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Another option if you've defaulted on a federal student loan is loan consolidation. This is where you pay off any outstanding balances you have on your federal loans and end up with a new one that will have a fixed interest rate. You could choose to include a defaulted federal student loan in the new loan but only after you've made arrangements with the Department of Education and have made several voluntary payments. This is usually at least three consecutive, voluntary and on-time payments before you are allowed to consolidate the defaulted loan into the new direct loan.
The types of loans that can be consolidated
Almost every type of federal loan can be consolidated but not private loans. Some of the more popular types of federal student loans eligible for consolidation include Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized loans, Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal Stafford loans, Direct PLUS Loans and Federal Perkins Loans.
Eligibility for a Direct Consolidation Loan
As you have read, almost every type of federal student loan can be consolidated. However, there are some eligibility requirements you should be aware of. As noted above, you must have at least one Direct or FFEL Program loan and it must be in a grace period or in repayment. You must make satisfactory repayment arrangements with your loan servicer on the defaulted loan before it can be consolidated. And you must agree to repay the new Direct Consolidation Loan under one of the following
- Income-based Repayment
- Pay As You Earn Repayment t
- Income-contingent Repayment
The interest rate on a Direct Consolidation Loan
These loans have a fixed interest rate. The way it is calculated is by using the weighted average of your existing loans rounded up to the nearest 1/8 of 1%. The easiest way to understand this without doing all the math is that the interest rate on your Direct Consolidation Loan will be higher than the loan with the lowest interest rate you are currently paying but lower than the loan with the highest interest rate.
The options for repaying a Direct Consolidation Loan
One of the best things about choosing to consolidate your federal student loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan is that it offers several options for repayment as indicated above. For example, you could choose Income-based Repayment where your monthly payments would be capped at 15% of your disposable income. Pay As You Earn Repayment was a hot topic recently when Pres. Obama signed an executive order making approximately 1.4 million more people eligible for this program. It's even better than Income-based Repayment as if you qualify you would see your monthly payments capped at just 10% of your disposable income. How do you calculate disposable income? The short explanation is that it’s your adjusted gross income minus 150% of the federal poverty level times 10 percent.
If you are unable to qualify for either Pay As You Earn or Income-based Repayment there is Income-contingent Repayment. It's designed for people with lower salaries such as those who work in public service. It helps by pegging monthly payments to your family size, income and the total amount of money you borrowed. Its monthly payment is adjusted annually based on changes in the size of your family and your annual income – just as are Income-based and Pay As View Earn Repayment.