Most graduates don’t realize until it’s too late that there is a loophole in the federal student loan consolidation program that allows borrowers to lock in an interest rate that is 0.60% lower than standard repayment rates. Each year’s graduating class has a unique opportunity to take advantage of this loophole before it closes after the 6th month following their graduation. For students in the class of 2006, November marks the last opportunity to lock in their current low interest rate before it increases.Why consolidating during the grace period makes such an impact on savingsThe reason borrowers are able to save so much by consolidating college loans during the grace period has a two-part answer. First, the interest on a college loan during its six month grace period is up to 0.60% lower than when the loan enters repayment status. Add to this the current federal student loan consolidation rate guidelines that dictate the rate of the new consolidated loan using a weighted average of the current loan’s interest rates. Once college loans are consolidated, the lower repayment rate is fixed for the entire 10 to 30 year repayment period.How student loan consolidation helps borrowersIf you miss the deadline, there are still ways to save with student loan consolidation. One of the benefits that many people say they enjoy most about consolidating student loans, is the ability to extend the repayment term from the standard 10 year period, up to as many as 30 years. By lengthening the repayment period, monthly payments are dramatically reduced.When payments are spread out over a longer period of time, students will pay more in interest over the lifetime of the loan. But many students say that without this option, making the monthly payments on their student loans would be a larger burden than they could shoulder.By consolidating student loans and extending the repayment period, borrowers can keep monthly payments low during the early years of their budding career. Should they choose to do so, borrowers can contribute larger payments as their salaries increase in the future. Most lenders don’t charge any pre-payment penalties, meaning the choice about how long it will take to pay back loans is entirely up to the borrower, no matter how many years they spread out their consolidated loan.Don’t forget to factor in opportunity costsThough it would be ideal to have no debt at all, this simply isn’t an option for most people. New grads face a steep uphill battle. At this stage in life, graduates are juggling cash between buying homes, launching businesses, and starting a family. While a borrower could pay down their college loan in 10 years by paying $700 a month, rather than over 30 years at $258 a month, is it worth the opportunity cost?For those earning enough to do both, the choice to pay off college loans sooner might be more beneficial. But others who are forced to make a choice about how to leverage a tight income must decide what is in line with their ultimate financial goals. Instead of being forced to save around the student loan repayment, borrowers can choose a feasible monthly repayment amount, and then determine the number of years required to repay the loan at that amount using a student loan consolidation calculator.How to Save Even More with the PLUS Loan Consolidation LoopholePLUS loans, once only for parents of undergraduate students, are now available for graduate students to fund their own educations as a result of the Higher Education Reconciliation Act July 1st changes. PLUS loans experienced a rate hike in July, from 6.1% to 8.5% but there is a silver lining to this cloud through a loophole in the Act.Another one of the July 1st changes dictated that all consolidated loans would have a cap of 8.25%, a quarter of a percent lower than the rate of the PLUS loan. This means that any parent or graduate that has a PLUS loan will lower their interest rate, just by consolidating. PLUS loan borrowers can choose to extend the repayment period like any other federal student loan borrower to lower the monthly payment, but with this loophole, even if they make no changes to the 10 year repayment period, they will still save money just by consolidating.Just as before the changes, the process of consolidating federal loans is still free and requires no credit checks and no collateral. As always, federal student loan consolidation neatly wraps up all outstanding federal loans tied together with one fixed rate. So while the rate increase made big news last July, there are still plenty of benefits and ways to save money by consolidating student loans.