Collegiate Funding Services LLC, a student loan consolidator based in Spotsylvania County, announced yesterday that it will relocate its headquarters to Stafford County.

Collegiate Funding, which has about 100 employees, will move to the Washington building of the Riverside Center in March. The company plans to hire an additional 200 employees during the next year. Officials said space was a major consideration in the decision to choose Stafford.

"We're stacked and packed," said Gary Frazier, chief executive of Collegiate Funding. "We have way too many employees and way too little space. We're very excited about getting into something a little roomier and achieve our hiring goals for 2000."

Collegiate was founded in September 1998 and last year consolidated loans for more than 20,000 borrowers, representing approximately $250 million.

Collegiate will operate a call center from its new location, and the majority of jobs will be for people making and taking calls. The average starting salary for those positions is between $25,000 and $32,000 annually, Frazier said. The company also will be hiring about 30 marketing and administrative employees with salaries in the $50,000 range.

Initially, Collegiate will lease 30,000 square feet, but the company has an option on an additional 12,000 to 15,000 square feet when the current tenant leaves in the summer. As part of the deal, the fast-growing firm also has right of first refusal for the entire 95,000 square foot building, Frazier said. Terms of the lease were not disclosed.

Collegiate chose to make the jump from Spotsylvania to Stafford because it provided the company with room to operate and expand and because of favorable tax laws, Frazier said.

"There's really not another building that suits our needs in the Fredericksburg area," Frazier said, adding that the company looked for sites. "Secondarily, Stafford County does not have a gross receipts tax, which is rather attractive."

The move is a boon for Stafford's growing business base, while also filling the void that was created when Capital One moved out of the same building in November, economic development officials said.

"We worked on this for some time," said Gene Bailey, Stafford director of economic development. "To us, this is a very important announcement. It brings jobs to Stafford, and it is certainly further evidence that Stafford is able to attract top quality companies."

In addition to the move to Stafford, Collegiate announced yesterday that it will open an office in St. Petersburg, Fla., in February.