After graduating with a MBA, I started to look into refinancing my student loans. My financial situation wasn’t terrible, but not amazing either. Over $100K in loans, little cash on hand, and close to 7% (fixed) interest rate from FedLoan Servicing. (Note: links to SoFi and CommonBond include my referral code – if you find this post useful, I appreciate the click. As I remember, each services gives a referral bonuses to you – $100 to $200 – and to me)
Here’s what I did to narrow the gap down to 3.5% (fixed) over 5 years. Note, some of the later steps will likely apply only to those with a good credit score of 725+, US nationality, and a reasonable track record of credit history:
- Research Providers: I started the process by searching Google, but also looking at Reddit, Credible, and Student Loan Hero.
- Get Baseline Estimates: I looked through a list of services that offered refinancing, looking for the top filter of lowest rates (both fixed and variable), using Credible to get early estimates on what I might get offered.
- Set a Goal: I preferred fixed if I could get it low enough (4% was my target based on what services were offering “as low as” for rates and what I felt my credit history justified)
- Short-List Your Applications: I decided to focus on Earnest, SoFi, and CommonBond for my actual applications.
- Look for Ways to Improve Your Credit: My initial offer from SoFi was 4.5%. This was a bit depressing. I asked SoFi if there was anything I could add to help make the case for a better rate. I also looked at Credit Karma to see if there was anything significant affecting my credit score. It turns out, there was, and I was able to make a quick fix on it.
- Work with Companies to See How You Can Help Them Make a Better Decision: I don’t know if that fix helped with the financing companies, but a week later, my credit score went up by 40 points.
- Use Competing Offers to Negotiate Among Providers: Around this time, offers from the two other companies came in, one of which was pleasantly lower than SoFi. I then used that offer with the other companies, and asked if they could offer a better rate. After a few iterations of this easy (for me) negotiation, I ended up with a final rate of 3.5%, lower than I had hoped. I chose CommonBond.
- Complete the Paperwork: After the paperwork was completed, the loan was refinanced in a little over a week. The entire process from initial contact to disbursement took about six weeks.
- Be Happy!
- Handle Your Monthly Payments
Overall, I was happy dealing with all 3 companies, no issues in my interactions. In addition, do keep in mind that federal (government) loans have special provisions for debt forgiveness that you will not have when you go private.
However, I plan (and want) to pay off my loans in full, and many private loans providers are good about understanding and working with you if you ever do lose your job and must delay payments for a little time. Firms like SoFi even help you find a new job if you find yourself out of work.