Photo: Brian Bowen Smith
Q: I graduated from college in May. I have a good job, but I have more than $100,000 in college loans from different banks coming due in two months. I need to consolidate them but have not found a bank willing to do so. I'm worried about keeping up. Can you help?
A: First, check to see if you have any federal loans, like Staffords. Even if they came through a private lender, you can consolidate them through the Federal Direct Consolidation Loan program, which offers different repayment schedules that are meant to help you take control of your debt.
But with $100,000 in debt, you probably have some private loans in your portfolio, too. And I am going to be straight with you: Private college loans are not ideal at any time, especially now, when many lenders have left the student loan business or curtailed their lending in the wake of the financial crisis. I contacted student loan guru Mark Kantrowitz at FinAid.org, who says just three lenders still offer consolidation: Chase, Student Loan Network, and Wells Fargo. Try those—and shop smart. Study each and every term, as well as fees. With a private loan consolidation, your FICO credit score will determine both whether you get a loan and what the initial rate will be. You should also know that there are no fixed rates on consolidated private loans; your interest rate will probably be tied to a benchmark like the prime rate, so when that rises, so will the rate on your loan.
Finally, if you have a solid job and a solid credit score, think about looking into a personal loan at a bank or credit union. You might not be able to score a deal for the entire amount, but if you can get a fixed-rate personal loan to pay off some of the variable-rate student loan debt, that will offer you more stability.
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From the February 2010 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine