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Consolidating my student loans

To a college grad swamped with multiple student loans that have come due, loan consolidation is an enticing option.

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(Note: You cannot consolidate federal and private student loans together through the federal government, either.) You can consolidate an existing Direct Consolidation Loan so long as you have a new eligible loan with which it can be consolidated.When even the basic term "consolidation" means different things for different lenders, the process can understandably seem daunting.But if you're looking to save thousands on student loan interest payments -- as well as time and headaches from managing multiple monthly payments -- then understanding the consolidation process is critical.Discounts reduce the amount of interest you pay over the life of the loan.The automatic payment discount may not change your monthly payment amount depending on the type of loan you receive, but may reduce the number of payments or reduce the amount of your final payment. You can consolidate all, just some, or even just one of your student loans.

Consolidating federal student loans may be a good strategy to lower monthly payments or to get out of default, but it is not always a good idea.

Yet despite the appeal -- and its popularity -- student loan consolidation isn't for everyone.

Here are some frequently asked questions and answers that may help determine if it's the right move for you.

A cosigner is someone who shares responsibility with the borrower for repaying the loan.

The cosigner doesn’t have to be a relative; he or she can be any adult who meets the eligibility requirements.

As you weigh the pros and cons, keep in mind that timing is critical.