You may also have access to a new repayment schedule (like an income-contingent plan) that's a little easier on your wallet.If you don't care about the extra cash and just want a consolidation for the simplicity of a single monthly payment, you can use any money you save to pay down the principal.Yet despite the appeal -- and its popularity -- student loan consolidation isn't for everyone.

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The downside is that your grace period will end once your consolidation loan goes through.

If you've already been paying off your loans for a while, you can consolidate at any time.

Current law dictates that you can only consolidate once, so if you consolidate at a 6 percent interest rate and rates later drop to 3 percent, you're out of luck.

There are two exceptions: if you've since gone back to school and acquired new student loans, or if an outstanding loan was excluded from your original consolidation.

A consolidation loan is just what it sounds like: You can take two or more outstanding loans and refinance them into one.

As with the Stafford Loans, there are both Direct and FFEL consolidation programs.

The key terms for federal consolidation loans do not vary by lender: no application or origination fees are allowed and there are no prepayment penalties.

Federal law sets the period of time for paying back the loans and sets a ceiling on the interest rate.

Plus, consolidating could make it impossible for you to have a Perkins Loan forgiven or reduced.

If you can handle your monthly loan payment as is, carefully investigate how consolidating will change the total amount you're expected to repay.

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