If consolidating, act now

By Kiyoshi Martinez

The deadline is fast approaching and if you let it slip by it could literally cost you thousands of dollars. For those students who took out loans to help pay for college, only a few days are left to consolidate subsidized and unsubsidized Federal Direct loans.

Interest rates will be jumping from 4.7 percent to 6.8 percent for students still in school starting July 1 if you don’t consolidate these loans.

“If (students) consolidate now, then you lock in your interest rate and then it no longer jumps up,” said Val Smith, assistant director of the University’s Office of Student Financial Aid. “You’re going to save money over time with interest payments if you do it now.”

Smith said that right now, interest rates are relatively low, but that more than likely they will go up and stay up. Also, consolidating your student loans will allow you to extend your repayment term, lowering your monthly payment.

“The average borrower with about $20,000 in student loan debt, if they consolidated today, versus waiting and consolidating on July 1, could actually save $5,100 just by acting quickly and not procrastinating,” said Erin Korsvall, spokesperson for Sallie Mae.

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Federal Direct and Federal Family Education loans, either subsidized or unsubsidized, have variable interest rates that change every year. Consolidation of loans allows for all loans to be put together so only payment is made and the interest rate remains flat.

First off, before you even start, you need to know your PIN number, issued to you by the U.S. Department of Education.

This is the same PIN you’ve used to fill out a FAFSA form before. If you’re like me and you forgot what your PIN is or you don’t have one yet, visit www.pin.edu.gov and apply for a new one.

Be warned: while the application process is fast, receiving a new one isn’t. It took me about a day to be notified by e-mail about how I could get my new one online. Get this done ASAP.

Next, a good idea is to find out how much you owe in student loans. Believe it or not, I had no clue until a few hours ago. Once you have your PIN, go to the National Student Loan Data System at www.nslds.ed.gov and enter in your information. This takes about 30 seconds and you’ll have a list of each of your loans, how much they were for, what kinds they are, and when they’re due. Also, it’s important to note the servicer, lender or guaranty agency the loan is from. Keep this window open in you Web browser.

If you want to find out more about the different types of loans you may have, visit the University’s Office of Student Financial Aid Web site at www.osfa.uiuc.edu and along the left sidebar, click “Loans.”

In a new browser window, visit the Federal Direct Consolidation Loans Information Center at www.loanconsolidation.ed.gov and click on borrower services. Here you’ll find plenty of information about whether or not to consolidate, if you’re eligible to, and how to apply.

A nifty application is the Online Calculator, which lets you input the loan type you have from the student loan data system, the interest rate and add it together to figure out how much you’ll owe along with how much you’ll save if do decide to consolidate.

Who might not want to consolidate his or her loans?

Korsvall said someone who has been out of school for a long time and is close to repayment on the loan probably wouldn’t want to consolidate, and freshmen probably won’t be eligible for consolidation because they haven’t borrowed enough to qualify.

But picking who to consolidate with is another tricky part of the final equation. While you can consolidate through the Federal Direct Consolidation Loans Information Center, you can decide to do it through other companies, which may offer incentives, such as a lower interest rate for using certain programs of theirs.

“If you shop around and look at some of the other ones, you have to see what the interest rate will be with the incentives,” Smith said. “The problem with that is that some of those incentives have strings attached.”

Filling out the application at your chosen place varies with whom you use. Read the fine print carefully and do your research to find answers to any questions you might have.