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Hidden Fees and Costs of Student Loan Refinancing

Student loan refinancing is normally a free process. However, there are a few expenses that borrowers should try to avoid.

Written By: Michael P. Lux, Esq.

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For many borrowers, student loan refinancing is an excellent option. By refinancing, they can get lower interest rates and lower monthly payments. Unfortunately, student loan refinancing — sometimes called private loan consolidation — can have expenses that borrowers may not expect.

The possible fees and costs of a student loan refinance include losing out on federal protections like student loan forgiveness, increasing interest rates, difficulty buying a house, and a higher tax bill.

Making things even more dangerous is the fact that there is no way to “undo” a student loan refinance. Once the refinance lender creates a new loan and pays off the old loans, there is no going back. Before getting started with a student loan refinance, all borrowers should seriously consider the costs of the process. Borrowers that do their research can avoid most or all of the hidden costs of student loan refinancing.

Loss of Federal Perks and Protections

The most significant risk to the student loan refinance process applies only to borrowers who decide to refinance their federal loans.

All federal loans come with borrower protections like income-driven repayment plans and student loan forgiveness. Borrowers who lose their job or experience a reduction in salary can get their monthly payments lowered based upon what they earn rather than what they owe. This means a borrower with $100,000 in student loans could have a monthly payment as low as $0 per month.

Refinancing federal loans means the old federal loans are paid off in full and a new private loan is created. The advantage for borrowers is the lower interest rates that may be available; the downside is that the federal perks are forever gone.

Borrowers who feel they might need the protections offered by federal loans would be wise to only refinance their private loans.

Increasing Interest Rates on Variable-Rate Refinance Loans

The lowest rates available from refinancing lenders are almost always variable-rate loans. However, during times of high interest rates in the economy and inflation, fixed-rate loans will occassionally offer lower rates.

As economic conditions change, the interest rates on a variable-rate loan will also change. This change could be for the better or for the worse.

For this reason, borrowers would be wise to focus on fixed-rate refinancing, especially for those seeking longer loan terms. Should refinance rates drop in the future, borrowers can always refinance a second time with a new fixed-rate loan.

Origination and Prepayment Fees

This site has been tracking student loan refinance lenders for years.

During that time, loan origination fees and prepayment fees have almost entirely been eliminated from the marketplace. Lenders that tried to add an origination fee were criticized, and borrowers steered clear. At present, loan origination fees are only used by some lenders for in-school loans.

Despite the positive changes for consumers, there is always the danger that new lenders could enter the scene and charge an origination fee. As a result, borrowers should carefully read any contract for a fee that could be hidden in the fine print.

Debt-To-Income (DTI) Ratio Concerns

The Debt-To-Income Ratio, or DTI, is a number that creditors look at when evaluating applications. The DTI compares an applicant’s monthly income against their monthly debt.

Generally speaking, student loan refinancing is a useful tool for improving a borrower’s DTI. However, in some instances, a refinance can hurt the borrower’s DTI. Negative changes to DTI could make it harder to qualify for a mortgage or auto loan in the future.

There are two potentially negative consequences that borrowers should consider:

Increased Monthly Payments – Many borrowers choose to refinance their student loans on a 5-year repayment plan. The 5-year loan terms have the lowest rates available. The danger in this route is that the minimum monthly payment needs to be quite large to pay the debt in full. Thus, the short repayment plan means much lower interest rates but higher monthly payments. While this is a great way to eliminate debt, it can make qualifying for a mortgage harder. Borrowers who may be considering buying a home in the future should focus on longer repayment lengths to keep their minimum monthly payments lower.

Cosigner Concerns – Some borrowers choose to have a cosigner on their refinance loan to help their chances of approval. Cosigners who were not on the original loans will have new debt added to their credit report. Even if the primary borrower is making payments on time, cosigners can still face negative consequences for being on the loan because cosigned loans are often included in DTI calculations by creditors. If the cosigner was on the original loan, and the new monthly payment is lower, the refinance can help the cosigner. If the cosigner was on the original loan and not included on the new loan, the refinance is a great way to get a cosigner release.

Tax Deductions Issues

One way the government helps with student loan repayment is in the form of a tax deduction.

The student loan tax deduction applies only to interest paid. Payments towards loan principal are not included in the deduction. Borrowers can deduct up to $2,500 of student loan interest payments. (Note: A $2,500 deduction does not mean $2,500 less on taxes; it means the government taxes the borrower as if they earned $2,500 less that year.)

Due to the limitations of the student loan interest tax deduction, it isn’t a huge break for most borrowers, but it can still be worth several hundred dollars each April.

Refinancing student debt can affect this deduction in two ways:

Refinance with a Personal Loan – Nearly all student loan refinance companies refinance student loans with a new loan that qualifies for the deduction. However, some borrowers choose to refinance their student loans with a personal loan. This approach is usually a mistake because it often results in higher interest rates and borrowers loose the ability to claim the student loan interest deduction.

Less Spent on Interest – Put this in the category of technically true but not a “concern” to be worried about. The idea behind refinancing is to save money on interest. Spending less on interest means potentially getting less of a deduction. That being said, avoiding a refinance to keep interest rates high to maximize a deduction would be a huge mistake.

Due to the nature of the deduction, the value of saving money on student loan interest will always exceed any potential deduction of student loan interest from taxes.

Final Thoughts

Consumers looking to refinance student loans are much savvier than most in-school student loan borrowers. Repaying student debt tends to make people more careful with future student loan contracts. As a result, lenders seem to realize they can’t get away with nonsense fees and expenses.

Refinancing remains a substantial financial decision due to the massive amounts of money changing hands. Borrowers should carefully consider all of the potential consequences before actually refinancing their loans.

Borrowers who decide that refinancing is right for their situation should invest an hour or two to shop around to find the best interest rates possible. Each lender uses a different formula for evaluating applications and determining the rate the lender will offer.

The entire purpose of the process is to save money on interest, and the only way to know which lender has the best rate is to check…

SoFiLendKeySplash Financial
Pros:SoFi is the biggest name in student loan refinancing for a simple reason – their rates are reliably among the best on the market.LendKey works with a large network of smaller credit unions and banks. As a result, many applicants get the best offer from LendKey.Splash has the best new customer bonus right now, and they have excellent rates and term opitons.
Cons:SoFi has grown into a large company offering mortgages, personal loans, and investment services. They no longer focus entirely on student loan refinancing.Going the LendKey route does require working with a local bank or credit union. For many, this is a plus, but it is an extra step.Splash is a newer lender and getting approval may be more difficult for some borrowers.
Up to $500
About the Author

Student loan expert Michael Lux is a licensed attorney and the founder of The Student Loan Sherpa. He has helped borrowers navigate life with student debt since 2013.

Insight from Michael has been featured in US News & World Report, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and numerous other online and print publications.

Michael is available for speaking engagements and to respond to press inquiries.

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