Consolidation Loans combine several student or parent loans into one bigger loan from a single lender, which is then used to pay off the balances on the other loans. It is very similar to refinancing a mortgage. Consolidation loans are available for most federal loans, including FFELP (Stafford, PLUS and SLS), FISL, Perkins, Health Professional Student Loans, NSL, HEAL, Guaranteed Student Loans and Direct loans. Some lenders offer private consolidation loans for private education loans as well.
A separate page provides a comparison chart of consolidation loan discounts.
The interest rate on a consolidation loan is the weighted average of the interest rates on the loans being consolidated, rounded up to the nearest 1/8 of a percent and capped at 8.25%.
For example, suppose a student has just unsubsidized Stafford Loans originated on or after July 1, 2006. These loans have a fixed interest rate of 6.8%. When they are consolidated by themselves, the consolidation loan will have an interest rate of 6 and 7/8ths of a percent, or 6.875%. So the interest rate increases only slightly.
If the borrower has a mix of loans with different interest rates, the weighted average will be somewhere in between. For example, if the borrower has $5,000 of Perkins Loans (at 5.0%) and $10,000 of unsubsidized Stafford Loans (at 6.8%), the weighted average is
$5,000 * 5.0% + $10,000 * 6.8% ------------------------------ = 6.2% $5,000 + $10,000
This weighted average, 6.2%, is then rounded up to the nearest 1/8th of a percent, yielding a consolidation loan interest rate of 6.25%.