Consolidating student loans soon can save money for some

On July 1, the interest rates for some federal loans will increase as part of the Deficit Reduction Act.

Jamie VanGeest

Summertime is the season for sunscreen, bathing suits, flip-flops and loan consolidation.

On July 1, the interest rates for Direct Loans and Stafford Loans will increase from 4.75 percent to a fixed rate of 6.8 percent for Stafford loans and 7.9 percent for Direct Loans. This increase is part of the Deficit Reduction Act passed in February.

“The bottom line is interest rates are going up and (students) can lock in a lower rate if they consolidate,” said Kris Wright, the University’s director of financial aid.

Interest rates are at the fourth-lowest rate in financial aid history so students should consolidate as soon as possible, said Pat Scherschel, vice president of loan consolidation for Sallie Mae.

If a student graduates this spring with a loan balance of $20,000 and locks in at the 4.75 percent, the student will save $5,123 in interest payments over the lifetime of the loans, she said.

Anyone who currently is repaying loans, is in their grace period or is in school can consolidate their loans, Schershel said.

Many loans can be locked in at a lower rate, including Stafford loans, Federal Perkins Loans and Federal Nursing Loans. Parents even can consolidate Plus Loans, which are loans parents take out, she said.

If a student is in school, he or she needs to apply for early repayment and then defer loans so he or she can lock it in at the lower rate, she said.

“One key thing is for the borrower to apply with the eligible lender,” she said.

If a person gets her or his student loans with Sallie Mae, Direct Loans or Wells Fargo, he or she needs to contact the specific company, she said.

Staci Schiller, communications manager for Wells Fargo Education Financial Services, said one of the difficulties with consolidating student loans is trying to find which places your loans are coming from.

“You want to do your homework; you want to find out where your loans are and what kind of options you have,” she said.

Schiller recommended students talk to their financial aid office or visit National Student Loan Data System at www.nslds.ed.gov. A student only has to enter his or her Social Security number to find out about their loans.

It’s also a good way to find out how much a student owes in loans, she said.

The students can complete a paper copy to consolidate, or do it online and have it done in 10 minutes, Scherschel said.

If a student has Sallie Mae Loans, he or she can visit www.smartloan.com. If a student has loans through Wells Fargo, he or she can visit www.wfedsuc cessloan.com and click on the link for consolidation loans.

Wright encouraged students to give a call to the Direct Loans processing center for consolidation, because most students at the University get their loans through it.

Also, it’s important for students to look at the terms of forgiveness for their loans because if certain loans are consolidated, students could lose their forgiveness provision, she said.

Kristy Lappinga, a junior dentistry student, estimates she has $200,000 in student loans and is in the middle of consolidating her loans right now.

“Even with the difference of 2 percent a year, we are encouraged to consolidate,” Lappinga said.

Andrea McGrew, also a junior dentistry student, consolidated her loans last year and plans to consolidate her loans again.

“People should absolutely consolidate; it’s so easy,” McGrew said.