So you’ve finally sat down and looked at your student loan statement.
As interest rates remain unflattering, many graduates are considering refinancing their student loans to get rid of the debt once and for all.
But where do you start?
There are all kinds of companies these days just throwing their advertisements in your face. How do you know who to choose?
In this article, I’ll show you our three favorite banks where you can refinance your student loans. These are banks that have actual, physical locations.
If that’s not your cup of tea, I’ve also included a massive list of other lenders we recommend.
Quick picks: The best banks to refinance student loans
- Citizens Bank
- Darien Rowayton Bank
- First Republic Bank
How to choose a company to refinance with
Before moving your student loans to a new servicer, there are a few factors you need to consider:
This article focuses primarily on banks that have physical locations, but I’ll share some other options as well. You’ll need to determine if having a place you can actually walk into and talk to someone is important to you. If not, you can go with an online-only service.
Obviously cost is a huge factor. You’ll want to make sure there are no fees for refinancing, and no early payoff fees either.
One of the primary reasons you’re refinancing is to save money on interest, so make sure the place you choose has good interest rates (and ones that you qualify for) before signing up.
This one is huge. Some companies will offer payment plans beyond 20 years, which might be good if you’re looking primarily to reduce your monthly payment and don’t mind paying more interest in the long run. For someone who is looking to save the most money, on the other hand, you might want to find a place that offers a super-low rate for just a couple of years.
Minimum credit score requirement
Some banks won’t even give you options unless you meet a certain minimum credit score requirement. If you have bad credit your options will be limited (but not completely gone) and if you have great credit you’ll have access to some of the best rates.
Consider whether it’s worth it to refinance now if you have bad credit, or if you’ll save more money in the long haul by waiting until you can improve your credit score.
Minimum and maximum eligible loan balances
Most companies have a minimum loan balance requirement of around $5,000, but go up to half a million. This is important for you to know, especially if you have hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt (i.e. medical school or just someone who likes to study abroad for years) as you might find a company with a great rate, but you have too much debt for them to work with you.
Our favorite banks to refinance your student loans with
1. Citizens Bank
Citizens Bank is based out of Rhode Island and has over 1,100 branches across the United States. They offer both student loan refinancing and new student loans (if you’re getting another degree or going to school for the first time).
Citizens offers payment options of 5, 10, 15, and 20 years, which provides a lot of flexibility for those who want to pay off their loans quickly or take their time. They also offer financial hardship assistance, which allows you to postpone your payments for up to 12 months, in the event you lose your job or just simply can’t afford the payment.
If you already bank with Citizens, there’s an added bonus-a 0.25 percent interest rate reduction on your loan. And if you set your payments up for auto-debit, you’ll get an additional 0.25 percent. That’s half a percentage point knocked off of your rate just for doing two simple things.
Unlike many other loan servicers, Citizens doesn’t require that you’ve graduated in order to refinance – which is nice for someone who’s taking a break from school and has plans to go back later. They just require that you’ve made on-time payments for a 12 months prior to submitting an application.
Speaking of applications, this is where there may be some downside to Citizens Bank. They have pretty strict requirements for your financial standing-so those with poor credit will probably need a co-signer. At a minimum, you’ll need a 660 credit score and make at least $24,000 per year.
One cool feature is the ability to release a co-signer, which is very uncommon in the world of personal finance and loans. After you’ve made 36 months of on-time payments, you may have the option to release your co-signer from the loan, which is also a blessing for the co-signer themselves (as they’ll no longer be financially responsible for the debt).
Another bit of good news: Citizens Bank works with Credible, an independent student loan comparison tool that’s been called the ‘Kayak of student loans’. So, for free, you can see if you can see if you’ll be approved and preview actual rates from Citizen’s and many other lenders.
Check your refi rates from Citizen’s Bank now at Credible.
2. Darien Rowayton Bank
Darien Rowayton Bank (DRB) has physical locations in Connecticut, but has a much broader network for refinancing student loans across the country. If you live in the state and want a physical branch to walk into, this might be a great option for you. Even if you don’t, DRB is one of our favorite banks for refinancing student loans overall.
One of the best features about DRB is that, as of 2015, they allow you to refinance PLUS loans (parents who take out loans for their children). This is a huge bonus for parents who have historically been pretty limited in options for refinancing. Parents can also transfer ownership of the loan over to the child who the loan was for, assuming they qualify.
As you grow in your career and begin to make more money and become more financially stable, your parents may be winding down toward retirement, living on much less. While this transfer of debt won’t work for all families, it at least provides a starting point of discussion for graduates who want to help their parents pay back a loan that was taken out for them originally.
DRB allows you to refinance loans from undergraduate and graduate degree programs, as well. The bank has the common 5, 10, 15, and 20 year repayment plans, but has also introduced a seven-year term for those who feel five years is too fast (and too high of a payment) and 10 years is too long. There’s no maximum for the amount you can borrow (great for those in med school or similar).
For financial hardship, Darien Rowayton allows you to postpone your payments for up to 12 months, in three month increments, if you’re having trouble repaying your debt.
Like Citizens, Darien Rowayton is pretty strict with their lending guidelines. At minimum, you have to have a credit score in the high 600s, make $60,000 or more per year, and have a debt-to-income ratio of no more than 40 percent.
Unlike Citizens Bank, DRB does not offer a co-signer release. So if you don’t qualify and someone signs with you, they’re responsible for the debt just as much as you are until it’s paid off.
Interest rates are pretty good-but not the best.
3. First Republic Bank
First Republic Bank is a physical bank located primarily in California. They do, however, have branches in Oregon, New York, Florida, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. First Republic is hands-down one of the best places you can refinance due to their extremely low rates-but the challenge is actually getting qualified for a loan.
Here are some of the strict guidelines First Republic has:
- You have to have at least $60,000 in student loan debt
- A credit score of at least 750
- Two years of work experience in your field
- You need to live near one of the branches, because you have to open a checking account with a personal banker there
- You’ll need to have direct deposit into that checking account
- You need to set your loan of for auto-drafting of payments
Quite a laundry list of requirements isn’t it? So is First Republic Bank even worth it?
Absolutely. And here’s why:
- They have some of the absolute lowest rates you’ll ever see for student loans. First Republic has fixed rates as low as 2.35 percent (yes, fixed!) with a maximum of 3.95 percent
- They offer flexible terms. Like Darien Rowayton Bank, First Republic gives you the option of a seven-year term in addition to the standard 5, 10, 15, and 20 year plans.
- High eligible loan balances. You can borrow up to $300,000.
- You get a dedicated personal banker. No call centers – you get a personal banker who you can call and meet with at any time for any reason.
- You get money back if you pay it off early. If you pay off your loan within four years, the bank will credit back the interest you paid, up to two percent of the original loan balance.
If you still think I’m crazy for recommending this company, let me show you a real life example:
For someone wanting to go to law school, they’ll pay (on average) $26,264 per year for an in-state, public school. Law school takes about three years to complete, so that’s $78,792 in tuition fees-not including any additional expenses.
The current rate for graduate and professional degrees is six percent. Over a standard 10-year repayment period, you’d pay about $26,178.33 in interest alone.
Now say you met all the requirements of First Republic Bank-you lived near the branch, you made enough money, and you had good credit. Say you qualified for the lowest fixed rate of 2.35 percent.
Over the same 10-year period, you’d save $137 per month on your payment and over $16,000 in interest. If you were able to afford the monthly payment to pay it off in four years, you’d save over $22,000 in interest and you’d get a two percent rebate of over $1,500 for paying it off early.
That’s some serious savings.
No, First Republic won’t work for everyone, but if you meet all the requirements and have a significant amount of student loan debt, it’d be my top choice.
Other companies to consider
While the options I shared above are the best banks to refinance with, they may not work for everyone. That being said, here are 18 more of the best companies to refinance your student loans with (in alphabetical order), regardless of having a physical location or not:
- Alliant Credit Union
- College Ave
- Credit Union Student Choice
- Eastman Credit Union
- Education Success Loans
- First Republic Eagle Gold
- Navy Federal Credit Union
- UW Credit Union
- Wells Fargo
How much could you save by refinancing your student loans?
Check your rate and payment with Credible—it’s fast, free, and won’t affect your credit score:
Regardless of where you go to refinance, the good thing is you’re taking a step in the right direction. Many people think student loans are just debt you have to carry forever-and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Find a company that fits your financial needs and get started with saving some serious cash. In a matter of years, you’ll find yourself with no student loan debt at all. Good luck!
Check out Credible, the Kayak of student loans, to get live student loan refi rates without affecting your credit. Start now or read our review.