Monday, March 17, 2008

Student loan consolidation: a balanced perspective

I was speaking in the office break room with our director of student loan consolidation, Jon Rudy, about how we’re marketing our federal and private student loan consolidation products. We’re in agreement, as we frequently are, that student loan consolidation has a vital role in the education finance process.

Where I think a lot of student loan companies get hung up is on the idea of saving money for students. Student loan consolidation does not save you money over the long term if you only make the minimum payment, because at the bare minimum payment, you’ll be paying off your loan longer.

Think of it this way. If you rent an apartment, over a period of time, you’ll pay a certain amount for rent. If you rent that apartment longer, it costs you more money. If you rent a smaller apartment for longer, it will still probably cost you more money than a larger apartment for less time.
A loan is nothing more than a money rental. You’re renting money from a lender, and the interest you pay is the rent.

What student loan consolidation does is agree to reduce your rent, trading off with renting the money for a longer period of time, if you make the minimum payment.
Our perspective as a company is that students just out of school need to take a few years to get on their feet in their careers and personal finances. During that time period, a reduced monthly payment is just the thing they need. After a few years, when presumably they’re making good use of their education and degree, we strongly recommend that students step up and make more than the minimum payment, ideally making a payment that’s a little larger than the original, unconsolidated loan payment.

Because there are no early repayment penalties, they can effectively get on their feet financially and then be done with the loan in the same amount of time as if they hadn’t consolidated.

Does student loan consolidation save you money? Not necessarily. Does it reduce your monthly payment? Yes, absolutely. But more than anything else, student loan consolidation helps to buy you some time in the first years after school.