for autopay.

Repayment and hardship options

If you need flexible repayment or want hardship options available in case of emergency, find out what lenders offer. Some lenders may have flexible repayment options, perhaps allowing you to make interest-only payments for a certain period of time. Deferment, forbearance and other hardship options may be available, too.

Fees

Interest rate isn’t the only cost you’ll face. Refinanced student loans may come with origination, late or returned payment fees.

Customer service

Learn about how well a student loan refinancing company does with customer service by reading student loan reviews. You’ll want to know what experts and other consumers have to say about a loan refinance lender before you sign on the dotted line.

Overall, interest rate and ease of refinancing are the most important considerations when refinancing, Hornsby says, and that can guide your decision-making. Also, take a look at how generous the forbearance terms are and which servicer the company uses.

“That said, student loan refinancing is really a commodity,” Hornsby says. “You’re looking for the lowest interest rate with the least amount of pain in the application process. Luckily, that process is generally pretty fast and easy.”

View More Best Student Loan Refinance Companies

Best for fixed APR

The Rhode Island Student Loan Authority is a nonprofit quasi-state authority that provides college financing to students and parents. The lender specializes in providing loans to Rhode Island residents and students, though not all loans have residency requirements.

Before You Apply

  • Loan types: Undergraduate, Graduate, Refinance, Parent Loan.
  • Minimum FICO credit score: 680.
  • Co-signer required: No.

Best Features

  • Students can be enrolled less than half time and still qualify.

  • Refinancing loans do not have residency requirements.

See full profile

Best for small loan amounts

EDvestinU is a nonprofit student loan lending and refinancing organization. It offers student loans to borrowers in all 50 states. Undergraduate and graduate loans and student loan consolidation are available.

Before You Apply

  • Loan types: Undergraduate, Graduate, Refinance, International Student Loan.
  • Minimum FICO credit score: 675 with co-signer.
  • Co-signer required: No.

Best Features

  • Loans are available from $1,000.

  • Borrowers can make full payments while in school, pay the interest only or defer payments.

  • EDvestinU student loans have no application or origination fees.

See full profile

Best for ACH discount

PNC Bank was established in 1845 and operates in all 50 states. The bank is engaged in a number of community efforts, including its Grow Up Great program in conjunction with Sesame Workshop and various financial literacy efforts. For students, PNC offers opportunities to win $2,000 scholarships toward education expenses. PNC provides a range of loans for students at all stages of postsecondary education, including professional training loans and refinancing.

Before You Apply

  • Loan types: Undergraduate, Refinance, Medical.
  • Minimum FICO credit score: Not disclosed.
  • Co-signer required: No.
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A+.

Best Features

  • No co-signer or collateral is required to apply.

  • Loans are available to students in 150 countries.

  • Borrowers can get discounts on housing and phone plans.

See full profile

Best for co-borrowers

The Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority offers private student loans to undergraduate and graduate students nationwide who are enrolled at least half-time at an eligible nonprofit college or university. Student loan refinancing is also available for qualified U.S. borrowers.

Before You Apply

  • Loan types: Undergraduate, Graduate, Refinance.
  • Minimum FICO credit score: Not disclosed.
  • Co-signer required: Not disclosed.

Best Features

  • Offers co-borrower release on the 15-year student deferred repayment option

  • Defers loan repayment for up to five years while you're in school

  • Allows students to borrow up to the cost of attendance minus financial aid

See full profile

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