As you shop among lenders, evaluate all of the features below.

Interest rates: your rate is one of the most important features of your new loan.

Help in hard times: federal student loans offer assistance when you’re unemployed or your income is low — you can stop paying temporarily without hefty fees or damage to your credit.

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If you’ve taken out loans in the past and you always pay on time, your credit should be in good shape.

If you don’t have a history of borrowing (or you’ve defaulted on loans), you’ll need to build up your credit history to qualify for the best loans.

There are two ways to lower your payment: use a lower interest rate or extend the loan repayment period (or both).

If cash flow is an issue right now, you can certainly get some breathing room by refinancing — just find out ahead of time if you’re going to pay more interest for that comfort. If you’ve got loans from five different lenders, things can slip through the cracks.

If you have significant student debt, private lenders with a focus on education loans will likely end up at the top of your list.

Because you’re not using a government program, these loans are basically just personal loans branded as education loans.

You’ll need to know if you have ​private student loans or with private student loans — when you refinance).

Federal Direct Consolidation Loans allow you to combine multiple loans into one while keeping all of the benefits of federal student loans.

Before you stretch out those payments, do some quick loan calculations and compare the costs. Especially if you originally borrowed with a private lender, there may be an opportunity to cut your borrowing costs.

Over the past few years, your credit may have improved, or new competitors might be eager to lend at more attractive rates. If your loans have variable rates, you may be caught by surprise if rates skyrocket in the future.

Consolidating private education loans can help you simplify and lower your monthly payments.