If you are a current or former student with school loans, you have probably been bombarded with mailed and online solicitations to consolidate your debt. The loan application process can seem overwhelming, particularly if you have more than a couple of loans issued from a number of lenders. However, it is generally simple and straightforward if you are prepared. Here is a brief overview of what you can expect when you decide to consolidate your student loans.First, you will need to choose a lender. There are many to choose from, but, in general, it’s smart to stick to a well-established financial institution. These lenders will have a variety of payment plans and discounts, and they will be less likely to sell your loan to another lender in the future. There should never be a charge or fee for consolidating student loans. As well, a lender should not need to check your credit because Federal student loans are guaranteed by the U.S. government.Next, you will need to fill out an application. Remember to gather all information on existing loans prior to filling out your application. Also, you will need to supply personal references. Before you sign your name on the application, make sure that you clearly understand the terms of the new loan. Ask about incentives and discounts that can help reduce your payment. Many lenders have downloadable forms and online calculators to determine the amount you will pay with your new loan.Once you have submitted your completed application, the lender will send each of your loan holders a Loan Verification Certificate (LVC) to verify the amount owed on each of your Federal student loans. You can expect that your existing lenders will take up to 30 days to return the LVCs. Once these certificates are processed, the interest rate will be calculated and a disclosure statement is prepared. Checks will be issued to your lenders to pay off your loans, and your new consolidated loan will be issued.This entire process can take between 30 to 180 days to complete, and if information is missing from your application, it can take even longer. Most lenders have customer service representatives who will gladly keep you updated on the status of your loan application. Remember to continue to pay on your existing loans while your application is being processed. You will be financially responsible for these loans until the new lender has paid off them in full.Finally, keep in mind that interest rates on student loans are adjusted annually every July 1st. This year, rates will be increasing 2.1 percent. You can be assured of the lower rate if you submit a completed application early. Don’t wait until the end of June to start the process.While consolidating student loans can be a time consuming task, with a little advanced preparation and research you can complete your application with minimal effort. And, once your new loan is processed, you will most certainly be thrilled with your lower payments.