Tag: Student Loans

Student Loan ReFi

Should You Refinance Your Student Loans with a Credit Card?

Advertiser Disclosure

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Using a balance transfer credit card can be a great way to lower the interest rates on your debt to help you save money and pay your debt off faster. Most people only think about doing a balance transfer with high-interest credit card debt, but recently I’ve been considering a 0% interest balance transfer credit card to help me pay off my student loan.

After making my final credit card payment to be credit card debt free, I started thinking about how I could use a balance transfer offer extended by my creditor to help pay off other types of debt I still have. Since the highest interest debt I have remaining is my student loan, this is what I’m considering refinancing with a 0% interest balance transfer. My student loan only has a remaining balance of about $6,000, which means I could transfer the entire balance to the credit card and pay it off before the promotional rate expires, if I pay it off aggressively.

Of course, there are lots of reasons why you could choose to refinance or consolidate your student loans. I was curious whether or not a balance transfer could be a viable option as well.

Here are some of the pros and cons you should consider before deciding to refinance your student loans with a balance transfer credit card.

Benefits of Refinancing Student Loans with a Balance Transfer Credit Card

There are several benefits you could take advantage of by refinancing your student loans with a balance transfer credit card.

A Lower Interest Rate

One of the main reasons people choose to refinance student loans is to lock in a lower interest rate. For example, my student loans are at 6.8%. If I do a balance transfer to a 0% interest credit card, I could save hundreds of dollars on interest through the end of the 0% interest rate period on the balance transfer.

But keep in mind that not all balance transfers are created equal. You might get all kinds of different balance transfer offers from companies trying to entice you to sign up for a new credit card, or even transfer a balance to a card you already have. Some of these transfer offers will be better than others. You might encounter offers that have a 1% to 3% interest rate for a certain period of time, usually 12, 18, or 24 months. But the best balance transfer offers have a 0% interest rate, obviously saving you more on interest than the others.

Pay Off Student Loans Faster

Transferring student loan debt to a credit card can save money, but only as long as you get the balance transfer paid off before the promotional interest rate expires. This time limit is a big motivation for people to pay extra on their student loans to make sure the balance transfer is paid off before it expires. If you struggle with being motivated to make extra payments, the reality that your interest rate may spike up to 15% or more after a few months may be just the motivation you need to get serious about paying off debt. It’s worked well for me in the past when I’ve transferred high-interest credit card debt to a 0% balance transfer credit card, helping me to pay off $5,284.18 much faster than I would have otherwise.

Drawbacks of Refinancing Student Loans with a Balance Transfer Credit Card

Although using a balance transfer to help pay off your student loans sounds like a great way to save money and pay your debt off faster, there are some potential downsides you should be aware of.

Balance Transfer Fees

A lower interest rate makes balance transfer credit cards an attractive option for those looking to refinance debt, but you need to consider more than just the interest rate before deciding to refinance your student loans with a balance transfer credit card. Make sure you consider the balance transfer fee that many credit cards charge. This can eat away at the amount of money you save on interest. Luckily, some credit cards do have a cap on this fee at $50 or $75, which can be helpful if you plan to transfer a large balance that would otherwise result in a fee higher than that cap. But at that point, it could be difficult to get your student loan transfer paid off before the promotional interest rate on the balance transfer expires.

There are balance transfers without fees, but your options may be limited. If you find a no-fee, 0% interest transfer option you qualify for, it’s almost a no-brainer to use it to pay off other debt.

Potential Loss of Savings on Interest

As mentioned, it’s imperative that you pay off your entire balance transfer before the promotional interest rate expires in 12, 18, or 24 months. If you don’t, the high interest rate after the transfer expires will quickly negate any interest savings you earned by doing the transfer in the first place. In fact, you may end up paying more in interest than if you’d skipped the balance transfer in the first place.

You May Not Qualify

In order to use a balance transfer credit card to refinance your student loans, you first have to qualify for one. In order to qualify for many balance transfer credit cards you must have a credit score of at least 680.

Applying Could Ding Your Credit Score

If you don’t already have a credit card with a balance transfer offer available, you may need to apply for a new card. Anytime you apply for a new line of credit, it will ding your credit score slightly. This may or may not be an important factor depending on what your score is and if you plan to apply for any other credit cards or loans in the near future.

Loss of Federal Student Borrower Protections

A final and very important consideration to think about before you decide to refinance your student loans with a balance transfer credit card is the loss of student loan protections you may have. If you are refinancing federal student loans, you will lose the protections that are offered to you as a borrower, such as:

  • Income-driven repayment plans
  • The opportunity for student loan forgiveness
  • Deferment or forbearance
  • Discharge upon permanent disability or death

Some credit card companies may be willing to work with you in an emergency situation, but chances are high that even in those situations the flexibility offered to federal student loan borrowers is far greater. In some cases, you may be better off not refinancing your student loans in order to maintain your borrower protections.

With most low or 0% interest balance transfer credit cards, you can’t miss a payment or pay late. If you do, your promotional interest rate may be void and you will be subject to the regular interest rate, which could be 15% or more depending on the card and your credit score.

Despite these drawbacks, doing a balance transfer to help pay off your student loans can be a good idea if your goal is to get out of debt quickly while saving money on interest.

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College Students and Recent Grads, Pay Down My Debt

19 Options to Refinance Student Loans in 2017 – Get Your Lowest Rate

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The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

19 Options to Refinance Student Loans - Get Your Lowest Rate

Updated: April 4, 2017

Are you tired of paying a high interest rate on your student loan debt? You may be looking for ways to refinance your student loans at a lower interest rate, but don’t know where to turn. We have created the most complete list of lenders currently willing to refinance student loan debt.

You should always shop around for the best rate. Don’t worry about the impact on your credit score of applying to multiple lenders: so long as you complete all of your applications within 14 days, it will only count as one inquiry on your credit score. You can see the full list of lenders below, but we recommend you start here, and check rates from the top 4 national lenders offering the lowest interest rates. These 4 lenders also allow you to check your rate without impacting your score (using a soft credit pull), and offer the best rates of 2017:

LenderTransparency ScoreMax TermFixed APRVariable APRMax Loan Amount 
SoFiA+

20


Years

3.38% - 6.74%


Fixed Rate*

2.565% - 6.490%


Variable Rate*

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now
earnestA+

20


Years

3.75% - 6.74%


Fixed Rate

2.75% - 6.23%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now
commonbondA+

20


Years

3.37% - 6.74%


Fixed Rate

2.56% - 6.48%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now
lendkeyA+

20


Years

3.25% - 7.26%


Fixed Rate

2.43% - 5.85%


Variable Rate

$125k / $175k


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
apply-now

We have also created:

But before you refinance, read on to see if you are ready to refinance your student loans.

Can I Get Approved?

Loan approval rules vary by lender. However, all of the lenders will want:

  • Proof that you can afford your payments. That means you have a job with income that is sufficient to cover your student loans and all of your other expenses.
  • Proof that you are a responsible borrower, with a demonstrated record of on-time payments. For some lenders, that means that they use the traditional FICO, requiring a good score. For other lenders, they may just have some basic rules, like no missed payments, or a certain number of on-time payments required to prove that you are responsible.

If you are in financial difficulty and can’t afford your monthly payments, a refinance is not the solution. Instead, you should look at options to avoid a default on student loan debt.

This is particularly important if you have Federal loans.

Don’t refinance Federal loans unless you are very comfortable with your ability to repay. Think hard about the chances you won’t be able to make payments for a few months. Once you refinance, you may lose flexible Federal payment options that can help you if you genuinely can’t afford the payments you have today. Check the Federal loan repayment estimator to make sure you see all the Federal options you have right now.

If you can afford your monthly payment, but you have been a sloppy payer, then you will likely need to demonstrate responsibility before applying for a refinance.

But, if you can afford your current monthly payment and have been responsible with those payments, then a refinance could be possible and help you pay the debt off sooner.

Is it worth it? 

Like any form of debt, your goal with a student loan should be to pay as low an interest rate as possible. Other than a mortgage, you will likely never have a debt as large as your student loan.

If you are able to reduce the interest rate by re-financing, then you should consider the transaction. However, make sure you include the following in any decision:

Is there an origination fee?

Many lenders have no fee, which is great news. If there is an origination fee, you need to make sure that it is worth paying. If you plan on paying off your loan very quickly, then you may not want to pay a fee. But, if you are going to be paying your loan for a long time, a fee may be worth paying.

Is the interest rate fixed or variable?

Variable interest rates will almost always be lower than fixed interest rates. But there is a reason: you end up taking all of the interest rate risk. We are currently at all-time low interest rates. So, we know that interest rates will go up, we just don’t know when.

This is a judgment call. Just remember, when rates go up, so do your payments. And, in a higher rate environment, you will not be able to refinance to a better option (because all rates will be going up).

We typically recommend fixing the rate as much as possible, unless you know that you can pay off your debt during a short time period. If you think it will take you 20 years to pay off your loan, you don’t want to bet on the next 20 years of interest rates. But, if you think you will pay it off in five years, you may want to take the bet. Some providers with variable rates will cap them, which can help temper some of the risk.

Places to Consider a Refinance

If you go to other sites they may claim to compare several student loan offers in one step. Just beware that they might only show you deals that pay them a referral fee, so you could miss out on lenders ready to give you better terms. Below is what we believe is the most comprehensive list of current student loan refinancing lenders.

You should take the time to shop around. FICO says there is little to no impact on your credit score for rate shopping as many providers as you’d like in a single shopping period (which can be between 14-30 days, depending upon the version of FICO). So set aside a day and apply to as many as you feel comfortable with to get a sense of who is ready to give you the best terms.

Here are more details on the 5 lenders offering the lowest interest rates:

1. SoFi: Variable Rates from 2.565% and Fixed Rates from 3.375% (with AutoPay)*

sofiSoFi (read our full SoFi review) was one of the first lenders to start offering student loan refinancing products. More MagnifyMoney readers have chosen SoFi than any other lender. Although SoFi initially targeted a very select group of universities (it started with Stanford), now almost anyone can apply, including if you graduated from a trade school. The only requirement is that you graduated from a Title IV school. You need to have a degree, a good job and good income in order to  qualify. SoFi wants to be more than just a lender. If you lose your job, SoFi will  help you find a new one. If you need a mortgage for a first home, they are there  to help. And, surprisingly, they also want to get you a date. SoFi is famous for  hosting parties for customers across the country, and creating a dating app to  match borrowers with each other.

Go to site

2. Earnest: Variable Rates from 2.75% and Fixed Rates from 3.75% (with AutoPay) 

EarnestEarnest (read our full Earnest review) offers fixed interest rates starting at 3.75% and variable rates starting at 2.75%. Unlike any of the other lenders, you can switch between fixed and variable rates throughout the life of your loan. You can do that one time every six months until the loan is paid off. That means you can take advantage of the low variable interest rates now, and then lock in a higher fixed rate later. You can choose your own monthly payment, based upon what you can afford (to the penny). Earnest also offers bi-weekly payments and “skip a payment” if you run into difficulty.

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3. CommonBond: Variable Rates from 2.56% and Fixed Rates from 3.37% (with AutoPay)

CommonBondCommonBond (read our full CommonBond review) started out lending exclusively to graduate students. They initially targeted doctors with more than $100,000 of debt. Over time, CommonBond has expanded and now offers student loan refinancing options to graduates of almost any university (graduate and undergraduate). In addition (and we think this is pretty cool), CommonBond will fund the education of someone in need in an emerging market for every loan that closes. So not only will you save money, but someone in need will get access to an education.

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4. LendKey: Variable Rates from 2.43% and Fixed Rates from 3.25% (with AutoPay)

lendkeyLendKey (read our full LendKey review) works with community banks and credit unions across the country. Although you apply with LendKey, your loan will be with a community bank. If you like the idea of working with a credit union or community bank, LendKey could be a great option. Over the past year, LendKey has become increasingly competitive on pricing, and frequently has a better rate than some of the more famous marketplace lenders.

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In addition to the Top 4 (ranked by interest rate), there are many more lenders offering to refinance student loans. Below is a listing of all providers we have found so far. This list includes credit unions that may have limited membership. We will continue to update this list as we find more lenders. This list is ordered alphabetically:

  • Alliant Credit Union: Anyone can join this credit union. Interest rates start as low as 3.75% APR. You can borrow up to $100,000 for up to 25 years.
  • Citizens Bank: Variable interest rates range from 2.37% APR – 8.16% APR and fixed rates range from 4.74% – 8.24%. You can borrow for up to 20 years.
  • College Avenue: If you have a medical degree, you can borrow up to $250,000. Otherwise, you can borrow up to $150,000. Fixed rates range from 4.75% – 7.35% APR. Variable rates range from 2.63% – 5.88% APR.
  • Credit Union Student Choice: If you like credit unions and community banks, we recommend that you start with LendKey. However, if you can’t find a good loan from a LendKey partner, this tool could be helpful. Just check to see if you or an immediate family member belong to one of their featured credit union and you can apply to refinance your loan.
  • DRB Student Loan: DRB offers variable rates ranging from 3.89% – 6.54% APR and fixed rates from 4.50% – 7.45% APR.
  • Eastman Credit Union: Credit union membership is restricted (see eligibility here). Fixed rates start at 6.50% and go up to 8% APR.
  • Education Success Loans: This company has a unique pricing structure: your interest rate is fixed and then becomes variable thereafter. You can fix the rate at 4.99% APR for the first year, and it is then becomes variable. The longest you can fix the rate is 10 years at 7.99%, and it is then variable thereafter. Given this pricing, you would probably get a better deal elsewhere.
  • EdVest: This company is the non-profit student loan program of the state of New Hampshire which has become available more broadly. Rates are very competitive, ranging from 3.94% – 7.54% (fixed) and 2.56% – 6.16% APR (variable).
  • First Republic Eagle Gold. The interest rates are great, but this option is not for everyone. Fixed rates range from 2.25% – 4.10% APR. Variable rates range from 2.43% – 4.23%. You need to visit a branch and open a checking account (which has a $3,500 minimum balance to avoid fees). Branches are located in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Newport Beach, San Diego, Portland (Oregon), Boston, Palm Beach (Florida), Greenwich or New York City. Loans must be $60,000 – $300,000. First Republic wants to recruit their future high net worth clients with this product.
  • IHelp: This service will find a community bank. Unfortunately, these community banks don’t have the best interest rates. Fixed rates range from 4.75% to 9% APR (for loans up to 15 years). If you want to get a loan from a community bank or credit union, we recommend trying LendKey instead.
  • Navy Federal Credit Union: This credit union offers limited membership. For men and women who serve, the credit union can offer excellent rates and specialized underwriting. Variable interest rates start at 3.13% and fixed rates start at 4.00%.
  • Purefy: Only fixed interest rates are available, with rates ranging from 3.50% – 7.28% APR. You can borrow up to $150,000 for up to 15 years.
  • RISLA: Just like New Hampshire, the state of Rhode Island wants to help you save. You can get fixed rates starting as low as 3.49%. And you do not need to have lived or studied in Rhode Island to benefit.
  • UW Credit Union: This credit union has limited membership (you can find out who can join here, but you had better be in Wisconsin). You can borrow from $5,000 to $60,000 and rates start as low as 2.49% (variable) and 4.04% APR (fixed).
  • Wells Fargo: As a traditional lender, Wells Fargo will look at credit score and debt burden. They offer both fixed and variable loans, with variable rates starting at 3.99% and fixed rates starting at 6.24%. You would likely get much lower interest rates from some of the new Silicon Valley lenders or the credit unions.

You can also compare all of these loan options in one chart with our comparison tool. It lists the rates, loan amounts, and kinds of loans each lender is willing to refinance. You can also email us with any questions at info@magnifymoney.com.

 

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Student Loan ReFi

Why I Refinanced My Student Loans — Twice

Advertiser Disclosure

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

 

Refinancing your student loans can be a great way to accelerate debt repayment or free up some of your monthly budget. I recently refinanced my student loans for a second time, which was a strategic move to improve my overall financial health.

Here’s why I think this can be a smart idea, if you do it at the right time in the right way.

What Is Student Loan Refinancing?

If you’re new here and wondering what refinancing even is, allow me to explain. When you refinance your student loans, you essentially apply for a new loan so that a new lender will buy out your current student loans and give you a new loan with better terms.

“Better” terms depends on what your goal is. For many people, getting a better loan means getting a lower interest rate. If you want to save hundreds of thousands of dollars of interest over the life of your loan, refinancing is a great way to do that. You can structure your loan to pay it off faster at a lower interest rate. This might mean higher monthly payments than you’re used to but a much lower cost of your loan overall.

If you’re having trouble paying your student loans and your monthly payment is too high right now, you can also refinance your student loans to lower your monthly payment. So if you’re on a 10-year plan now, you could refinance to a 15- or 20-year plan to spread out your payments until you get on better financial footing.

Why I Refinanced Twice

About a year ago, I refinanced my federal student loans with SoFi because I wanted to get a better interest rate and pay off my loans faster. My student loans totaled $33,000 with an interest rate of 6.8% with 15 years left on the loan. My monthly payment was around $295 a month. I dropped over a half a percentage point in the interest rate to 6.25% and chose to pay off my loans in 7 years, which increased my monthly payment to about $485. Had I stayed with this loan, I would have saved almost $12,000 in interest fees over time.

I paid my monthly payments dutifully every month, but when my husband and I recently sat down to plan an aggressive debt payoff using the snowball method, we realized that I had been a bit too aggressive with my initial refinance.

Essentially, we wanted to throw as much money as possible at our high-interest debt. Our student loans were at manageable interest rates compared to our credit cards, and we wanted to restructure things a bit to free up more cash.

After receiving a refinance advertisement from College Ave in the mail, I decided to see if I could refinance my student loans and my husband’s graduate school loans with them. It had been only a year or so since my first refinance, but I was still interested. For the record, I tried twice previously to refinance my husband’s loans with SoFi, but they didn’t like his current salary as a medical resident, and they said I was not a qualified co-signer.

Well, luckily College Ave thought I was, so I was able to refinance both my student loans and my husband’s graduate school loans with College Ave. Our interest rates remained the same but I was able to customize a payoff plan that works well with our current debt snowball.

Basically, I chose a plan that allowed us to make graduated payments, so my payments for the next two years are significantly lower than they used to be. That gives me two years to knock out some of our credit card debt without worrying about having large student loan payments.

The Benefits of Student Loan Refinancing

In addition to getting longer or shorter payoff periods and better interest rates, there are other reasons why you might choose to refinance your student loans. For example, if you co-signed your student loans with your parents, sometimes student loan refinance companies will let you get a new loan entirely in your name, getting your parents off the hook.

Many people also refinance their student loans to be more organized. If you have several different student loans and bills with a mixture of interest rates, consolidating your student loans allows you to finally have one monthly bill with one interest rate in one place. This helps reduce the possibility of being late on your payments.

Things to Watch Out for Before You Refinance

While I’m obviously an advocate of refinancing, it’s important to know the downsides as well. The main downside is that if you refinance to a private company from having federal student loans, you lose a lot of the flexibility and perks of the federal student loan system.

Not all private lenders have as many repayment options as federal loans have, and most of them do not offer the perks that come with income-based repayment. For example, my husband’s medical school loans are under the income-based repayment plan called REPAYE, where the government is subsidizing his interest payments (several hundred dollars a month). This is not a perk I was willing to give up, but I was happy to refinance his private graduate school student loans to another private lender with better terms.

It’s Easier Than You Think

I know that switching student loan providers might sound like a complicated process, but with all the online financing companies available now, it’s easier than ever. The process to apply to refinance my student loans took less than 20 minutes both times.

Just make sure to have some identification documents on hand, like your driver’s license and Social Security card, to keep the process running smoothly. After my application was approved, it took about two weeks for my student loans to be completely moved over. Plus, since my new servicer paid off my own loans, that counted as a “payment,” which freed up even more cash this month.

Ultimately, student loan refinancing can be a strategic tool you can use when it comes to bettering your finances and getting out of debt faster. As long as you understand the process, ask to make sure you’re aware of any possible fees, and double-check that the process runs smoothly, you could be well on your way to financial freedom just by adjusting your interest rates and your payments on your student loans.

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College Students and Recent Grads, News

Watch Out for This 16% Student Loan Fee

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The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Watch Out for This 16% Student Loan Fee

The Trump administration has made it possible for debt collectors to once again charge hefty fees to some student loan borrowers who miss several payments in a row — even if those borrowers make an effort to get back on track right away.

These fees, which can be as high as 16%, are typically levied against the borrower’s entire outstanding loan balance and accrued interest charges. The so-called “collection charges” are meant to help recoup losses incurred by pursuing unpaid debts.

In a recent letter, the U.S. Department of Education rescinded an Obama-era rule that forbade guaranty agencies — debt collectors charged with recouping unpaid federal student loan debt — from charging defaulted borrowers collection fees if the borrowers began a repayment plan within 60 days of defaulting on their loans. In the new letter, the agency said the previous guidance should have included time for public comment and review before it was issued.

The reversal comes days after the Consumer Federation of America released an analysis of Department of Education data that shows the rate of student loans in default has grown 14% from 2015 to 2016.This certainly isn’t the first Obama-era rule or legislation the new administration has sought to undo, with an Obamacare replacement plan on its way to a vote in the House and plans to unravel regulations meant to crack down on for-profit colleges and universities.

A Department of Education spokesperson declined to comment.

Bad news for 4.2 million borrowers

The changes will impact borrowers who took out federal student loans under the old Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program. The FFEL Program was phased out in 2010 and replaced with the current Direct Loan Program, but millions of borrowers are still paying back FFEL loans issued prior to that change. Those who have loans under the Direct Loan Program will not be impacted by the changes.

As it stands, some 4.2 million FFEL borrowers are currently in default on loans that total $65.6 billion, according to Department of Education data. Loans are considered to be in default after 270 days of nonpayment.

The changes will raise the stakes for borrowers struggling to make payments on their federal student loans, and make it even more important for those borrowers to avoid missed payments.

Fortunately, federal student loan borrowers are eligible for several flexible repayment methods, as well as forbearance and deferment.

An Ongoing Debate

The debate over a servicer’s right to charge borrowers a default fee has gone on for several years.

In 2012, student loan borrower Bryana Bible sued United Student Aid Funds after she was charged more than $4,500 in fees after defaulting on her loans. She started a repayment agreement to resolve the debt within 18 days, but was still charged fees.

The Department of Education sided with Bible and said companies had to give borrowers 60 days after a loan default to start paying up before they are charged fees. The Obama administration backed the Department of Education and issued the letter when the court asked for guidance on the issue.

There is one clear winner with this rule change: debt collectors.

“Rescinding the [previous guidance on collection fees] benefits guarantee agencies at the expense of defaulted borrowers,” says financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz. He adds the change may increase the cost of collecting defaulted federal student loans, since borrowers will have less incentive to quickly rehabilitate their defaulted student loans.

What Happens If I Default on My Federal Student Loans?

Federal student loans are considered to be in default after a borrower misses payments for 270 days or more.

About 1.1 million federal student loans were in default status in 2016, according to Department of Education data.

The consequences of going to default are severe.

  • The entire balance of your loan + interest is immediately due
  • You lose eligibility for deferment, forbearance, and flexible repayment plans
  • Debt collectors will start calling
  • Your credit will suffer
  • And … your wages and/or tax refunds could be garnished

Are you missing federal student loan payments?

You’ve got options.

  • Contact your loan servicer ASAP
  • Find out if you’re eligible for a flexible repayment plan
  • Or ask about forbearance

Already in default?

  • Ask your loan service about loan rehabilitation
  • If you make 9 on-time payments over the course of 10 months, your default status will be lifted

You’ve only got one shot to rehabilitate your federal student loans after going into default. Don’t miss it.

 

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College Students and Recent Grads, Featured

60 Years Old and Still Paying Off Student Debt

Advertiser Disclosure

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

60 Years Old and Still Paying Off Student Debt

Like a growing number of student loan borrowers, 60-year-old Beatrice Hogg will be paying off her loans well into her 80s.

“I’ll probably die before I pay off the loan,” says Hogg, a social worker living in Sacramento, Calif. In total, she owes $46,000 in outstanding federal student loan debt. She borrowed the money in the early 2000s in order to finance her Master of Fine Arts degree in creative nonfiction, which she received in 2004 from Antioch University of Los Angeles.

With monthly payments of $251, Hogg says she doesn’t expect to pay off her loans until well into her 80s. That could easily change if she runs into the same bouts of unemployment that have dogged her over the last decade, leading her to defer her payments several times.

Hogg
Beatrice Hogg, 60, will be paying off her loans into her early 80s. Source: Beatrice Hogg

Hogg’s story is further proof that student debt has become a multi-generational issue. A recent report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found the share of Americans 60 years and older who carry federal student loan debt has quadrupled over the last 10 years — from 2.7% of all borrowers to 6.4%. In total, this group of borrowers carries roughly $66.7 billion — or 5.4% — of all outstanding federal student loan debt in the U.S.

According to the CFPB’s report, borrowers who carry student debt late into their lives have more trouble repaying them, reflecting other possible financial issues. Borrowers over the age of 60 were twice as likely to have missed at least one student loan payment compared to the same group in 2005, the CFPB found, and 2 in 5 of borrowers 65 and older have loans in default.

The CFPB reports older Americans burdened with student loan debt are also more likely to skip important health care purchases like prescription medication, doctors’ visits, and dental care because they can’t afford it. As an example, the report cites a separate, 2016 study that found 39% of older borrowers said they skipped those needs compared to 25% of those without a student loan in 2014.

As student loan borrowers have grown older, the number of borrowers who have their Social Security benefits garnished because of student loan payments increased from 8,700 to 40,000 from 2005 to 2015 according to the CFPB. The U.S. government can garnish up to 15% of a borrower’s Social Security benefits as long as the remaining balance is greater than $750 each month.

How did we get here?

Nearly two-thirds, or 73%, of student loan borrowers 60 and older said they took on student debt for a child’s or grandchild’s education. More than half (57%) of all those who co-signed student debt are 55 and older.

Adding to the burden of debt, says Betsy Mayotte, an expert in student loan repayment strategies at American Student Assistance, is the fact that families are now borrowing more than ever to pay for rising college costs. For example, between 2006 and 2016, in-state tuition and

fees at public four-year institutions outpaced inflation by about 3.5% per year according to the College Board. In 2016, the average in-state student at a public four-year institution paid $3,770 in tuition and fees compared to $2,220 in 2009.

“You can have families with a lower income level end up taking out six figures in student loan debt,” Mayotte says.

Another reason student loan borrowers are getting older is because they now have the option to extend their repayment terms if they are struggling to make payments. The Obama administration rolled out several of these income-driven repayment plans in the years after the Great Recession.

The lasting impact of senior student loan debt

It’s simple to understand how paying student loans leaves less to save for retirement.

“For every dollar that you pay toward your student loan payment, it’s a dollar that you’re not putting toward retirement,” says Mayotte.

Hogg now works as a county social worker and began making payments again in December 2015. She says she’s “been current ever since,” but she has yet to contribute to a retirement plan.

“I’m sure that if I didn’t have the [student] loans, I could have probably set myself up better for retirement,” says Hogg. “Hopefully I’ll be able to stay at my job until I’m vested in their retirement plan.”

Tips for struggling student loan borrowers

If you have federal student loans and are struggling with your payment each month, you may want to consider requesting an income-driven repayment plan through your loan servicer. The plans can reduce your payment to as little as $0. You can also request to defer your loans or place them in forbearance if you’re going through financial hardship. Just keep in mind that interest is still accruing.

“It could be tempting to try to get the lowest payment on your student loans,” says Mayotte. But remember, “you’re trying to win the war and not the battle. The longer you pay over the life of the loan, the more you pay in interest.”

Mayotte recommends creating a budget to figure out the most you can afford to pay toward your loans each month. The Department of Education has a calculator on its website that you can use to see your estimated payments under each repayment plan.

When you’re on a income-driven repayment plan, you should keep in touch with your loan holder, and don’t forget to apply for renewal each year.

Unfortunately, if you have private loans, there’s not much you can do to reduce your monthly payment outside of consolidating or refinancing your loans with a lender like SoFi, Earnest, or LendKey. Mayotte says she sees those with private loans and those who don’t complete their degree or program struggle most with repayment.

“The people that I haven’t been able to help almost exclusively have had private student loan debt,” says Mayotte. She says it’s because they don’t have the many repayment options federal student loans do and “life can happen.”

The final word

Despite her debt burden, Hogg says she’s happy as a social worker and says she doesn’t regret getting her master’s. She regrets that she used student loan debt to finance it.

“I regret that I had that big of a gap in my payments from being unemployed. I just wish there were more grants available for getting a higher degree,” says Hogg.

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College Students and Recent Grads, Reviews, Student Loan ReFi

LendKey Student Loan Refinance Review

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LendKey Student Loan Refinance Review

Updated April 13, 2017

Could you imagine trying to find the best student loan refinancing rate from community banks and credit unions on your own? How would you do it? Would you call every bank and credit union and ask for help? What a nightmare.

LendKey has relationships with 300+ community banks and credit unions all over the United States. LendKey* can issue loans to residents in any of the 50 states. This keeps you from having to pound the pavement by your lonesome. LendKey’s website will show you the best rate for refinancing your student loans.

Since 2007, LendKey has been a one stop shop for student loan refinancing. It also offers other types of loans. But for the sake of this review we’ll be focusing on how LendKey takes care of graduates looking to improve their debt situation. Fixed APRs range from 3.25% – 7.26%. Variable rates start as low as 2.43%. (All of these rates include the auto-pay discount). LendKey is one of the top four lenders in MagnifyMoney’s survey of where to refinance your student loan.

Who can benefit from using LendKey? Anyone hoping to refinance their student loans should consider LendKey. It is easy to apply:

Lendkey

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If you’re on the fence about refinancing, here are some of the benefits to be gained:

Lower Payments

Refinance your way to a more manageable monthly payment.

Lower Rates

Spend less on interest by getting a lower rate than the aggregate of all individual student loans.

Simplified Finances

Making payments on multiple loans to multiple institutions at different times of the month can be quite the hassle. It’s much easier to remember just one payment. Many lenders even let you consolidate both private and federal loans.

Different Repayment Options

Different lenders offer different repayment options. It’s wise to explore all the options to determine what makes the most sense for your particular situation.

Pros of Using LendKey

A Unified Application Process

This is hugely important. With LendKey, you’re not shuffled through tons of screens on different domains – all using different logons and different (confusing!) user interfaces. Within 5 minutes, a person can navigate through LendKey’s application process. This means after 5 minutes, you can see how much you can save by refinancing. You can even choose what loan you want.

Cosigner Release Available

Yes, you can secure a low interest rate and then cut loose your cosigner. Once you prove you are responsible – LendKey no longer needs a cosigner tied to your account. This may help convince a cosigner to work with you initially. They won’t need to be on the hook for long. Once you’ve made 12 full and consecutive on-time payments, your cosigner may be released. LendKey does a credit check and examines your income to see if you are free to go it alone.

No Origination Fee

This is helpful since it means you are free to shop around without feeling committed.

Further Interest Rate Reduction

1% interest rate reduction once 10% of the loan principal is repaid during the full repayment period. This is subject to the floor rate.

0.25% ACH Interest Rate Reduction

Many lenders reduce interest rates by a quarter percent for borrowers who agree to automatic payments.

Federal and Private Loans Can Be Consolidated Together

However, you lose some federal benefits in doing so. Things like free insurance (provided with federal loans if you are killed or severely disabled), public service forgiveness and military service forgiveness as well as income-based repayment plans. Grace periods will likely be omitted when writing the new consolidated loan.

Over 40,000 Borrowers Serviced

As of January 2016, 40,000 people have used LendKey’s services.

Excellent Customer Support

According to cuStudentLoans (which LendKey owns so take this with a grain of salt), 97% of customers are satisfied. Customer support comes out of New York and Ohio. Phone support is available each day from 9AM to 8PM EST.

For what it’s worth, I called into support 5 times at random. The support I received from the sales team was really great. Even the gentleman with only 6 months of experience was quite knowledgeable.

Eligible Schools

This list of eligible schools is 2,200 and growing. Chances are your school is on the list. However, LendKey doesn’t encourage students to submit eligibility requests as other student loan refinancers do.

Return Policy

Yes, you can ‘return’ your loan. LendKey offers a 30 day no-fee return policy to allow you to cancel the loan within 30 days of disbursement without fees or interest. That’s pretty incredible.

Cons

LendKey Doesn’t Give You the Complete Picture

LendKey doesn’t help a lot with stacking institutions against each other. I suppose this is meant to not to play favorites. However, it would be nice to be able to read about each institution within the LendKey interface. I’d still advise opening up another tab to research the banks you are considering.

The Fine Print You May Miss

Since LendKey is a loan matchmaker, there isn’t a lot of fine print on the site. This means a person still needs to review the fine print of each institution before finalizing his or her loan as mentioned before. LendKey does a fantastic job of getting you 90% of the way. But that last 10% of fine print is between you and your lending institution. Read through everything before signing up for a new loan.

I read the Better Business Bureau complaint log for LendKey. There are only 11 complaints in the past 3 years. SoFi (a competitor) has 18 and another competitor, Earnest, has no complaints. These complaints were mostly small misunderstandings between the LendKey support team and the borrowers.

The Application Process

There are four steps to the simple application process. Step 1 is for estimating monthly payments for a private student loan. It’s simple. You identify the amount you’d like to borrow and fill in a radio button indicating your credit is fair, good, or excellent. The last part is where you enter which state you live in. This is because many programs are state specific. Step 1 takes 1 minute.

Step 2 takes 2 minutes. This is the step where you compare the rates and offers available to you. Choose what works best for your unique situation.

Step 3 again only takes 1 minute. This is the actual application. As mentioned earlier in this article, this process is done through the LendKey interface. And don’t worry, information inputted into LendKey is safe (privacy policy).

Step 4 takes 10 minutes. This is the step where a person verifies identity, school, and income (screenshots/pictures work so there’s no hassle with scanning!). You will know if you are approved during this step.

As with any company, there are competitors. Here are two worthy rivals also worth considering:

Alternatives to LendKey

SoFi

SoFi stands out with a job placement programs, free wealth management for borrowers and even a dating app. More importantly, SoFi has low interest rates, with variable rates starting at 2.355% and fixed rates starting at 3.375%.

SoFi logo

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Earnest

If you have a low credit score but have potential to earn a good income, Earnest will treat you well. Earnest looks beyond a simple credit score. The application process examines employment history, future earning potential and overall financial situation.

Earnest seems to take a very personal approach to each customer. A customer states an amount they can pay each month and Earnest will give them a loan, accordingly. Earnest also lets borrowers skip a payment each year. This could come in handy if money gets tight around the holidays. Just keep in mind, this can increase your future payments to compensate for the missed on.

Fixed interest rates start at 3.75% and variable interest rates start at 2.55%.

However, Earnest isn’t available for all US residents.

Earnest

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Final Thoughts

LendKey runs a fantastic student loan refinancing division. The company offers many, many customizable options with very few downsides. With no application fee, it’s worth seeing what this student loan refinancing powerhouse can do for you.

Lendkey

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College Students and Recent Grads, Featured, News

How to Renew Your Income-Driven Repayment Plan

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Student Loan Borrowers: Here's How to Renew Your Income-Driven Repayment Plan

If you are on an income-driven repayment plan, it’s important to know that you must renew your plan each year in order to remain enrolled. And waiting on your student loan servicer to remind you of that fact isn’t the smartest idea

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently filed a lawsuit against Navient, the country’s largest loan servicer. Among many other claims, the CFPB alleged Navient failed to adequately inform borrowers of their need to renew their income-driven repayment plans.

The outcome of the CFPB’s lawsuit is still unknown. Navient has already taken steps to improve communication with borrowers around repayment plan renewal time. Even so, the news serves as a prime example of why you should learn the details of the income-driven repayment renewal process on your own.

How to Renew Your Income-Driven Repayment Plan

The DOE began offering income-driven repayment, or IDR, in 2009 to help ease the burden of student loans on borrowers struggling to repay federal student loans. If you can meet certain income or family criteria, you could pay as little at $0. Another important benefit is for the first three years after enrollment, many borrowers qualify to have the federal government pay part of the interest charges if they can’t make payments.

IMPORTANT: If you are on an income-driven repayment plan, you have to renew your plan each year.

This will require you to submit updated information about your annual income and family size to your servicer. The time to renew your plan is typically a month or two before the 12-month mark.

If you do not renew your income-driven plan, you’ll get kicked out of your IDR plan and your payment may increase since it will no longer be based on your income.

There are two ways you can renew your IBR plan:

  1. Visit the Federal Student Aid website at studentloans.gov: This is the fastest and generally the most convenient way to renew your plan.

Steps:

  1. When you get to the website, follow the “Apply for an Income-Driven Repayment Plan” link. You will follow the same link if you need to renew your IBR. The form will prompt you to select a reason for your request once you begin.

Select “Apply for an Income-Driven Repayment Plan” to get started:

Select “Apply for an Income-Driven Repayment Plan” to get started

Choose “submit recertification”:

Choose “submit recertification”

  1. The application will ask you for information such as your marital status, household size, employment, and income. Once you are on the “Income Information” section, you’ll have the option to retrieve and use your most recent income information from your taxes if you filed them with the IRS.

Choose the “annual recertification” option:

Choose the “annual recertification” option:

The application asks for your personal information:

The application asks for your personal information

  1. Follow up with your loan servicer. If you have loans with multiple servicers, you only need to submit the request once. They should all be notified when you renew online via the Federal Student Aid site. Below is an example of a completed submission with one servicer; your other servicers will be listed if you have multiple servicers.

Completed submission:

screen shot 12

  1. Use the Income-Driven Repayment Plan Request form

Use the Income-Driven Repayment Plan Request form

Steps:

  1. Download the official income-driven repayment plan renewal form here on the Federal Student Aid website or on your servicer’s website.
  2. Once you print and complete the form, you can submit it to your servicer’s website if they allow. Navient allows you to upload the completed form. You also have the option to mail or fax the paperwork to your loan servicer.
  3. Your servicer should notify you once your request has been processed.
  4. You should be able to monitor the status of your renewal on your student loan servicer account.
  5. If you mail or fax the paperwork to your servicer, you’ll need to mail one to each servicer individually as they will not be automatically notified of your request.

How to Enroll in an Income-Driven Repayment Plan

The first time you apply for an IDR plan, you can either do so through the government’s website at studentloans.gov or contact your student loan servicer to help you enroll. You’ll need to log in to the platform and follow directions to fill out the application. It should take about 10 minutes, although you may be asked to mail in supplemental documentation to your servicer for review.

You can use the studentloans.gov website repayment estimator to estimate how much your payments, interest, and total amount paid would be under each plan option.

Repayment estimator results from studentloans.gov

Repayment estimator results from studentloans.gov

Your servicer will notify you once your request has been processed.

Choosing an Alternative Income-Driven Repayment Plan

When you renew your IDR plan, you can check to see if you’d qualify for alternative payment options. You might find an alternative could work better for your budget.

In addition to the two standard repayment and graduated repayment plans, borrowers have five income-driven repayment plans to choose from. It’s important to note that under most IDR plans, you’ll pay more over time than you would under the standard plans.

Here’s a quick rundown of each:

1. Income-Based Repayment Plan

The traditional income-based repayment plan generally caps your payment at either 10% or 15% of your discretionary income. Your payments will never be more than what they would be on the standard 10-year plan. Payments are recalculated each year and are based on your updated income and family size.

After 25 years of payments, your loan balance is forgiven, although you’ll have to pay taxes on the forgiven amount when you file your taxes for the year.

2. Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Plan

Pay As You Earn increases your monthly payment as your annual earnings increase, but generally sets your monthly payments at about 10% of your discretionary income. Only those who took out their first federal loan on or after October 1, 2010, or who received a direct loan disbursement on or after October 1, 2011, can qualify for the PAYE plan. Applicants must also have a partial financial hardship (disproportionately high debt compared to current income). Your payment is recalculated annually based on your updated income and family size. The loan’s outstanding balance is forgiven after 20 years.

3. Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) Plan

The Revised Pay As You Earn Plan expanded the PAYE plan to about 5 million more borrowers. You may qualify for REPAYE regardless of when you took out your first federal student loan. It doesn’t require you to have a partial financial hardship. REPAYE generally sets payments at about 10% of your discretionary income and doesn’t cap income. Spousal income is considered in calculating payments no matter how you file your taxes. Under this plan, undergraduate loans are forgiven after 20 years, while graduate loans are forgiven after 25 years.

4. Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) Plan

This plan caps your monthly payment at either 20% of your discretionary income or the amount you would pay on a two-year fixed payment plan, adjusted for your income. The payments are recalculated each year and based on updated income, family size, and the amount you owe. After 25 years of payments, your balance will be forgiven.

5. Income-Sensitive Repayment Plan

The income-sensitive repayment plan serves as an alternative to the ICR plan for those who received loans via the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP). It makes it easier for low-income borrowers to make their monthly payments. Under the ISR plan, you can make monthly payments based on your annual income for up to 10 years. The payments are set at 4% to 25% of gross monthly income, and the payment must be larger than the interest that accrues.

Currently, Federal Direct loans and Direct PLUS loans qualify for both IBR plans, but private loans and Parent PLUS loans do not qualify. Read more about your repayment options here.

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Featured, News

3 Lies Your Student Loan Company Might Tell You

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3 Lies Your Student Loan Company Might Tell You

Student loan servicer Navient found itself in hot water with a consumer watchdog on Wednesday, when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced a long-anticipated lawsuit against the company. Navient, formerly known as Sallie Mae, is the nation’s largest servicer of both federal and private student loan debt. For years, the CFPB alleges, Navient loan servicers steered borrowers who were struggling to repay their loan debt in the wrong direction, “providing bad information, processing payments incorrectly, and failing to act when borrowers complained.

One of Navient’s biggest transgressions, the CFPB alleges, is that Navient representatives encouraged borrowers to put their loans in forbearance even when it wasn’t the best option. By doing so, Navient potentially added $4 billion to its own coffers in the form of additional interest charges.

The lawsuit is a major wake-up call for the student loan servicing industry as a whole. It should also trouble the millions of student loan borrowers who may rely on their student loan servicer for advice when they are deciding how to repay their debts. With vast numbers of customers to support and an increasingly complicated menu of federal repayment plan options to sort through, student loan servicers may not be the best sources of guidance.

Here are three lies student loan servicers may tell you:

1. “Can’t pay? You’re better off putting your loans in forbearance.”

When you can’t scrounge up the money to cover your student loan bill, forbearance can sound like a dream option. Forbearance allows borrowers to pause student loan payments for up to 12 months at a time. Your loan servicer may encourage you to put your loans into forbearance because it is a much easier process on their end. But here’s what they may not tell you: Interest will continue to accrue on your loans. So while you enjoy the break from those student loan bills, your loan balance will balloon more and more every day. Over time, you could bring your loans out of forbearance only to find out you now have even higher monthly payments because your balance has increased.

If you know you will be unable to make your federal student loan payments for an extended period of time, a better option may be to enroll in an income-driven repayment plan. IDR plans can reduce your payments to an affordable amount based on your annual income (sometimes as low as $0/month). Interest will still accrue if you enroll in an IDR plan; however, the government may cover your unpaid interest charges if your monthly payment is not enough to cover them. That benefit lasts for up to three consecutive years from the date you enroll in the IDR plan. And it does not apply to borrowers whose loans are forbearance.

Another perk of IDR plans is that your remaining debt is generally forgiven after your plan period is over – from 20 to 25 years, depending on which plan you are enrolled in (see chart below).

screen shot 1
Source: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/

It is especially important for people who work in nonprofit or government jobs to understand their income-driven repayment plan options. After making 120 consecutive federal student loan payments (10 years) while working in the public or nonprofit sector, you may be eligible for public student loan forgiveness. But if you are in forbearance, you are not making any payments at all, which means you do not get credit toward your 120 payments goal. If you are in an income-driven repayment plan, however, those payments will count toward your public student loan forgiveness required payments.

2. “Once you enroll in an income-driven repayment plan, you’re set for life.”

Contrary to what your student loan company may tell you, it is absolutely vital to re-apply for income-driven repayment plans each year. That is because the plans are based on your annual household income. If your income changes during the year, you need to update your income on your income-driven plan in order to calculate the proper monthly payment.
If you do not renew your IDR plan, you could wind up with higher student loan payments you cannot afford and you may risk falling into delinquency again. What’s more, you have to be enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan in order to qualify for federal student loan forgiveness. If you let your enrollment lapse, you could derail your eligibility for future loan forgiveness.

Unfortunately, millions of student loan borrowers fail to renew their income-driven repayment plans each year. The CFPB is working to crack down on student loan companies that do not properly inform borrowers about the deadline to renew, but it’s also up to borrowers to stay on top of their enrollment status. In order to renew your plan, contact your student loan company directly and ask them to re-enroll you. Alternatively, you can download the application and fill it out yourself here: Income-Driven Repayment Plan Request.

Before you enroll in an income-driven repayment plan, know the cons as well as the pros. You may reduce your monthly payment but pay more in interest over the long term. Also, if your loans are ultimately forgiven, you may owe federal tax on that forgiven amount. Use this student loan repayment calculator to find out if IDR is the right plan for you.

3. “We’re happy to allocate your payment to whichever loan you want.”

Student loan borrowers often have multiple loans to manage. Let’s say you’ve got five student loans. One month, you realize you have an extra $200 to put toward those loans. Theoretically, you should be able to ask your loan company to take that extra $200 and apply it to the loan with the highest interest rate. It is generally considered wise to allocate extra payments toward whichever loan has the highest interest rate. This way, you are working to reduce the loan that is accruing the most interest each month and avoiding spending more on interest than you have to.

In the case of Navient, the CFPB alleged that the company’s representatives repeatedly misallocated borrowers’ payments. In order to fix the issue, the borrowers themselves had to keep a close eye on their monthly payments and alert the company.

It’s important to review your loan statements carefully each month to be sure your payments are allocated the way you desire. Some student loan servicing websites make it fairly simple to allocate your payments manually, without having to rely on the help of one of their loan specialists. Even so, play it safe and double-check your loan statements to be sure your payments are being applied according to your wishes.

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College Students and Recent Grads, Featured

The Pros and Cons of Subsidized Student Loans

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student loans college

After you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and apply to colleges, you’ll start getting financial aid award letters from each school that explain the types of aid you’re eligible to receive.

One of the offers you may get is the opportunity to take out subsidized student loans. These loans can be incredibly helpful in the right circumstances, but before making any decision it’s important to understand what they are, how they work, and how they compare to your other options.

What Are Subsidized Student Loans?

Subsidized student loans are federal loans offered to undergraduate students who have demonstrated financial need, meaning that the cost of the school they are applying to exceeds their expected family contribution.

The big benefit of subsidized student loans is that the government pays the interest on the loan while you are in school, for the first six months after you graduate, and during any periods of deferment.

With other student loans, including unsubsidized federal student loans, the interest accumulates while you are in school (assuming you aren’t making payments), which increases the loan balance that you eventually have to pay back.

All of which simply means that subsidized student loans are less expensive and easier to pay back than most other types of student loans.

Who Is Eligible for Subsidized Student Loans?

One of the downsides of subsidized student loans is that not everyone will qualify for them. Generally, you have to meet the following criteria in order to be eligible:

  • You must be enrolled at least half-time in an undergraduate program participating in the Direct Loan Program that leads to a degree or certificate. Graduate students are not eligible for subsidized student loans.
  • You must demonstrate the need for financial help in paying for school. This is done by completing the FAFSA and comparing your expected family contribution to the cost of attending school. You might qualify for subsidized student loans at one school and not at another if the cost of attendance is different.

If you are eligible, the school will determine the amount that you qualify for and will let you know how much you’re eligible to borrow as part of your financial aid package.

The Benefits of Subsidized Student Loans

If you’re going to borrow money for school, it generally makes sense to take advantage of any subsidized student loans you’re offered before borrowing elsewhere.

The biggest reason is that you’ll save money by not having interest accrue while you’re in school and for the first six months after you graduate. Depending on interest rates and the amount you borrow, you could save anywhere from a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars over other types of loans.

Subsidized student loans also offer protection in case you run into financial trouble. They are eligible for income-driven repayment plans where your monthly payment is limited based on your income, and you may even be eligible for forgiveness. Also, the interest is subsidized during periods of deferment, meaning that you won’t be penalized for periods of financial hardship.

Finally, interest rates on subsidized federal loans are currently low and are fixed for the life of the loan, making them a relatively cheap borrowing option.

The Drawbacks of Subsidized Student Loans

Of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and subsidized student loans come with some drawbacks as well.

The biggest is simply that no matter how many attractive features they offer, you’re still taking on debt. And while it’s certainly possible that the benefits of the education you receive will outweigh the costs, taking on debt is always a decision that should be made carefully.

The second is that you’re limited in the amount that you can borrow. Currently, most students are limited to taking out $3,500 in subsidized student loans in their first year of school, $4,500 in their second year, and $5,500 in their third and fourth years. This isn’t a reason to avoid subsidized student loans, but it does limit their usefulness.

Finally, only students who demonstrate financial need will qualify for subsidized student loans. Depending on the results of your FAFSA and the cost of the school you’re applying to, you may not be eligible.

Should You Take Out Subsidized Student Loans?

The decision to take on debt is a big one, and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. The right move for you will depend on the specifics of your situation, your goals, and the options available to you.

With that said, here’s how you should think about it:

  1. Do your best to pay for school without debt. This could mean a combination of using savings, paying from cash flow, taking advantage of scholarships and grants, and attending a lower-cost college.
  2. Before taking on any debt, evaluate what the potential benefits of going to a higher-cost school might be. Will it lead to a more enjoyable career? Will it lead to increased income? If so, how much more can you expect to earn? Try to imagine a best-case scenario, worst-case scenario, and middle-of-the-road scenario to get a sense of all possible outcomes.
  3. Compare those potential benefits to the cost of taking on debt. How likely is it that the benefits will outweigh the costs?
  4. If you decide that student loans are the right choice, subsidized student loans are a good option. The cost savings and protections against future financial hardship are hard to beat.

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College Students and Recent Grads, Featured

Don’t Miss This Deadline to Renew Your Income-Driven Student Loan Repayment Plan

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Don't Miss This Deadline to Renew Your Income-Driven Student Loan Repayment Plan

Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) Plans can be a lifeline for borrowers who are struggling to make their student loan payments on their current income. IDR plans take into account your household size and income and can reduce your monthly payments to as little as $0.

In order to enroll in an IDR plan, you must call your lender and apply. What many borrowers don’t realize, however, is that enrolling in IDR is not a one-time task. Borrowers must renew their enrollment each year by submitting a new IDR request form.

This annual update, in which you report any differences in income and household size over the last 12 months, is called a renewal or recertification. The new information is used by loan servicers to recalculate your monthly loan payment for the upcoming year.

The consequence of not renewing your IDR Plan before the annual deadline is severe. Your payments will no longer be based on your income. As a result, your loan payment can increase substantially.

Here’s how to renew each year to keep your payments manageable:

Step 1: Make sure you qualify for an Income-Based Repayment Plan

There are four Income-Driven Repayment Plans available, including:

  • The Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) and Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Plans – Payments are generally 10% of your discretionary income
  • The Income-Based Repayment (IBR) Plan – Payments are generally 10% to 15% of your discretionary income depending on whether you’re a newer or older borrower
  • The Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) Plan – Payments are the lesser of either 20% of your discretionary income, or what you would pay on a repayment plan with a fixed monthly payment over 12 years

If you’re interested in an IDR Plan, the first step is seeing if your student loans are eligible. You can find out what student loans qualify for each IDR Plan here.

Step 2: Ask for your renewal deadline

Your loan servicer may or may not notify you before the renewal deadline. So, be sure to call your loan servicer if you’re unsure when you need to update your family size and income.

When you get the date, put a reminder on your calendar to begin investigating the renewal process a few months before the deadline. Getting a head start on renewing the plan will give you time to reach out to your loan servicer if you have any questions or need help filling out the paperwork.

Step 3: Gather renewal documentation

Renewing your IDR Plan is similar to the initial application. You need to report the size of your family and the taxable income you’re bringing in. Examples of taxable income include:

  • Employment income
  • Unemployment income
  • Tips
  • Alimony

Examples of income that isn’t taxable and that won’t be considered when calculating your IDR payment include:

  • Supplemental Social Security income
  • Child support income
  • Federal or state public assistance

You can submit a tax return to report earnings if your income hasn’t significantly changed since you last filed taxes. If your income has changed significantly since your last tax filing, you need to submit other documents such as pay stubs or a letter from your employer to show what you’re currently earning.

For other sources of income, you can submit a separate statement.

Step 4: Renew online or with the paper form

There are two ways you can go about renewing your IDR Plan. You can go online through the StudentLoans.gov website or you can get the Income-Driven Payment (IDR) Plan Request form from your loan servicer to send in.

Renewing online

To renew online, go to the Income-Driven Payment page of StudentLoans.gov here. This page will look familiar. It’s the same webpage you go to when initially signing up for an IDR Plan. Returning users click on “Submit Re-certification.”

Using the online form can make your life easier in two ways. You can grab your IRS tax forms electronically for submission through the StudentLoans.gov online dashboard. And if you have multiple loan servicers, StudentLoans.gov will notify each one of the updates you submit.

Sending in the IDR request form

The other option for renewal is completing the paper Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) Plan Request form and mailing it or faxing it to your loan servicers. Some loan servicers like Navient allow you to upload paper documents to your online account as well.

The drawback of using the paper form instead of the StudentLoans.gov website is that you need to submit the request to all loan servicers separately.

Step 5: Follow up

After turning in your IDR request, you’re not in the clear until your renewal has been processed. You may not hear back right away if additional documentation is needed to process your renewal. So, follow up to make sure your request doesn’t get held up beyond the deadline because of missing information. Even if online it shows the status of your request as received, you should call to confirm you’re all set for the next year.

What should you do if you miss the renewal deadline?

As previously mentioned, your monthly payment will no longer be based on your income and family size if you miss your annual IDR renewal deadline. If you receive a student loan bill that’s much higher than you expect and realize your IDR renewal request didn’t go through, take a deep breath.

If you followed the submission instructions and confirmed the processing of your IDR renewal beforehand, call your loan servicer to see if there is a system error. Some borrowers on IDR Plans have reported errors in the renewal process that caused their payment to increase by mistake.

On the other hand, if you forgot to send in your IDR request altogether, ask what options are available. You can recertify after the deadline if you’re under the PAYE Plan, the IBR Plan, or the ICR Plan.

If you’re under the REPAYE Plan, you’ll be booted off to an alternative plan that’s not based on your income, but you are able to apply for another IDR Plan if you qualify.

The problem with renewing late (or applying for another plan if you were on the REPAYE Plan) is you may get stuck with an increased payment for a month or two until you get approved for reduced payments again.

Forbearance may be a short-term solution if you cannot afford the higher payment. Forbearance postpones your payments and can hold you over until the IDR Plan begins. The drawback of forbearance is that during this period interest on your loan may be capitalized. This means interest may accrue and increase your loan balance.

Speak with your loan servicer about the implications of forbearance and what alternatives there could be if you cannot afford your loan payment without the IDR Plan you had.

Final word

For borrowers taking advantage of an Income-Driven Repayment Plan, the recertification deadline is one of the most important dates of the entire year. Set multiple calendar and mobile reminders if that’s what it’ll take for you to remember it.

Also, be sure to review the information you need to provide for renewal a few months beforehand if it’s your first time around. Finally, don’t be afraid to call your loan servicer before the renewal deadline to double- and triple-check that the information you submit is sufficient for recertification.

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