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New Grad Student Loan Questions and Answers: Consolidation

New Grad Student Loan Questions and Answers: Consolidation

Here are some questions about consolidation using a Federal Direct Consolidation Loan that we tackled live during the 2019 New Veterinary Graduate Student Loan Repayment Webinar.

“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.

Have more questions? Post a comment below or email studentdebt@VINFoundation.org.

Dr. Tony Bartels graduated in 2012 from the Colorado State University combined MBA/DVM program and is an employee of the Veterinary Information Network (VIN) and a VIN Foundation Board member. He and his wife have more than $400,000 in veterinary-school debt that they manage using federal income-driven repayment plans. By necessity (and now obsession), his professional activities include researching and speaking on veterinary-student debt, providing guidance to colleagues on loan-repayment strategies and contributing to VIN Foundation initiatives.

Leave a Reply

6 Comments
  • Samantha Eichelberger

    June 1, 2019at2:13 am Reply

    I have a veterinary health professions loan through Ohio State University. I don’t believe that it can be consolidated. It shows that I am in grace period for 1 year. Is this something that I will be able to consolidate later or do I just need to pay this separately as if it were a private loan?

  • Tony Bartels, DVM, MBA

    June 4, 2019at6:53 pm Reply

    Hi Samantha,
    Yes — your veterinary health professions student loan (HPSL) CAN be consolidated into your Federal Direct Consolidation Loan. You may have to add that loan to your consolidation manually, but as long as you have other Direct or FFEL program loans you are including in your federal consolidation, you can (and should) include that veterinary HPSL into your consolidation. We did cover that in the live webinar but I will also post that as a Q&A on this page too 🙂

  • Briana Lundquist

    June 14, 2019at12:11 pm Reply

    I am a little late to listening to the webinar and am interested in loan consolidation. I am not sure if I missed the window to consolidate with “no income.” I have signed a contract with a practice, but I have not yet started working and therefore have not earned any money. Can/should I apply for consolidation with no income between now and my start date?

    • Tony Bartels, DVM, MBA

      June 24, 2019at11:45 pm Reply

      Hi Briana,
      Thank you for listening to the webinar. You have not missed the window to consolidate. Even if you can’t get a $0/mo payment for the first 12 months, you should still consolidate, end your grace period, and get into repayment so you lower your starting principal balance and get the clock ticking towards forgiveness (should you need it). When you get to the part about using an income-driven repayment plan, they will ask if you have any current taxable income. If you have not started working, you do not have taxable income. However, if you have a contract that states what your taxable income will be, you can use that as income documentation as well. Good luck and please let us know if you have any additional questions regarding consolidation and loan repayment!

  • Ryan Leal

    July 8, 2019at11:15 pm Reply

    Hello Dr. Bartels,

    Recent grad here. I am a big fan of your work and have read most of what you have published. I have a question about consolidation that I cannot find the answer to.

    Is there any way to end the grace period other than consolidation? For example, can I just start paying back the loans? If I don’t consolidate and only have multiple direct stafford loans all from one provider, do my payments get spread out between the loans?

    • Tony Bartels, DVM, MBA

      July 29, 2019at7:12 pm Reply

      Hi Ryan,

      Thanks for posting your comment and following the VIN Foundation work on student loans and repayment options! Unfortunately, there is no other way to end your grace period early other than using a Direct Consolidation Loan. If you were to start making payments during your grace period, they will be applied to any unpaid interest first, then principal. However, if you expect to reach forgiveness using an income-driven repayment plan, it would make more sense financially to consolidate your loans and enter income-driven repayment prior to making any payments during your grace period. Please let us know if you have any additional questions on getting your student loan repayment plan started — we’re here to help!

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