To consolidate or not to consolidate? It seems the rules—and the interest rates—are always changing, so I picked FinAid.org's Mark Kantrowitz's brain for the best, most up-to-date, advice.
Know what kind of loan you have.
Stafford and PLUS loans that originated before July 1, 2006, are variable rate; on or after that date, they are fixed rate loans. If yours is variable, the rate will reset on July 1 of each year. I recommend waiting until July 1 to consolidate as rates will drop by more than 3 percent, says Mark.
Know the benefits of consolidation.
The main benefit of consolidation, aside from locking in a good rate, is having a single bill and access to different repayment options. But if you have a fixed rate loan, it's better to leave it as is. Mark says most lenders offer unified billing these days, and you can get something like extended repayment without consolidating.
Remember that student loan debt is considered good debt in the eyes of creditors, and it's likely to the lowest interest rate you'll ever see on money borrowed. If you have costly credit card or other debt, it makes sense to extend your student loan repayment plan and put the extra cash toward paying off the more expensive credit card debt.
Please note: This is general information and is not intended to be legal advice. You should consult with your own financial advisor before making any major financial decisions, including investments or changes to your portfolio, and a qualified legal professional before executing any legal documents or taking any legal action. Harpo Productions, Inc., OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, Discovery Communications LLC and their affiliated companies and entities are not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your financial or legal decisions.