Her straining pocketbook held the financial equivalent of a Baskin Robbins — it looked like she had an entire 31-flavor buffet of credit cards.Though this woman may be an extreme example, most of us do tend to have a variety of credit lines at any given time — usually a combination of installment loans (mortgages, student loans, auto loans, etc.) and credit cards.Credit unions are offering private college consolidation loans at variable rates of 4.75 percent, 5.75 percent and 7.25 percent.

Student loan consolidation can be a big help to recent graduates struggling to pay multiple student loans after leaving school.

It can be a good way to simplify the payments — a new student loan for every year or semester can mean a number of different hands in your pocketbook — as well as potentially trade a variable interest rate for a fixed one.

Some borrowers will be able to shave hundreds of dollars off their monthly obligations by merging their loans.

Here's an example: Let's assume that a borrower is coping with $50,000 worth of private loans that have an average interest rate of 12 percent.

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A few weeks ago, while in line at the grocery store, I glimpsed a woman whose wallet held more credit cards than I’ve ever seen in one place.

A large number of credit cards can carry interest rates in the high double-digits; rates of 20% to 25% (or even more) are especially common in the subprime markets.

Those high interest rates come with high monthly payments, and it can be easy to get caught in the “minimum payment” cycle — which only leads to an ever-growing balance.

With 5 billion dollars worth of private student loans outstanding, there is a whole lot of suffering out there among former students struggling with their loans.