“How do we know if our student loans are able to be consolidated?”
To receive a Direct Consolidation Loan, you must include at least one Direct or Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) program loan in the consolidation*.
Your Direct and/or FFEL program loans need only be in their grace period, deferment, or repayment in order to include them in a Federal Direct Consolidation Loan.
Your Direct Unsubsidized veterinary school loans should enter their grace period shortly after your last semester ends or after graduation. I wish I knew the rhyme or reason for each school’s timing on the loan status switch, but it’s highly variable. Some schools switch over quickly and some even a few days before graduation. Others can take a few weeks or even a month to reflect your graduation status.
The NSLDS is usually updated at least monthly, so you might see your status update with the change of the month following your graduation. You might even call your school financial aid office after graduation to see when they might report your graduation status to the Department of Education. Sometimes that request can nudge your school into updating your status or reporting your status change earlier.
*Special Note: If you were to only have Perkins, Health Professions Student Loans, or Loans for Disadvantaged Students, you would be able to utilize a Direct Consolidation Loan. I regularly meet a handful of veterinary students who fall into this category — the good news is that your loan balances in those cases are relatively low and have not been costing you interest during school so you’re in great shape to pay those back without having to consolidate.
“Can you consolidate after the grace period?”
Yes. But, the timing of your Federal Direct Consolidation is important.
Your Direct Loans and/or Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) need only be in their grace period, deferment, or repayment in order to include them in a Federal Direct Consolidation Loan.
There are a couple of issues with waiting until your veterinary school loan grace period expires to start the Direct Consolidation Loan:
1. You continue to accrue interest on all of your unsubsidized loans during the grace period. Thus, when you do enter repayment or consolidate later, the increased unpaid interest balance will be added to your principal resulting in a higher starting repayment balance. You are charged interest on your principal — the higher your principal, the more you’ll pay during repayment.
2. The Direct Consolidation Loan takes 30-60 days to process. Once processed your first payment will be due 30 days after that. If you wait until after your grace period, there is nearly 9 months of time that you are not in repayment, thus not making qualifying payments towards forgiveness. Better to get the clock ticking, especially if you anticipate having a balance forgiven under an income-driven repayment plan.
“Can you consolidate and waive your grace period if you’re planning to do Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)?”
You can and you should, especially if you’re starting a PSLF qualifying employment soon after graduation.
In order to make qualifying PSLF payments, you have to be 1) in repayment using an income-driven repayment plan, 2) paying federal Direct Loans on-time, and 3) employed full-time (average of 30 hours per week) with a qualifying employer.
The sooner you can get most or all of your federal student loans consolidated into a Direct Consolidation Loan, the sooner you can officially start making payments using an income-driven repayment plan, which are 2 of the 3 primary requirements for working towards PSLF. And if you can get the $0/mo payment due for the first 12 months of repayment, you’ll have more of your loans forgiven when you reach PSLF.
Per the PSLF Employment Certification Form, “A qualifying employer includes the government, a not-for-profit organization that is tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, or a private not-for-profit organization that provides certain public services. Serving in an AmeriCorps or Peace Corps position is also qualifying employment.”
I would recommend bringing a PSLF Employment Certification Form to your employer after you’ve started working with them and made a few monthly payments towards your student loans. Repeat that process each year so you have 9 or 10 of those certification forms to submit with your actual application for PSLF.
After you’ve made 120 of those qualifying PSLF payments, you should have an easier time (in theory) having your remaining student loan balance forgiven tax-free if you have all of your employment certification forms documenting your progress along the way.
“My Perkins Loans, Health Professions Student Loan, and Loans for Disadvantaged Students aren’t listed as eligible under income-driven repayment. Can I consolidate them in order to pay them using PAYE, REPAYE or IBR?”
Yes, you can consolidate those non-Direct loan types as long as you are including one Direct or FFEL program loan in the consolidation. That is one of the primary reasons to utilize a federal Direct Consolidation Loan — to include non-Direct federal student loan types that do not qualify for income-driven repayment (IDR) on their own, but will once you consolidate them.
The most beneficial income-driven repayment plans (PAYE, REPAYE, IBR) and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) can only be used with Federal Direct Loans. The only way to make federal non-Direct Loan types qualify for IDR and PSLF is through a Direct Consolidation Loan and the best time to consolidate your loans is as soon as you can after you graduate veterinary school.
“Can you do Federal Direct Consolidation once you have started payments on an income-driven repayment plan?”
You can. However, if you are already in repayment, you should be extremely careful using a Direct Consolidation Loan. This is why the timing of your Federal Direct Consolidation Loan is so important.
When you consolidate, you receive a new loan(s) that pays off all of the loans included in the consolidation. If you have made qualifying income-driven payments or PSLF payments to loans that you consolidate, you will lose credit for those qualifying payments. Essentially, you reset your forgiveness clock on any loan you consolidate. That is another reason to start the Direct Consolidation Loan process as early as possible, ideally right after you graduate veterinary school.
“Should I consolidate my spouse’s federal student loans with mine?”
You can no longer combine federal student loans with your spouse as part of a federal consolidation loan. That is likely a good thing because it is a mess to deal with in the event of separation/divorce.
You could probably still do a consolidation with your spouse using a private loan, but for many other reasons in addition to the fact it would still be a mess in the event of separation/divorce, I would highly discourage consolidating your student loans with your spouse’s student loans.