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Student loan consolidation
In the United States, federal student loans are consolidated somewhat differently, as federal student loans are guaranteed by the U.S. government.
In a federal student loan consolidation, existing loans are purchased and closed by a loan consolidation company or by the Department of Education (depending on what type of federal student loan the borrower holds). Interest rates for the consolidation are based on that year's student loan rate, which is in turn based on the 91-day Treasury bill rate at the last auction in May of each calendar year.
Student loan rates can fluctuate from the current low of 4.70% to a maximum of 8.25% for federal Stafford loans, 9% for PLUS loans. The current consolidation program allows students to consolidate once with a private lender, and reconsolidate again only with the Department of Education. Upon consolidation, a fixed interest rate is set based on the then-current interest rate. Reconsolidating does not change that rate. If the student combines loans of different types and rates into one new consolidation loan, a weighted average calculation will establish the appropriate rate based on the then-current interest rates of the different loans being consolidated together.
Federal student loan consolidation is often referred to as refinancing, which is incorrect because the loan rates are not changed, merely locked in. Unlike private sector debt consolidation, studentloan consolidation does not incur any fees for the borrower; private companies make money on student loan consolidation online by reaping subsidies from the federal government.
Student loan consolidation can be beneficial to students' credit rating, but it's important to note that not all federal student loan consolidation companies report their loans to all credit bureaus; SLM Corporation (formerly Sallie Mae) does not report to Experian or Transunion, which means that students will have differing credit scores at Equifax, Transunion, and Experian.
You may be able to lower your cost of credit by consolidating your debt through a second mortgage or a home equity line of credit. Remember that these loans require you to put up your home as collateral. If you can’t make the payments — or if your payments are late — you could lose your home.
What’s more, the costs of consolidation loans can add up. In addition to interest on the loans, you may have to pay “points,” with one point equal to one percent of the amount you borrow. Still, these loans may provide certain tax advantages that are not available with other kinds of credit.
Concerns of debt consolidation:
In recent years, reports in the media have raised concerns about the use of consolidation loans. The worry is that many people are tempted to consolidate unsecured debt into secured debt, usually secured against their home. Although the monthly payments can often be lower, the total amount repaid is often significantly higher due to the long period of the loan. In some circumstances, snowballing debt may be a better solution.
There are other alternatives to a debt consolidation loan, where unsecured debt is not "shifted" to secured debt, but is eliminated through a settlement or payment plan. Debt consolidation can be confusing for many people, so it is helpful to learn about all of your options, and sometimes with the help of an advisor.
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