It depends. While today’s interest rate environment is at historical lows, federal student loan interest rates set by Congress have not gone down on the most common type of loan, the Unsubsidized Stafford Loan. Some borrowers in repayment with excellent credit may be able to qualify to refinance their existing federal student loans with a new loan at a lower rate. Borrowers considering this option should also be aware of the risks:
- Look closely if you’re switching from a fixed to a variable rate loan. Interest rates for most outstanding federal loans have fixed rates, which means that you never have to worry about your monthly payment going up when interest rates rise in the future. If you switch to a variable rate loan, know that your interest rate could rise higher than the original fixed rate loan over time.
- You’ll probably sign away certain benefits if you refinance. Federal student loans feature a number of options for borrowers that run into
trouble, including Income-Based Repayment (IBR). Borrowers working in certain professions—like those employed in public service or as teachers may be eligible for loan forgiveness for certain federal loans. If you refinance a federal loan with a new private student loan, you will no longer be eligible to participate in these federal loan forgiveness programs. There are also loan discharge benefits in the case of death or permanent disability on certain federal student loans. Active-duty servicemembers might also lose benefits on pre-service obligations if they refinance.
If you are considering refinancing your federal student loans with a new private student loan, be sure you understand what you’re giving up before making this choice. In general, honest lenders will warn you about the benefits you are giving up when refinancing out of a federal student loan. If you have a secure job, emergency savings, strong credit, and are unlikely to benefit from forgiveness options, it may be a choice worth considering if you’re looking to lower your payments.