Tackling Student Debt: Exploring Refinance Options

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As you all know, we’re in the midst of refinancing my gigantic student loan! We started at $575,000 and in one year, reduced the total to under $500,000. I have shared why we decided to refinance, and what the hold-up has been since then. Now it’s actually time to bite the bullet. There are many companies to choose from, and what is necessarily best one person isn’t the best for another. Therefore, there is no one formula or equation that would allow me to tell you the refinancing agency you should go with. My advice is to do what we did — shop around!

Figuring out which refinancing company is best for you is easy. You can visit a number of them online and get a quote. Here are some decisions you’ll have to make.

  • Fixed interest rate vs variable interest rate: I like the stability of a fixed interest rate, even though variable interest rates give you a lower rate initially. Unfortunately, you may find that low rate changing as time goes on, a surprise I am not willing to chance.
  • Number of years for repayment: You can also choose the number of years you want to take paying down the loan. They may offer you anywhere from 5 to 20 years. If you are refinancing out of IBR like I am, the smartest choice will be to choose the least number of years as you can comfortably pay… except for one exception. If they offer you a lower rate at 10 years instead of 5 years, then I would take the 10 year option at the lower rate, and simply pay it down more aggressively, so that you still finish in five years. It’s a way to take advantage of a lower interest rate!
  • The amount of your loan you will refinance: I put this here because sometimes you simply can not refinance your loans in its entirety. For example, some of the companies that we looked into max out at $300,000. Some are even career-dependent or level-of-education-dependent, and cap at lower numbers such as $150,000. This caveat specifically applies to us, because my loan is so huge! In fact, I have not found any lenders to date that would refinance more than $500,000 of student debt, which is why it was so important for us to pay down my debt until it was under $500,000.

Now that you’ve made some decisions, it’s time to make the big decision: Which lender? I would recommend going to each of the following websites below to see what they can do for your specific case. A pre-application will at least give you a rough ballpark estimate of what they can do for you. Below, you will find some affiliate links to each of the companies we explored.

Things to note:

  • Once you refinance out of IBR, you cannot re-enter IBR again. I’ve spoken of this before, but please make sure that you are able to pay the required monthly payments under the newly refinanced loan. I would like for you to consider any possible complications that may occur over the repayment timeline. If you or your spouse experience disability, will you still be able to pay? If you have a lifestyle change, such as an addition to your family, or move to a different city because of your job, would it still be doable? The last thing you want to do is refinance and get yourself stuck with a payment that you won’t be able to make. Off course, no one ever knows what the future holds, but try to ensure you have a fallback plan in place.
  • Pre-application rates have expiration dates. You can fill out a pre-application form, but do know that they have an expiration date. The quoted interest rates may change if you wait too long to go through with the refinancing process. Rates are always changing. Do not be surprised if you re-apply after your first application has expired, only to find a higher rate than before. If there is a rate you really like because it is very low, I would say move quickly, or risk losing it. Of the same token, don’t start gathering rates until you are absolutely sure you are ready to re-finance.
  • Soft credit pulls do not affect your credit score. Some pre-applications may request making a soft pull on your credit report. These will not affect your credit score, however, if they request making a hard pull, then that will have some effect. Therefore, you want to avoid hard credit pulls unless you are 100% sure that you will be going with a particular company. I have discussed how credit scores work once before.
  • Do not add your spouse as a cosigner unless you are willing to tie them down to your debt for life. Consider this gruesome inquiry: What happens to your student loans in case you pass away? A conversation I implore everyone to have. If your spouse co-signs with you on that refinanced loan, if you happen to pass, then your spouse is still on the hook to continue paying back that debt. If, perchance your spouse does not co-sign, should you pass away, that debt is erased. Off course, you must read the fine print of the contract they send you to confirm this, but that is something to consider. You may receive a lower rate with a co-signer, but is that worth it? Maybe for some whose loans don’t approach half a million dollars, but for us, I don’t think so.

3 thoughts on “Tackling Student Debt: Exploring Refinance Options

  1. I listened to the ChooseFI podcast and found you! I used to also read Reading My Tea Leaves and loved her minimalism approach!

    I loved your honesty in the ChooseFI podcast, and look forward to following along in your journey!

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