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Shop for Student Loan Deals

You no longer have to consolidate your student loans with the lender that holds them.

Your procrastination just paid off if you haven't gotten around to consolidating your student loans before the rate goes up on July 1.

Thanks to freshly inked legislation, you now can shop among lenders and consolidate with the one that offers the best terms -- say, a discount for paying on time or for having your payment automatically deducted from your checking account. Before, under the so-called single-holder rule, you could shop around only if your loans were with more than one lender. Otherwise, you had to consolidate with the lender that held all your loans, regardless of the terms of the deal.

Congress repealed the single-holder rule last week. President Bush signed the bill into law June 15.

When you consolidate, you're essentially refinancing your loans into one loan at a fixed rate. Going with a lender who shaves a point or more off that rate can save you several thousand dollars over the life of your loan.

For instance, Sallie Mae, the giant student loan company, offers a .25% discount if you have your payments electronically debited from your checking or savings account and another 1% if you pay on time for 36 months. If you lock in the pre-July rate of 4.75% (available to borrowers who are still in school, in deferment or in the six-month grace period after graduation) and take advantage of both discounts, you'll save almost $3,500 on a $20,000 debt over 20 years.

You will be able to take advantage of discounts and other options, such as stretching out the repayment schedule, even if you consolidate after July 1. However, you'll start at the post-July 1 rate, which will be almost two percentage points higher than the current rate. To grab the lower rate, delay no longer. You can compare deals at www.ConsolidationComparison.com.

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