While there’s no definitive ranking of student loan refinance lenders, there are unique factors and benefits that each lender brings to the table. It’s important to do your research and consider every option to find the best refinance loan for your financial situation.

Refinancing can be a great way to save both time and money, but lenders aren’t one-size-fits-all. Prioritizing your future goals is the best way to ensure you don’t end up in an unfavorable lending situation down the road. Here’s how to sift through the options to find the student loan refinance lender that will best suit your needs.

How to pick the best refinancing company

When you refinance, you take out a private student loan that replaces your pre-existing student loans. Refinancing only makes sense if you’re offered a lower rate and more competitive terms; ensuring that you’ve chosen the best lender is a crucial step in debt management.

Picking the best refinance lender depends on your creditworthiness, financial needs and current balance. However, searching for a lender can be overwhelming, so use an online resource that lists companies and breaks down the details for you. These sites list everything from APR ranges and repayment terms, to benefits like autopay discounts and member perks. Keep in mind that the website may receive royalties for listing and speaking highly of specific companies.

Once you’re generally familiar with the lender landscape, you’ll need to carefully consider every option to prevent ending up with more high-interest debt down the road. If you don’t know where to start in your search, here are some methods that’ll help you determine which company will best suit your finances both now and in the future.

Understand your current loan details

Before anything else, take a deep-dive into your current balance and see what your interest rates are and who your lenders are, especially if you have both private and federal loans.

Look into every payment benefit or relief program offered by your lenders. If you have both federal and private loans, consider all of the federal forgiveness programs offered. Once you refinance, you lose access to all benefits and hardship payment relief programs offered by the Education Department.

Private lenders don’t offer nearly as many relief options, so it’s best to hold off on immediately refinancing if you think you may qualify for a federal debt-relief program. Check the program requirements on studentaid.gov as a primary debt management option before turning to a private lender.

Discern what you need

Only once you know your loan and repayment details can you determine what you need from a refinance company. Refinancing is most beneficial for borrowers who need to organize multiple monthly payments, cut down their interest costs or are looking to reduce their payment amount. If you don’t qualify for Biden’s debt-relief plan or federal payment programs like income-driven repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), then refinancing could be the next best option for payment reductions.

Most lenders base approval and terms on creditworthiness and income. There are a few companies that cater to borrowers with a low income, but the interest rates are often higher than other companies. However, most lenders allow co-signers for borrowers who don’t qualify.

A co-signer is a creditworthy friend or family member who takes legal responsibility for the loan. While co-signers can help borrowers score more competitive rates and get approved, there are downsides that need to be considered before jumping to this option.

If you miss a payment, the responsibility falls on the co-signer, which negatively impacts their credit score. Plus, not all lenders offer co-signer release – the option to release the co-signer from all legal responsibility after a set number of qualifying payments – which leaves both parties responsible until the loan is paid off in its entirety.

Compare lenders

Shop around and compare lender details before committing based solely on whether you meet the eligibility criteria. Most lenders offer a prequalification tool that allows borrowers to see their eligibility odds and predicted interest rate without impacting their credit.

If the company doesn’t offer a prequalification option, continue shopping around, especially if you’re not sure you’ll get a better rate with the new loan.

Prequalify for as many lenders as possible to avoid multiple hard-credit checks and to get a well-rounded perspective on what a competitive rate looks like for you.

If your predicted terms aren’t competitive and you have a co-signer on board, make sure you’ve both read the terms and conditions thoroughly. Before applying, look for hidden fees and co-signer conditions.

Once you’ve narrowed down your top few lenders that you’re most likely to get approved for, use a refinance calculator to see how much money you could save as well as your predicted monthly payment and loan terms.

If you’re a creditworthy borrower – or have a co-signer who is – it’s likely that you’ll be pre-approved with multiple lenders that offer similar rates. If this is the case, look into the member perks and any benefits the lenders may offer to weed out. Some offer an autopay discount (typically 0.25 percent), while other companies offer rewards to borrowers whom they have an existing relationship with.

How to apply for a refinance student loan

The process of applying for a refinance student loan is similar to applying for a private student loan. The applications are housed on the lender’s website and will most likely require personal information like your Social Security Number, address and proof of income.

Many lenders advertise a simple application process that takes a few minutes to complete. Once submitted, keep making the payments on your original loans so you don’t fall behind and be on the lookout for any information from your new lender. It’s likely that you’ll receive a phone call or email from a customer service representative within a week of completing your application.