As of 2018, total student loan debt in the United States hit $1.5 trillion. With a quick signature, students who are often young and might not fully understand the consequences of taking out a big loan can sign up for debt that could haunt them long into retirement age.
A study by Citizens Bank shows that millennial graduates are now spending one-fifth of their income on student loan payments. This often leaves millennials living paycheck to paycheck and working multiple jobs to make their student loan payments.
If you're overwhelmed by student loan debt and looking for an out, you're not alone. Consolidating your student loans is worth considering, but it's not always the right decision. In the following circumstances, student loan consolidation can hurt you financially more than it helps.
1. You can afford your monthly payments
Loan consolidation primarily benefits borrowers who can't manage their monthly payments. If you can consistently afford your monthly payments, consolidation probably isn't the best option for you, because it often lengthens your repayment term. Your monthly payments may decrease, but the total amount you pay in interest over time will increase due to the term extension -- costing you a lot more in the long run. Ideally, you want to pay off your student loans early.
2. You want to minimize your overall loan cost
Consolidating your loans won't necessarily save you money, as you may end up paying more in interest over the life of the loan. By extending the loan term, you'll usually be making smaller monthly payments. While this might feel more financially comfortable now, it means you’ll be in debt longer, and you’ll pay more for the loan when all is said and done. Since consolidating can cost you more over time than your current repayment plan, it’s not usually a good option for minimizing your overall loan cost.
3. You want to lower your interest rate
When you consolidate your loans with the federal government's direct loan consolidation program, your new interest rate will be rounded up to the next one-eighth of one percent. This may not seem like a lot, but any increase in your interest rate can cost you a significant amount over time.
If you want a lower interest rate, consider refinancing your student loans instead, which could save you thousands of dollars over the course of your loan term. Depending on the lender, you may need to meet certain requirements to refinance at a lower interest rate.
4. You have federal loans and could use the benefits
If you're considering consolidating federal student loans privately, know that you'll lose benefits and protections that come with federal loans. Federal loans offer benefits like income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness to some borrowers. They also typically allow for deferment and forbearance for borrowers experiencing financial hardship. Make sure you understand the terms of your federal loans before consolidating so you don't lose out on flexible repayment options that you may need.
However, if you have federal loans -- particularly federal loans that aren't Direct loans -- and you're considering consolidating federally, a Direct Consolidation Loan might give you access to additional repayment options and forgiveness programs.
5. You're already on an income-driven repayment plan or working toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness
If you're already on an income-driven repayment plan or working toward loan forgiveness on your federal loans, you'll lose any previous qualifying payments when you consolidate your loans. Unless you've just started making payments, you'll want to avoid losing credit for the payments you've made up until now.
Loan consolidation isn't always the best decision if can make your monthly payment and may wish to take advantage of federal loan benefits. Always look into your refinancing options to compare the pros and cons before taking action.