Why I Refinanced My Student Loans — Twice

 

Refinancing your student loans can be a great way to accelerate debt repayment or free up some of your monthly budget. I recently refinanced my student loans for a second time, which was a strategic move to improve my overall financial health.

Here’s why I think this can be a smart idea, if you do it at the right time in the right way.

What Is Student Loan Refinancing?

If you’re new here and wondering what refinancing even is, allow me to explain. When you refinance your student loans, you essentially apply for a new loan so that a new lender will buy out your current student loans and give you a new loan with better terms.

“Better” terms depends on what your goal is. For many people, getting a better loan means getting a lower interest rate. If you want to save hundreds of thousands of dollars of interest over the life of your loan, refinancing is a great way to do that. You can structure your loan to pay it off faster at a lower interest rate. This might mean higher monthly payments than you’re used to but a much lower cost of your loan overall.

If you’re having trouble paying your student loans and your monthly payment is too high right now, you can also refinance your student loans to lower your monthly payment. So if you’re on a 10-year plan now, you could refinance to a 15- or 20-year plan to spread out your payments until you get on better financial footing.

Why I Refinanced Twice

About a year ago, I refinanced my federal student loans with SoFi because I wanted to get a better interest rate and pay off my loans faster. My student loans totaled $33,000 with an interest rate of 6.8% with 15 years left on the loan. My monthly payment was around $295 a month. I dropped over a half a percentage point in the interest rate to 6.25% and chose to pay off my loans in 7 years, which increased my monthly payment to about $485. Had I stayed with this loan, I would have saved almost $12,000 in interest fees over time.

I paid my monthly payments dutifully every month, but when my husband and I recently sat down to plan an aggressive debt payoff using the snowball method, we realized that I had been a bit too aggressive with my initial refinance.

Essentially, we wanted to throw as much money as possible at our high-interest debt. Our student loans were at manageable interest rates compared to our credit cards, and we wanted to restructure things a bit to free up more cash.

After receiving a refinance advertisement from College Ave in the mail, I decided to see if I could refinance my student loans and my husband’s graduate school loans with them. It had been only a year or so since my first refinance, but I was still interested. For the record, I tried twice previously to refinance my husband’s loans with SoFi, but they didn’t like his current salary as a medical resident, and they said I was not a qualified co-signer.

Well, luckily College Ave thought I was, so I was able to refinance both my student loans and my husband’s graduate school loans with College Ave. Our interest rates remained the same but I was able to customize a payoff plan that works well with our current debt snowball.

Basically, I chose a plan that allowed us to make graduated payments, so my payments for the next two years are significantly lower than they used to be. That gives me two years to knock out some of our credit card debt without worrying about having large student loan payments.

The Benefits of Student Loan Refinancing

In addition to getting longer or shorter payoff periods and better interest rates, there are other reasons why you might choose to refinance your student loans. For example, if you co-signed your student loans with your parents, sometimes student loan refinance companies will let you get a new loan entirely in your name, getting your parents off the hook.

Many people also refinance their student loans to be more organized. If you have several different student loans and bills with a mixture of interest rates, consolidating your student loans allows you to finally have one monthly bill with one interest rate in one place. This helps reduce the possibility of being late on your payments.

Things to Watch Out for Before You Refinance

While I’m obviously an advocate of refinancing, it’s important to know the downsides as well. The main downside is that if you refinance to a private company from having federal student loans, you lose a lot of the flexibility and perks of the federal student loan system.

Not all private lenders have as many repayment options as federal loans have, and most of them do not offer the perks that come with income-based repayment. For example, my husband’s medical school loans are under the income-based repayment plan called REPAYE, where the government is subsidizing his interest payments (several hundred dollars a month). This is not a perk I was willing to give up, but I was happy to refinance his private graduate school student loans to another private lender with better terms.

It’s Easier Than You Think

I know that switching student loan providers might sound like a complicated process, but with all the online financing companies available now, it’s easier than ever. The process to apply to refinance my student loans took less than 20 minutes both times.

Just make sure to have some identification documents on hand, like your driver’s license and Social Security card, to keep the process running smoothly. After my application was approved, it took about two weeks for my student loans to be completely moved over. Plus, since my new servicer paid off my own loans, that counted as a “payment,” which freed up even more cash this month.

Ultimately, student loan refinancing can be a strategic tool you can use when it comes to bettering your finances and getting out of debt faster. As long as you understand the process, ask to make sure you’re aware of any possible fees, and double-check that the process runs smoothly, you could be well on your way to financial freedom just by adjusting your interest rates and your payments on your student loans.

The post Why I Refinanced My Student Loans — Twice appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

19 Options to Refinance Student Loans in 2017 – Get Your Lowest Rate

19 Options to Refinance Student Loans - Get Your Lowest Rate

Updated: June 3, 2017

Are you tired of paying a high interest rate on your student loan debt? You may be looking for ways to refinance your student loans at a lower interest rate, but don’t know where to turn. We have created the most complete list of lenders currently willing to refinance student loan debt.

You should always shop around for the best rate. Don’t worry about the impact on your credit score of applying to multiple lenders: so long as you complete all of your applications within 14 days, it will only count as one inquiry on your credit score. You can see the full list of lenders below, but we recommend you start here, and check rates from the top 4 national lenders offering the lowest interest rates. These 4 lenders also allow you to check your rate without impacting your score (using a soft credit pull), and offer the best rates of 2017:

LenderTransparency ScoreMax TermFixed APRVariable APRMax Loan Amount 
SoFiA+

20


Years

3.375% - 6.74%


Fixed Rate*

2.615% - 6.54%


Variable Rate*

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now
earnestA+

20


Years

3.37% - 6.49%


Fixed Rate

2.80% - 6.28%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now
commonbondA+

20


Years

3.37% - 6.74%


Fixed Rate

2.62% - 6.54%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now
lendkeyA+

20


Years

3.25% - 7.26%


Fixed Rate

2.43% - 5.85%


Variable Rate

$125k / $175k


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now

We have also created:

But before you refinance, read on to see if you are ready to refinance your student loans.

Can I Get Approved?

Loan approval rules vary by lender. However, all of the lenders will want:

  • Proof that you can afford your payments. That means you have a job with income that is sufficient to cover your student loans and all of your other expenses.
  • Proof that you are a responsible borrower, with a demonstrated record of on-time payments. For some lenders, that means that they use the traditional FICO, requiring a good score. For other lenders, they may just have some basic rules, like no missed payments, or a certain number of on-time payments required to prove that you are responsible.

If you are in financial difficulty and can’t afford your monthly payments, a refinance is not the solution. Instead, you should look at options to avoid a default on student loan debt.

This is particularly important if you have Federal loans.

Don’t refinance Federal loans unless you are very comfortable with your ability to repay. Think hard about the chances you won’t be able to make payments for a few months. Once you refinance, you may lose flexible Federal payment options that can help you if you genuinely can’t afford the payments you have today. Check the Federal loan repayment estimator to make sure you see all the Federal options you have right now.

If you can afford your monthly payment, but you have been a sloppy payer, then you will likely need to demonstrate responsibility before applying for a refinance.

But, if you can afford your current monthly payment and have been responsible with those payments, then a refinance could be possible and help you pay the debt off sooner.

Is it worth it? 

Like any form of debt, your goal with a student loan should be to pay as low an interest rate as possible. Other than a mortgage, you will likely never have a debt as large as your student loan.

If you are able to reduce the interest rate by re-financing, then you should consider the transaction. However, make sure you include the following in any decision:

Is there an origination fee?

Many lenders have no fee, which is great news. If there is an origination fee, you need to make sure that it is worth paying. If you plan on paying off your loan very quickly, then you may not want to pay a fee. But, if you are going to be paying your loan for a long time, a fee may be worth paying.

Is the interest rate fixed or variable?

Variable interest rates will almost always be lower than fixed interest rates. But there is a reason: you end up taking all of the interest rate risk. We are currently at all-time low interest rates. So, we know that interest rates will go up, we just don’t know when.

This is a judgment call. Just remember, when rates go up, so do your payments. And, in a higher rate environment, you will not be able to refinance to a better option (because all rates will be going up).

We typically recommend fixing the rate as much as possible, unless you know that you can pay off your debt during a short time period. If you think it will take you 20 years to pay off your loan, you don’t want to bet on the next 20 years of interest rates. But, if you think you will pay it off in five years, you may want to take the bet. Some providers with variable rates will cap them, which can help temper some of the risk.

Places to Consider a Refinance

If you go to other sites they may claim to compare several student loan offers in one step. Just beware that they might only show you deals that pay them a referral fee, so you could miss out on lenders ready to give you better terms. Below is what we believe is the most comprehensive list of current student loan refinancing lenders.

You should take the time to shop around. FICO says there is little to no impact on your credit score for rate shopping as many providers as you’d like in a single shopping period (which can be between 14-30 days, depending upon the version of FICO). So set aside a day and apply to as many as you feel comfortable with to get a sense of who is ready to give you the best terms.

Here are more details on the 5 lenders offering the lowest interest rates:

1. SoFi: Variable Rates from 2.615% and Fixed Rates from 3.375% (with AutoPay)*

sofiSoFi (read our full SoFi review) was one of the first lenders to start offering student loan refinancing products. More MagnifyMoney readers have chosen SoFi than any other lender. Although SoFi initially targeted a very select group of universities (it started with Stanford), now almost anyone can apply, including if you graduated from a trade school. The only requirement is that you graduated from a Title IV school. You need to have a degree, a good job and good income in order to  qualify. SoFi wants to be more than just a lender. If you lose your job, SoFi will  help you find a new one. If you need a mortgage for a first home, they are there  to help. And, surprisingly, they also want to get you a date. SoFi is famous for  hosting parties for customers across the country, and creating a dating app to  match borrowers with each other.

Go to site

2. Earnest: Variable Rates from 2.80% and Fixed Rates from 3.37% (with AutoPay) 

EarnestEarnest (read our full Earnest review) offers fixed interest rates starting at 3.37% and variable rates starting at 2.80%. Unlike any of the other lenders, you can switch between fixed and variable rates throughout the life of your loan. You can do that one time every six months until the loan is paid off. That means you can take advantage of the low variable interest rates now, and then lock in a higher fixed rate later. You can choose your own monthly payment, based upon what you can afford (to the penny). Earnest also offers bi-weekly payments and “skip a payment” if you run into difficulty.

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3. CommonBond: Variable Rates from 2.62% and Fixed Rates from 3.37% (with AutoPay)

CommonBondCommonBond (read our full CommonBond review) started out lending exclusively to graduate students. They initially targeted doctors with more than $100,000 of debt. Over time, CommonBond has expanded and now offers student loan refinancing options to graduates of almost any university (graduate and undergraduate). In addition (and we think this is pretty cool), CommonBond will fund the education of someone in need in an emerging market for every loan that closes. So not only will you save money, but someone in need will get access to an education.

Go to site

4. LendKey: Variable Rates from 2.43% and Fixed Rates from 3.25% (with AutoPay)

lendkeyLendKey (read our full LendKey review) works with community banks and credit unions across the country. Although you apply with LendKey, your loan will be with a community bank. If you like the idea of working with a credit union or community bank, LendKey could be a great option. Over the past year, LendKey has become increasingly competitive on pricing, and frequently has a better rate than some of the more famous marketplace lenders.

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In addition to the Top 4 (ranked by interest rate), there are many more lenders offering to refinance student loans. Below is a listing of all providers we have found so far. This list includes credit unions that may have limited membership. We will continue to update this list as we find more lenders. This list is ordered alphabetically:

  • Alliant Credit Union: Anyone can join this credit union. Interest rates start as low as 4.00% APR. You can borrow up to $100,000 for up to 25 years.
  • Citizens Bank: Variable interest rates range from 2.60% APR – 8.39% APR and fixed rates range from 3.74% – 8.24%. You can borrow for up to 20 years. Citizens also offers discounts up to 0.50% (0.25% if you have another account and 0.25% if you have automated monthly payments).
  • College Avenue: If you have a medical degree, you can borrow up to $250,000. Otherwise, you can borrow up to $150,000. Fixed rates range from 4.75% – 7.35% APR. Variable rates range from 3.00% – 6.25% APR.
  • Credit Union Student Choice: If you like credit unions and community banks, we recommend that you start with LendKey. However, if you can’t find a good loan from a LendKey partner, this tool could be helpful. Just check to see if you or an immediate family member belong to one of their featured credit union and you can apply to refinance your loan.
  • DRB Student Loan: DRB offers variable rates ranging from 3.89% – 6.54% APR and fixed rates from 4.45% – 7.54% APR. Rates vary by term, and you can borrow up to 20 years.
  • Eastman Credit Union: Credit union membership is restricted (see eligibility here). Fixed rates start at 6.50% and go up to 8% APR.
  • Education Success Loans: This company has a unique pricing structure: your interest rate is fixed and then becomes variable thereafter. You can fix the rate at 4.99% APR for the first year, and it is then becomes variable. The longest you can fix the rate is 10 years at 7.99%, and it is then variable thereafter. Given this pricing, you would probably get a better deal elsewhere.
  • EdVest: This company is the non-profit student loan program of the state of New Hampshire which has become available more broadly. Rates are very competitive, ranging from 3.94% – 7.54% (fixed) and 2.92% – 6.54% APR (variable).
  • First Republic Eagle Gold. The interest rates are great, but this option is not for everyone. Fixed rates range from 2.35% – 3.95% APR. Variable rates range from 2.50% – 4.30%. You need to visit a branch and open a checking account (which has a $3,500 minimum balance to avoid fees). Branches are located in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Newport Beach, San Diego, Portland (Oregon), Boston, Palm Beach (Florida), Greenwich or New York City. Loans must be $60,000 – $300,000. First Republic wants to recruit their future high net worth clients with this product.
  • IHelp: This service will find a community bank. Unfortunately, these community banks don’t have the best interest rates. Fixed rates range from 4.75% to 9% APR (for loans up to 15 years). If you want to get a loan from a community bank or credit union, we recommend trying LendKey instead.
  • Navy Federal Credit Union: This credit union offers limited membership. For men and women who serve (or have served), the credit union can offer excellent rates and specialized underwriting. Variable interest rates start at 3.27% and fixed rates start at 4.00%.
  • Purefy: Only fixed interest rates are available, with rates ranging from 3.50% – 7.28% APR. You can borrow up to $150,000 for up to 15 years. Just answer a few questions on their site, and you can get an indication of the rate.
  • RISLA: Just like New Hampshire, the state of Rhode Island wants to help you save. You can get fixed rates starting as low as 3.49%. And you do not need to have lived or studied in Rhode Island to benefit.
  • UW Credit Union: This credit union has limited membership (you can find out who can join here, but you had better be in Wisconsin). You can borrow from $5,000 to $60,000 and rates start as low as 2.61% (variable) and 4.04% APR (fixed).
  • Wells Fargo: As a traditional lender, Wells Fargo will look at credit score and debt burden. They offer both fixed and variable loans, with variable rates starting at 4.24% and fixed rates starting at 6.24%. You would likely get much lower interest rates from some of the new Silicon Valley lenders or the credit unions.

You can also compare all of these loan options in one chart with our comparison tool. It lists the rates, loan amounts, and kinds of loans each lender is willing to refinance. You can also email us with any questions at info@magnifymoney.com.

 

The post 19 Options to Refinance Student Loans in 2017 – Get Your Lowest Rate appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

“How I Saved Almost $18,000 in Student Loans by Refinancing”

college-grad (1)

When Aaron LaRue, the founder of MortgageMonks.com, graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2011, he owed more than $50,000 in student loan debt. “I didn’t qualify for any financial aid or federally subsidized loans, and I took whatever private loan I could get because I just wanted to go to school,” he said.

By the time LaRue was done financing his schooling, he had ended up with three student loans, one for each year he was in school (he even graduated in three years on purpose in the hopes of cutting down on tuition costs). “Everything got lumped together when I consolidated the first time, but the loans were about $23,000 for the first year about then $13,500 for both my second and third years,” said LaRue. “So almost $50,000 on the nose.”

Since the variable interest rates on his loans were incredibly high, LaRue knew that he’d have to work throughout college in the hopes to pay down some of that debt he owed. “I worked as a teacher’s assistant for two different classes,” he said. “I was the photo editor of our daily school newspaper, and I worked in a computer lab on campus teaching video editing. At one point I had all three jobs at the same time, and that was on top of my crazy class schedule. On top of my consistent jobs, I also always had one-off side gigs going. I shot photos for magazines, photographed a wedding and would pick up freelance video editing jobs on the side.”

Needless to say, LaRue stayed busy — but the bills kept piling up.

Finally, after a few years of checkered payment history and a brief period of deferment, he decided to refinance. “Refinancing was really difficult for me,” LaRue admits. “I graduated high school in 2008, right when the economy was in free fall. By the time I graduated [college] in 2011, I was competing in a job market against people with tons of experience who had recently been laid off. It was difficult for me to get a good paying job, so I decided to go out on my own as a consultant and try to take on multiple clients. I’ve been doing that ever since.”

While LaRue found some success in his career after graduating, he admits that what many people often don’t understand is that when you’re self-employed, it’s very difficult to qualify for loans unless you have two years of tax returns as a self-employed person. “So the first time I tried to refinance my loan, I was denied,” he said. “I started doing more research and I came across a company — Earnest — that used a merit-based qualification system. They checked my earnings and my credit score, but they also dug through my bank accounts to see if I was managing my money properly. They could tell I was responsible, and I was able to qualify. This was huge for me, because it got me into a fixed interest rate loan, and my rate was 2% lower than what I was paying at the time.”

At the time of refinancing, LaRue had about $54,775 in debt, and he’s managed to save $17,990 over the life of the loan, which works out to over $1,200 per year during the repaying period. “I’m still making payments, but I’ve cut about four years off my repayment time and I’m saving money every month,” said LaRue.

At the end of the day, LaRue has some advice for students struggling under the same weight of crushing student loan debt. “Don’t let the debt get you down,” he says. “If you understand how debt works and you can manage it, it’s really not that bad. Debt has allowed me to go to school and it’s helped me start my own business, and in both cases I’ve come out ahead. Having a monthly payment sucks, but I have definitely gotten a return on my investment.”

If you’re ready to consider saving money by refinancing your own student loans, check out this piece for 19 options to refinance and get your lowest rate.

The post “How I Saved Almost $18,000 in Student Loans by Refinancing” appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Options to Get Out of Your Timeshare

Woman trying to protect her saving

You’ve finally escaped the stress of your commute, stacks of unfinished paperwork, and the never-ending demands of the office. You’re staying someplace warm, enjoying pina coladas on the beach or working on your tan by the pool.

The resort’s sales manager has casually mentioned an affordable way to return to this same place every year. And in your relaxed state of bliss, you start daydreaming about future vacations. You imagine making the resort an annual family destination or the spot to celebrate your wedding anniversary.

Let’s face it — buying a timeshare is often an impulsive decision. And one you may regret after the drinks have worn off, your vacation is over, and reality sets in. Because chances are, your timeshare is not the amazing deal the resort’s sales manager sold you on. If you’re stuck with buyer’s remorse or simply can’t afford your timeshare, here is how to minimize the damage to your wallet and credit score.

What is a Timeshare?

So what is a timeshare exactly? A timeshare allows you to buy the right to use a property every year for a certain period of time. And the property is usually part of a resort. A deeded timeshare means you’re purchasing a portion of the property. And a non-deeded timeshare mean you’re leasing the right to use the property for an agreed upon number of years (usually 10-50).

How Much a Timeshare Actually Costs

The cost of a timeshare varies based on the size of the unit, the resort’s location, the time of year, amenities, and more. But the National Timeshare Owners Association (NTOA) says the average timeshare sales price is $20,020.

What does typical report-based financing looks like?

  • Loan Amount – $20,000
  • Term of Loan – 6 years (72 months)
  • Interest Rate Charged – 15.9%
  • Monthly Payment – $432.74
  • Actual Cost – $31,157.28

Many resorts also offer a 1-year loan with a 0% interest rate if you’re willing to put 50% down within 30 days of purchasing the timeshare.

In addition to the cost of the timeshare itself, you’re also responsible for an annual maintenance fee. The National Timeshare Owners Association (NTOA) says the average maintenance fee for 2015 is a whopping $880. This annual maintenance fee can increase over time. And you’re responsible for paying this fee every year regardless of whether or not you visit.

Selling a Timeshare

Are you thinking about trying to sell your timeshare? Although the National Timeshare Owners Association (NTOA) lists three preferred resellers on their website, it’s not always that simple.

Resale websites operate as a subscription service. And their fees range from $14.99 to $125 per year. Plus, resellers may take a portion of the sale.

Remember, timeshares are not real estate investments. And the secondary market is oversaturated with buyers. Want to see further evidence? A quick search on eBay revealed dozens of timeshares practically being given away for $1.

Try Refinancing Your Loan

Between the high interest rates of resort-based financing and the annual maintenance fee, what was sold as an affordable vacation becomes expensive very quickly. If you’re struggling to afford monthly loan payments, you may want to try refinancing to secure a single-digit interest rate.

LightStream, a division of SunTrust bank, offers timeshare-refinancing options if you’re a U.S. citizen with good credit. They don’t charge fees to refinance. And their interest rates are fixed.

Here’s an example of what the numbers may look like for refinanced timeshare loan:

  • Loan Amount – $20,000
  • Term of Loan – 6 years (72 months)
  • Interest Rate Charged – 7.84% – 9.84% APR with Autopay
  • Monthly Payment – $349.10 – $368.91
  • Actual Cost – $25,135.20 – $26,561.52
  • Money Saved – $4,595.76 – $6,022.08

Your timeshare might be such a financial drain that you decide to sell (or give it away) and then refinance the remaining debt to pay it off quickly and with a lower interest rate.

Consider Timeshare Exchanges

Did your resort’s sales manager mention the option of timeshare exchanges? It’s a major selling point for many buyers. And who wouldn’t like the option of trading timeshares with owners in other locations? But does it make sense for you? It depends.

If you’ve paid off your debt, it may be worth the additional fees to list your timeshare on an exchange. The National Timeshare Owners Association (NTOA) lists preferred exchange companies on their website. But you need to read the fine print. Less popular destinations and off-peak season timeshares tend to be more difficult to exchange. And there may be other restrictions that weren’t mentioned at the closing table.

Try To Negotiate With Original Owner

Have you paid off your debt but you’re sick of coughing up annual maintenance fees? It’s worth reaching out to the original owner to see if they’re willing to negotiate. They may agree to let you out of your original deal if you agree to cover a few years of maintenance fees. And they’ll have the option of reselling the timeshare to another buyer. It doesn’t hurt to ask!

Can’t negotiate with the original owner? Try getting a team of experts to help you legally get out of the contract with the Time Share Exit Team.

The Truth About Timeshares

It’s cheaper than ever to find affordable places to stay on vacation. Websites like Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway make it easy to find affordable listings all over the world. A timeshare at a luxury resort may seem attractive today, but what happens when your tastes and lifestyle change? The truth is, timeshares don’t always get used as often as buyers originally planned.

If you have to finance a timeshare, it’s probably not worth buying. Why? Resort-based financing can incur interest rates of 15-16%. And even once you’ve paid off the loan, you’re still stuck with expensive annual maintenance fees averaging $880 or more! Plus, attempting to resell can be a nightmare. It can get costly and there’s just not a strong secondary market. And all this doesn’t even include the cost of travel to get to your timeshare in the first place.

Despite all these drawbacks, almost 400,000 timeshares were sold in 2015. And it’s easy to see how buyers get roped in. It’s not easy to make a clear-headed decisions on a white sand beach after a couple of margaritas.

If you’re regretting your choice to buy or can’t afford your timeshare, you can minimize the damage to your wallet and credit by refinancing, exchanging, or negotiating with the original owner.

The post Options to Get Out of Your Timeshare appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Minnesota SELF Refinance: Student Loan Relief for Minnesota Residents

Students throwing graduation hats

Paying high interest rates on your student loans? If you’re a resident of Minnesota, we have good news for you. Administered by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, Minnesota SELF Refi loans are available to Minnesota residents with more than $10,000 in qualified student loan debt. With credit scores affecting qualification but not interest rates, qualifying borrowers are, in many situations, able to obtain rates lower than federal student loans, potentially saving them money, and reducing the amount of time they are enslaved to their student loan debt.

Terms

Minnesota SELF Refi charges no application or origination fees. Late fees are up to $25 if your payment is not made within 15 days of the due date, and returned payment charges cap at $15. Qualified borrowers can opt for either a fixed interest rate, or a variable interest rate.

Fixed Interest Rate Loans

If you qualify for a Minnesota SELF Refi loan, your interest rate is determined by the length of your loan rather than your credit score. Those who opt for fixed interest will have the same interest rate for the entire term of the loan.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 2.38.27 PM

Variable Interest Rate Loans

The variable option often score you a lower interest rate, with the understanding that it is subject to change over time. That means your rate could go either up or down every quarter on January 1st, April 1st, July 1st, and October 1st. Minnesota SELF Refi uses the LIBOR index to calculate quarterly rates. The LIBOR index is the average of interest rates from sixteen of the world’s largest banks.

The Minnesota Office of Higher Education pulls the rate from the past month of the LIBOR index, and then adds in a margin to cover its operating costs. Both numbers are reassessed every quarter, and their sum will be your interest rate for the next three months.

Current rates on variable interest rate loans are as follows:

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 2.38.31 PM

Rates on variable interest loans max out at 18%.

Pros and Cons of Refinancing with Minnesota SELF Refi

Pros

  • Variable interest rates are lower than current rates on federal student loans for 5- and 10-year terms, though they are subject to change.
  • If you initially financed federal student loans between 2006 and 2009, rates on Minnesota SELF Refi fixed rate loans are substantially lower for 5- and 10-year terms. Five-year terms on graduate loans are lower than the current Federal rate.
  • No application fees or origination fees.
  • Offers refinancing options for those with diplomas, certificates, and associate’s degrees.
  • Your credit score does not dictate your rate. If you qualify, you qualify for the uniform rates.
  • Cosigner release is available.

Cons

  • If you are refinancing a federal student loan, you will lose all benefits of any federal programs you are enrolled in.
  • No deferment options available.
  • Debt-to-income ratio may limit you from getting the more attractive rates that accompany shorter loan terms.
  • Maximum APR on variable rate loans is on the higher end at 18%.
  • Maximum loan amounts are small when compared to other refinance options in the private market.

[Learn more about refinancing here.]

Who Qualifies

Current Minnesota residents with a credit score of 720+ with no delinquencies on their credit report, and no charge offs, liens, or judgements of $300+ meet the credit requirements for this refinance option. Additionally, your debt-to-income ratio must be at or below 45%. You must have earned a certificate, diploma, associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, or graduate degree, though max loan amounts differ depending on your degree.

  • If you have a certificate, diploma, or associate’s degree, you can refinance loans in the amount of $10,000-$25,000.
  • If you have a bachelor’s or graduate degree, you can refinance loans in the amount of $10,000-$70,000.

The loan you are refinancing must be a qualified student loan, meaning that it was used exclusively for tuition and fees, room and board, books, supplies, equipment, or other necessary expenses, like transportation, for your education at an eligible institution.

There are three situations where you must get a cosigner in order to qualify for refinancing with Minnesota SELF Refi. If you are not a US citizen or permanent resident, you must have a cosigner. If you are a citizen or permanent resident with a credit score between 650-720, you can also qualify if someone cosigns with you.

Cosigners must meet the following requirements:

  • Must be a US citizen or permanent resident
  • Must have a credit score of 720+
  • Must have a debt-to-income ratio at or below 40%
  • Must have no delinquencies on their credit report
  • Must have no charge offs, judgements, or liens amounting to $300+

If you up your credit game, your cosigner can be let off the hook after 48 months of on-time payments as long as you meet the borrower requirements outlined above.

Application Process and Documents Needed

You can apply online through FirstMark Services, the loan servicer for SELF Refi loans. In order to fill out the application, you will need the following information:

  • Your driver’s license number and date of issue
  • Name, address, and phone number of a personal reference (cannot be your cosigner)
  • Current annual income
  • Current employer name and phone number, along with how long you have been there in terms of years and months
  • Type of student loan you are refinancing
  • Lender and servicer name
  • Current interest rate you are paying

You’ll also need a printer and a scanner, as you’ll need to print, sign and upload the credit agreement. You will also need to scan and upload the following documents:

  • Copy of your photo ID, and the photo ID of your cosigner if you have a cosigner
  • Copy of your diploma, certificate, or degree including the date of graduation
  • Current statement of the loan you are refinancing that shows your name, the lender’s or servicer’s name and address, your account number, your current balance, and your interest rate
  • Your two most recent paystubs. They must show your name, your employer’s name, pay period, and pay date.
  • Federal tax return including all attached schedules if you are self-employed

After you have submitted your application, Firstmark will review it within 1-2 days. If you are pre-approved, you will receive an Approval Disclosure laying out all the terms and rates which you must sign and return. Once this document is returned, it takes about 10 business days for the disbursement to make it to your current lender.

How it Stacks Up

Minnesota SELF Refi is a great option if you are a Minnesota resident, especially if you have a diploma from an education that didn’t necessarily result in a four-year degree, or if you have a lower credit score, but still want to refinance with a cosigner.

There are other options out there, and some of them come with more competitive rates. What’s best for you will depend entirely on the dynamics of your own, unique situation.

SoFi’s student loan refinancing is one of the best on the market. Like Minnesota SELF Refi, it has no origination fee, but unlike most other loan refinancing products on the market, it does give you up to three months of essential deference should you ever lose your job, as long as you weren’t at fault. It also has a program for would-be entrepreneurs that defers payments for six months while SoFi helps you get on your feet through access to networking events, mentors, and investors. In addition, it offers an option to refinance over a 20-year period, and you can refinance as little as $5,000.

SoFi is very selective in who it will approve, though. It does not typically accept anyone with a credit score under 700, and cosigners are not always an approved option. It also does not offer refinancing for anyone with less than a four-year degree.

Another option that offers refinancing on a minimum of $5,000 with the 20-year term option is Earnest. Like SoFi, it does have a deference option if you enter financial hardship. Its deference period is one month out of every year, as long as you have consistently been making on-time payments for six consecutive months.

Earnest, instead of discriminating on your credit history, wants to see that you will have the ability to pay off your loan in the future. This predictive formula is unique, and can present an advantage to those with less than desirable credit scores. In Minnesota, only its fixed rate product is available, which has rates ranging from 3.50%-7.19%, competitive with Minnesota SELF Refi.

*Rates as of 1/1/16. Subject to change quarterly.

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