college

More Options to Refinance Your Student Loans

New companies give grads more options to restructure federal and private loans.

Jennifer Beall graduated from Northwestern Uni­versity’s Kellogg School of Management in 2010 with an MBA, a business plan and $60,000 in student loans (roughly half from graduate school, with interest rates ranging from 6.8% to 8.5%). Through a friend, she learned about SoFi, one of a new breed of companies refinancing federal and private student loans at competitive rates. SoFi borrowers can refinance both undergrad and grad-school loans but must have good credit, a solid employment history and a degree from one of more than 2,200 eligible schools.

In 2013, Beall consolidated her grad-school debt into a 15-year loan with a fixed rate of 5.49%. A SoFi program designed for entrepreneurs let her defer payments for six months while she got her business off the ground. “When you’re starting a business, cash flow is king,” says Beall, whose company, Tot Squad, cleans and repairs baby strollers and car seats. Last year, she switched to a five-year repayment term. She expects the refinancing to save her more than $5,000.

SoFi isn’t the only lender targeting graduates like Beall. CommonBond, launched in 2012 to refinance loans for borrowers with MBAs, expanded in 2014 to include graduates with degrees in law, medicine and engineering. The company plans to add more programs in 2015 and will also increase the number of eligible schools.

Borrowers who refinance federal loans into a private loan lose some protections, such as the option to make lower payments during periods of financial hardship. Beall says she’s not concerned about giving up those features, in part because of the career counseling SoFi provides. “I have no plans to default,” she says.

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