Keeping track of student debt can be a big financial burden. You have to deal with different loan servicers, balances, rates, and payments. While student loan consolidation can be an effective tool to simplify student debt and make it easier to manage, private student loan refinancing can also help you save money. To help you understand when refinancing may be the right move, we reviewed dozens of student loan refinance companies to find the best with low rates, borrower protections, important features, and more. Here are our top picks to kickstart your search for the best student loan refinance companies of 2020.
Best Student Loan Refinance Companies of 2020
- CommonBond: Best Overall
- Earnest: Runner-Up
- Citizens Bank: Best With No Degree
- SoFi: Best for Graduate Students
- PenFed Credit Union: Best for Parents and Co-Signers
- Splash Financial: Best for Married Couples
- Discover: Best for Borrower Protections
- College Ave: Best for Flexible Repayment Options
CommonBond offers some of the lowest interest rates on refinance loans that range from $10,000 to $500,000. It offers variable rates from 1.76% to 5.84% APR and fixed rates from 3.12% to 6.15% APR. CommonBond also provides a “hybrid rate” option that offers variable rates for the first five years and then a fixed rate for the remaining five years. Hybrid rates range from 4.34% to 6.25% APR. All rates reflect what you could potentially qualify for after signing up for autopay and receiving the 0.25% rate discount.
CommonBond’s forbearance period of up to 24 months is the longest potential forbearance period of any lender we surveyed. It also allows co-signers, and provides an option to release them after making 36 on-time payments.
You can even refinance student loans your parents took out to pay for your college expenses and transfer ownership of those loans to yourself. And there’s a grace period deferment observed for recent graduates. You can choose from five loan terms, too.
Hybrid loan option
Option to transfer parent student loans to the student
Long forbearance period of up to 24 months
Applicants who didn’t graduate are ineligible
Refinancing isn’t offered in Nevada or Mississippi
Earnest offers competitive interest rates and a few good features. Variable rates range from 3.50% to 8.72% APR and fixed rates range from 4.25% to 8.77% APR (after signing up for autopay and receiving a 0.25% discount). Repayment of loans between $5,000 to $500,000 is also fairly flexible with Earnest. You have the ability to make biweekly or monthly payments and customize your loan term between five and 20 years. Also, you can request to skip a payment once every 12 months, or apply for up to 12 months of forbearance if you face a financial hardship, too.
Parent PLUS refinancing option
Ability to potentially skip a payment every 12 months
Matches current grace period deferment, up to nine months
Deferment for students returning to grad school
You must complete a degree by the end of the semester in order to refinance
Doesn’t accept co-signers for student loan refinancing
No option to transfer ownership of a student loan
Not available in Alabama, Delaware, Kentucky, Nevada, and Rhode Island
Many lenders will only consider student loan refinancing applicants who have already graduated—but not all. Citizens Bank is one of the lenders that accepts and considers student loan refinancing applications from borrowers who don’t hold a degree.
To be eligible to refinance through Citizens Bank without a degree, you must have already made 12 payments on your student loans. Forbearance is allowed for up to 12 months when going through a financial hardship and if you decide to return to school to complete a degree, you can qualify for in-school deferment on refinanced student debt. Loan amounts range from $10,000 to $500,000, with terms from five to 20 years.
Student loan refinancing variable rates start from 2.79% to 9.12% APR and fixed rates range from 3.79% to 9.30% APR (after signing up for autopay and receiving a 0.25% discount).
Students with an associates or no degree may qualify
Ability to add co-signer
No option to transfer parent student loans to the child
SoFi is the best option for graduate students and those who have recently completed a professional degree. This lender has no official limit on how much it can refinance (as long as it’s more than $5,000), which could make it a smart option if you want to refinance a large student loan balance.
SoFi offers variable rates that range from 3.50% to 8.70% APR, and fixed rates from 4.25% to 8.77% APR (after signing up for autopay and receiving a 0.25% discount). Loan terms range from five to 20 years.
SoFi has a refinancing option specifically for medical and dental school grads that sets monthly payments at $100 during residency. Variable rates range from 3.75% to 8.24% APR and fixed rates range from 4.50% to 8.24% APR (with autopay).
Specific options for medical and dental school grads
Ability to add a co-signer
Complimentary member benefits like career coaching and unemployment protection
No co-signer release for refinanced student loans
Parents or co-signers who own debt for a student’s education might be wondering how student loan refinancing works for them. PenFed Credit Union offers some flexible features perfect for parents or co-signers.
When refinancing parent student loans, you can choose to keep these in your name or transfer ownership to the student for whom you borrowed the loans. PenFed also accepts applications with a co-signer, and will consider a co-signer release after just 12 months of on-time, consecutive payments, which is less than other lenders on our list.
Also, you’ll get competitive interest rates. Variable rates range from 2.23% to 6.97% APR, and fixed rates range from 3.23% to 5.53% APR. Loan amounts range from $7,500 to $300,000, with loan terms of five to 15 years.
Ability to transfer ownership of parent student loan to the child
Can refinance student loans with a spouse
Apply to release co-signer after just 12 months
Co-signers must earn at least $42,000 per year to qualify
No formal forbearance or deferment policy (case-by-case only)
Must become a PenFed member to apply
Splash Financial offers a unique feature that can be helpful to married couples looking to manage student debt together. Splash works with lending partners to help you find offers for student loan refinancing. This includes the option to combine both your and your spouse’s loans together into one refinanced student loan. You can opt to transfer ownership of student debt from one spouse to the other, too.
The student loan refinance rates offered through Splash are competitive, too. Variable rates range from 1.99% to 7.53% APR and fixed rates range from 3.20% to 7.02% APR (after signing up for autopay and receiving a 0.25% rate discount). Loan terms range from five to 20 years for loan amounts of $5,000 or more.
Ability to combine or transfer student debt as a married couple
Medical and dental school refinancing options available
Borrower protections like forbearance and deferment vary by lending partner
Some credit union partners may require membership to qualify
If you refinance a student loan and then have a life change or hardship that complicates your repayment, Discover has several safeguards in place to help.
Discover’s deferment can pause your payments for years at a time to allow a borrower to return to school, serve in the military, work at a public service organization, or complete a health care residency. Forbearance can suspend payments for up to 12 months in cases of unemployment, a medical disability, excessive student loan burden, or other financial hardship. Discover also offers a reduced payment option that drops monthly payments to $50 for up to six months.
Discover provides just two student loan refinancing terms, so you must choose between a 10- or 20-year repayment period. It also has variable and fixed rates for refinanced loans. Variable rates range from 3.99% to 7.24% APR and fixed ranges from from 3.99% to 6.99% APR (after signing up for autopay and receiving a 0.25% rate discount).
Refinance student loans while you're still in school
Multiple deferment options offered
Reduced payment option
Just two loan term options
No co-signer release
In some cases, you may want to refinance student loans to get a monthly payment that fits your budget—without stretching out your repayment too long. Lenders that offer more loan terms can help you find the closest match to your budget and pay-off goals.
College Ave’s refinancing options include 16 different loan terms, ranging from five to 20 years, for loans of $5,000 to $150,000. It also offers competitive rates. Variable rates range from 3.64% to 6.74% APR and fixed rates range from 4.64% to 6.99% APR (after signing up for autopay and receiving a 0.25% rate discount).
Higher $300,000 refinance limit for medical, pharmacy, dental, or veterinary degrees
Sixteen different loan term options
Stringent co-signer release option
No info on deferments or forbearances available on website
What Is Student Loan Refinancing?
Borrowers commonly refinance other debt like car loans or mortgages. Student loan refinance works largely the same way. Through student loan refinancing, you apply for a loan with a private lender that will pay off and replace your existing student loans. Choosing to refinance student debt allows the borrower to change or modify the terms of their loans.
Most commonly, you might be interested in student loan refinancing as a way to replace higher-interest student debt like Direct PLUS loans or private student loans. If you have decent credit, income, and other financial strengths, a lender could approve you for student loan refinance rates lower than what you’re currently paying.
Student loan refinancing can have other benefits, too. You might want to refinance to remove a co-signer from a private student loan, for example. Others might want to transfer ownership of student loans, such as refinancing parent PLUS loans to the student.
Also, you can use refinancing to combine student debt into one loan, change your lender, or secure lower monthly payments.
How Do You Apply For a Student Loan Refinance?
First, shop around with different lenders to find one that offers a good rate along with features you’re looking for.
You can request rate offers from lenders that offer pre-qualification or rate quotes based on soft credit checks. This will tell you if you’re likely to get approved and what rates the lender could offer you, without affecting your credit.
Next, start your application to refinance student loans once you find a lender you like. It’ll usually ask you to provide information used to verify your identity and determine your creditworthiness. This could range from identifying details like your Social Security number to financial documents like a recent pay stub.
Then, review and sign your loan agreement. If the lender approves you, it will send you a loan agreement outlining the full terms of the refinance. Make sure you read it carefully, and, if you have questions, ask your lender.
Lastly, the lender will then process the refinance. To do so, it’ll cut checks to send to each of your old lenders to pay off the student debt you refinanced. Keep making payments to those other lenders until you’re absolutely certain the refinance has gone through.
This is when repayment begins for your refinanced student loan. You’ll now be paying your student debt back to your new lender, under the new terms of your refinance loan agreement.
You don’t have to refinance all of your student debt. It might make sense to refinance only your higher-interest student loans.
Refinancing Federal Student Loans vs. Private Student Loans
Both student loan consolidation and refinancing combine multiple loans into a single loan with a single payment. That’s about where the commonalities end for student loan refinancing and consolidation. However, you can refinance federal student loans into a single private student loan, or refinance one private student loan into another private student loan.
Refinancing can also be a way to modify student loans with options federal student loans don’t offer, such as transferring parent student loans to the child.
Refinancing federal student loans with a private lender is a significant change, and borrowers should carefully weigh their options before deciding to take this step.
Refinancing vs. Consolidation
Federal Student Loan Consolidation
Consolidation typically refers to federal student loan consolidation, which combines your federal student loans into a single loan account.
A consolidated loan’s interest rate is a weighted average of your existing student loans, so it’s not an option to lower interest costs. However, federal consolidation will preserve access to federal student loan protections and repayment options like deferment, forbearance, and income-driven repayment.
So, instead of getting one rate based on your financial profile like you would through a student loan refinance, you’re getting a weighted average.
Private Student Loan Refinance
Student loan refinancing, on the other hand, is offered by private student lenders. Unlike federal student loan rates that are set by law, lenders set their own rates—which can beat what borrowers might pay on federal student debt.
Combine federal and private student loans
Lower interest rates
Change monthly payments
Modify student debt ownership
Choose your new lender
Credit-based application and rates
Not every borrower will pay less
Limited deferment and forbearance
Lose federal student loan benefits
Fixed repayment terms
Pros explained: The only way to consolidate your federal and private student loans together to get a simple, single payment is through refinancing. A new refinanced student loan can come with lower costs, especially if a borrower has higher-interest federal student debt. A lower interest rate will generate less student loan interest, which means lower monthly payments. You can also choose a longer term, which will lower monthly costs, or a shorter term, which would cost more each month but get you out of debt faster. You can refinance student loans to change who’s legally responsible for them by adding a co-signer or removing a co-signer. And you can transfer parent-owned debt such as the parent PLUS loan to the student child. Lastly, when you get a federal student loan, the U.S. Department of Education assigns your services and you don’t get to choose. If you’re unhappy with your federal student loan servicer, refinancing can give you the power to choose a lender you like.
Cons explained: Refinancing may only be an option if you have decent credit or better, a steady income, and other solid financials. Your credit will also be used to set your interest rates. If you don’t have excellent credit, you might not qualify for rates that beat what you’re already paying. It’s also up to lenders’ discretion to offer borrower protections like deferment or forbearance that can help you avoid default. Consolidated federal loans tend to offer deferment and forbearance of up to three years, which may be much longer than private lenders. By replacing federal student loans with privately refinanced loans, you lose access to these protections. Refinanced student loans are also ineligible for federal student loan forgiveness. There are several federal repayment plans to choose from, and borrowers can apply to change their repayment plan at any time. But if you refinance federal student debt, your lender locks you into your new terms until you either pay it off or choose to refinance again.
How Does Student Loan Consolidation Work?
If you simply want to combine federal student loans to simplify payments, federal student loan consolidation is a way to get that done. It can also give you the chance to get a longer repayment period, which likely will lower your monthly payments.
Your new student loan will have the same balance as your previous loans, as well as a new rate that’s set as a weighted average of your existing rates
Consolidating loans can also be a way to convert student loans that are ineligible for certain federal benefits into a new direct consolidation loan that might be eligible. Make sure you understand the eligibility requirements for the federal student loan program you’re interested in to be sure consolidation is right for you.
Consolidating federal student loans is a pretty straightforward process. The Federal Student Aid website says you should do the consolidation in a single sitting of about 30 minutes. Here’s how it works for student loans in good standing:
- Start the federal direct consolidation loan application, and enter your borrower information.
- Select the loans you do and don’t want to consolidate, and select your desired repayment plan.
- Sign a promissory note for your new direct consolidation loan, agreeing to repay it.
- Your student loan servicer will process this application, and complete the student loan consolidation.
- You’ll start repaying the new consolidated loan within 60 days of when it is disbursed.
How Should I Choose a Student Loan Provider?
Refinancing student loans can be a big step. You want to be sure it will actually help you achieve your financial goals rather than set you back. The best way to ensure your student loan refinance has a positive impact is to choose the best student loan provider.
First, you should consider the costs of refinancing student loans. Collect rate quotes from at least a few private lenders, and compare these to each other as well as your current rates. This will help you figure out whether you could save money by refinancing your loans.
Next, figure out which features and benefits are important to you. Survey lenders to figure out which ones offer what you need. If you’re refinancing to accomplish a specific purpose, such as taking over repayment of parent PLUS loans, you’ll need to know which lenders will allow that.
Or, if you’re planning to add a co-signer to get a lower rate, find out if the lender offers co-signer releases. Lenders that offer forbearance or deferment are also preferable, too, because they can suspend your payments while you’re facing a job loss or financial hardship.
How We Chose the Best Student Loan Refinancing Companies
We surveyed 20 student loan refinancing companies to find those that offered the lowest borrowing costs (lack of fees and low interest rates). Then, we selected lenders that provide unique features that can help you achieve your student loan refinancing goals.