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Borrowers who decide to refinance their student loans do so with one main goal in mind: getting a lower interest rate. And the earlier they move forward with refinancing, the better off they’ll be.
Refinancing your student loans means spending less money on interest over time and, thus, putting more money back into your pocket. For this reason, the best time to refinance your student loans to maximize your savings is as soon you graduate.
Of course, it’s not quite that simple. Yes, the earlier you refinance the better. But other factors, such as your income level, your credit score and the current interest rate environment, also play a big part in determining when you should refinance.
When you can achieve the magic mix of a steady income, a good credit score and low rates, it’s definitely the perfect time to refinance your student loans. Here’s what you need to know:
Private lenders who offer student loan refinancing like to see that you have a dependable and consistent source of income that you can rely on to repay your new refinanced loan well into the future.
Lenders also look at something called your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio to see if you can afford your new monthly payments. The lower your DTI, the better. A low DTI indicates that you make more than you owe and thus have the money to cover your debt.
To calculate your DTI ratio, divide your total monthly payments (credit card bills, rent or mortgage, car loan) by your gross monthly earnings (what you make each month before taxes and any other deductions). If your DTI is over 40% — the threshold at which lenders begin to worry you’ll be a risk — work on paying off any other debt, like high-interest credit card balances, and/or try increasing your income by adding a side hustle or asking for a raise.
The base credit score to be eligible for refinancing is usually 670, but some lenders are open to applicants with scores in the lower ‘fair’ range, between 580 to 669. Private student loan lender Earnest, for example, says on its website that potential borrowers need to have a minimum credit score of 650.
No origination fees to refinance
Federal, private, graduate and undergraduate loans
Variable rates (APR)
Starting at 1.99% (rates include a 0.25% autopay discount)
Fixed rates (APR)
Starting at 2.98% (rates include a 0.25% autopay discount)
Flexible terms anywhere between 5-20 years
A minimum of $5,000, up to $500,000 (residents of California must request to refinance $10,000 or more)
Minimum credit score
Allow for a co-signer
At the end of the day, the higher your score, the better chance you have at getting a lower interest rate, so it’s good to take steps to improve it. Financial experts suggest aiming for a 760 credit score to likely qualify for the the top credit cards, best loan terms and lowest interest rates.
It’s important to understand what the current interest rate environment looks like before refinancing your student loans. When the Federal Reserve makes changes to rates in response to the economic climate (either cutting or raising them), it’s likely that private lenders will follow suit. So, if market interest rates are low, presumably so are refinancing rates.
Right now, rates are at historic loans, so private student loan borrowers may want to refinance and choose a lender that offers fixed APRs so they can lock in the low rate and enjoy the security of knowing it won’t ever change even if rates go up in the future.
To see just how much you can benefit from a low rate, use a student loan refinancing calculator like this one from Education Loan Finance. First, you enter your current loan information, including the loan amount, monthly payment and interest rate or the months remaining in your loan term. You can then test different loan terms (5, 7, 10, 15, 20 years) to see your savings when paying a refinanced interest rate over a shorter or longer repayment term.
Federal student loan borrowers: Wait to refinance right now
With federal student loan payments and interest on pause through at least September 2021, federal borrowers should wait until the freeze ends before they consider refinancing. If you do ever refinance with a private lender, you will lose any built-in protections you had through your federal loans, such as income-driven repayment plans, loan forgiveness and deferment/forbearance options.
On the other hand, private student loan borrowers may want to consider refinancing today given the current record-low interest rates. Read more about who should and shouldn’t refinance during the pandemic.
Once you think you’re ready to refinance your student loans, use loan marketplaces like Credible to compare lenders’ rates and loan terms. You’ll also want to consider their fees and any special payment protections they offer.
Select analyzed and compared private student loan funding from national banks, credit unions and online lenders to rank the best options for borrowers. We rated our top student loan refinance companies and all offer low refinancing rates, flexible loan terms, no upfront origination fee for refinancing or early payoff penalties, financial hardship protection — plus co-signer options if the direct borrower does not meet the income and/or credit requirements to refinance on their own.
The earlier you refinance, the less you’ll spend on interest over the long run. But the perfect time to refinance is really up to your personal financial situation.
You’ll want to have a secure income and strong credit, as well as know you can score a lower rate. Remember that you can refinance as often as you want, so consider it each time your financial situation improves or rates go even lower.
Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.