If you have all Direct Loans, you can even apply by phone.
Besides basic personal contact information, you'll need to be able to provide data on the type of loan you have, its balance, and the current loan holder.
If you need more cash in your pocket right now, consolidation can help by extending the life of your loan and thus trimming your monthly payments -- although the length of your repayment terms will depend on the amount of debt you have, and you may not be able to extend at all.
But if interest rates are low you can lock in long-term savings, since less of your money will go to interest.
The interest rate on your consolidation loans is the weighted average of the interest rates on the loans you have now, rounded up to the nearest 1/8 of a percent and capped at 8.25 percent. You can get help doing the math with an online calculator at the Federal Direct Consolidation Loans website.
Click on "Borrower Services," then "Online Calculator." Interest rates are determined by the federal government and change each year on July 1, so check with a lender to get their take on possible rate fluctuation.
If you're just finishing college, you'll want to consolidate your loans after you graduate but before your grace period ends, so that you can take advantage of the lower in-school interest rate (the 91-day T-bill rate plus 1.7 percent, rather than the standard repayment rate of T-bill rate plus 2.3 percent).
Timing is everything: You'll need to complete all the paperwork and have it processed and approved before repayment begins.
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.
You also won't be able to get an in-school loan deferment, because both of you would have to be enrolled to qualify. Although your existing loans will be packaged as one larger loan, your subsidized and unsubsidized loans are grouped so that you won't be held responsible for extra interest on subsidized loans.
With loan serialization, a single lender buys your student loans and "stacks" them; you maintain your original terms and interest rates, but pay the loans off one at a time, starting with the loan with the worst interest rate.
To do so, you'll both have to agree to assume full responsibility for payment of the debt.