For many people, the student loans they carry after they graduate from college are their very first debt. This means that terms like fixed rate, variable rate, and consolidation are new and unfamiliar. Learning about financial terminology can be intimidating, but the more fully you understand your student loan package the more likely you will be to be able to develop a smart and realistic plan to get out of debt.
Understanding your loans can help you save money while you develop the financial know how that will help you throughout your lifetime. There are two basic kinds of student loans. One has a fixed interest rate, and one has a variable interest rate. A fixed rate loan will keep the same interest rate that it has now for the duration of the lending period. With a fixed rate loan, the interest rate will stay the same as it is today no matter what kind of changes, growth, or crashes the financial sector experiences in the coming years. A variable rate loan is subject to market fluctuations. If your loan has a variable interest rate, the amount of interest you will be asked to pay in the future can rise and fall with market trends.
When it comes to student loans, the biggest question is whether to consolidate your loans or not. In some cases, consolidating your loans can lower your monthly payments and help you avoid high interest rates which is a winning combination that can save you money in the short term and in the long run. However, consolidation doesn’t make sense for everybody. Before you decide whether to consolidate, get to know your loans.
Consolidation allows you to combine several loans of different types into a single, fixed rate loan. This means that you will only have to make a single payment every month, no matter how many lenders initially helped you pay your way through school. Often, consolidating a loan allows you to extend the repayment period, which means lower payments every month. So if you are finding that your monthly payments are becoming a serious financial burden, consolidating can offer you relief. However, lower payments also mean a longer repayment period. So if your top priority is to get out of debt quickly, consolidating your loans may not be a good choice.
If one or more of your loans are variable rate, consolidation can offer you security by allowing you to plan on a fixed interest rate for the duration of your repayment period. However, in many cases the interest rate on a consolidated package is a bit higher than the average market rate, so if the majority of your loans are already fixed rate it usually doesn’t make financial sense to consolidate.