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. Once the student has consolidated their loans, the loans are set to a fixed rate based on the year they consolidated; reconsolidating does not change that rate.
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 secton debt consolidation, student loan consolidation does not incur any fees for the borrower; private companies make money on student loan consolidation 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.