Loan consolidation a viable, but overlooked, option

Jennifer Nacin

Tonia Sorensen knows the benefits of consolidating federal student loans — she just did it.

But others have done the same, leading the senior in architecture to believe that the university could be doing a better job at educating students on available consolidation options.

“From my personal experience, I don’t feel there is that much information out there about it,” Sorensen said. “I think they could be doing a better job at sending out information.”

According to an annual survey conducted by Harris Interactive and commissioned by the Collegiate Funding Services, a finance company that educates families and students about finance management and payment options, federal student loan debt is consolidated by about one-third of recent four-year college graduates.

The survey also found that an average student loan balance of about $23,000 — $184 average in monthly payments — weighs on the shoulders of those recent four-year graduates who have not paid off their loans.

Clark McGhee, executive vice president of Collegiate Funding Services, said many factors cause students to be unaware of consolidation opportunities.

“Everybody in the industry has not created enough awareness about it,” McGhee said.

He said only 35 percent of recent four-year graduates with federal student loans are able to extend their repayment periods and lock in low fixed interest rates, thus reducing these loan payments by more than half.

Mark Oleson, director of the ISU Financial Counseling Clinic, said student ignorance is a main reason for such low turnout in student consolidation with federal student loan debt.

“I think a large contributor to that would be ignorance — not knowing the benefits of consolidation,” Oleson said.

Consolidation is sometimes sold as something to be cautious of, despite the fact that interest rates are the best they’ve ever been, he said.

He said if students consolidate now, they can receive an interest rate of 2.77 percent.

Students involved in the Federal Direct Loan Consolidation program can begin consolidation before graduation, Oleson said. He said it is a common misconception that students can can only begin consolidation after graduation.

“As long as you have a direct loan and as long as it is with the direct loan program, you can consolidate at any time during college, which serves that benefit of locking in the interest rates,” Oleson said.

Oleson said the ISU Student Financial Aid office does not do all it can to provide students with every available consolidation option. He said the office is less likely to provide students with as many options because there is an agenda present.

Roberta Johnson, associate director of financial aid, said the office has been trying for many years to encourage students to consolidate their loans. Johnson said the office contacts students via e-mail, direct mail and presentations to a variety of audiences in order to educate students on consolidation opportunities. Because there are countless consolidation programs available to students, the office cannot research them all, she said. The Student Financial Aid office will help students better understand other company programs if students would come in and ask a financial adviser a question.

“We encourage students to shop around — they should investigate,” Johnson said. “Because there are such a wide variety of programs out there, we don’t research every single one of those. We primarily are not endorsing one company over another.”