Consolidating loans will save borrowers big mone

Katie Greenwald

Money is at the top of many college students’ minds, though consolidating loans may not be.

The cost of college has gone up 38 percent over the last 10 years, leaving more students with the burden of taking out loans, according to the Kent State Alumni Association’s Web site.

Interest rates on the Federal Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans and the Federal Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students will change July 1, said Mark Evans, director of Student Financial Aid.

By consolidating those loans now, students can save up to 58 percent in interest rates, said Gina Gillono, campus marketing representative for Collegiate Funding, a loan consolidation company associated with the Kent State Alumni Association.

Students leave college with an average debt of $17,500, and they take an average of 10 years to pay it off, according to a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Katie Powell, junior biology major, hasn’t yet thought about consolidating.

She is $13,000 in debt with federal and private loans and will consider consolidating after she graduates because it’s a good idea, she said.

“We should stress that it’s very important students do this,” Gillono said.

But Evans said not all borrowers should consolidate.

“Under some consolidation plans a borrower may lose all of the benefits associated with the previous loan,” he said.

Borrowers who are in their grace period have begun the repayment process or are $7,500 or more in debt can consolidate their loans, Gillono said.

Nelnet is another company that consolidates student loans. To apply, borrowers must meet the criteria above, have loans from several lenders ­— or all loans from Direct Loans — and have never consolidated before.

By consolidating loans now, borrowers can lock into the lowest interest rates in history and save a lot of money, Gillono said.

Students who are in their grace periods can lock in an interest rate of 2.77 percent at Collegiate Funding, and 2.875 percent at Nelnet, and those who have begun repayment can get a 3.37 percent interest rate at either company.

Parents who have taken out loans through the Federal Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students program can lock in an interest rate of 4.25 percent at Nelnet.

Borrowers who don’t lock in low interest rates now might have a hefty price to pay later.

Nelnet’s Web site predicts interest rates for Stafford loans to go as high as 8.25 percent and Federal Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students loans to go higher than 8 percent.

Gillono agrees interest rates are rising, but she doesn’t think they’ll go quite so high.

Another advantage to consolidating loans is receiving only one bill each month, rather than several from various lenders.

Collegiate Funding and Nelnet consolidate federal and some private loans.

Neither company offers credit checks or fees to apply, and both have incentive plans to lower interest rates by 1 percent after 36 consecutive on-time payments.

Contact financial reporter Katie Greenwald at [email protected].