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College Students and Recent Grads

Step-by-Step Guide to Applying for Private Student Loans

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Once you’ve maxed out your eligibility for federal financial aid, you might turn to private student loans to cover the costs of college. But you’ll soon discover that applying for private student loans is a different process than applying for federal ones.

To access private loans, you’ll need to seek out a bank, credit union or another financial institution. Along with all the required paperwork, you might also need a cosigner to sign on to your application. Learning how to apply for private student loans before you act will help ensure there are no delays along the way.

Applying for private student loans in 7 steps

1. Determine how much money you need to borrow

Your first step to getting a private student loan involves figuring out how much money you need to borrow. Private loans can be used for any eligible educational expenses, including tuition, fees, textbooks, room and board and other living expenses.

Take a look at your school’s estimated cost of attendance, which you can typically find on its financial aid website or your financial aid letter. Take the amount listed and subtract any other aid you’ve already received, like federal student loans, grants or scholarships.

If you haven’t received aid yet, the FAFSA4Caster tool can help you estimate your award. After submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you’ll also see your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), or the amount your family is expected to pay out of pocket.

If you still have a gap in funding after aid has been applied, you might fill it with a private student loan. But be careful about borrowing too much — you don’t want to be stuck with a burdensome amount of debt after you graduate.

What’s more, you probably can’t borrow much beyond your school’s cost of attendance anyway, since your school will likely have to certify any amount you request from a private lender. Estimating your costs will give you a good sense of how much you’re eligible to take from a bank.

From there, you can look for ways to lower the amount you need to borrow in student loans, whether that involves applying for more scholarships or working a part-time job during college.

2. Research private lenders

Once you have a sense of how much you want to borrow in private student loans, it’s time to research your options. You have lots of choices when it comes to borrowing a private student loan.

To save you some time, we’ve vetted private student loan lenders to help you find some of the best ones. Here are a few of our top recommendations for lenders with excellent rates and terms.

Since each lender is different, it’s useful to compare your options to find one that’s best for you. Along with finding the lowest interest rate, you might also look for other perks, such as flexible repayment options or a reputation for good customer service.

3. Compare private student loan offers

Another advantage to several of the lenders mentioned above is their offer of an instant rate quote. After heading to their website, you can check the rates available to you with just a few pieces of basic information, such as your name, school, and the amount you wish to borrow.

At this point, you can immediately see some pre-qualification offers, along with the rates you might get if you apply. This instant rate quote makes it easy to compare offers from multiple lenders so you can find one with the best terms.

Plus, it won’t impact your credit at all, since it’s just a soft credit check. Remember, however, these are only pre-qualification offers — you’ll need to submit a full offer and consent to a hard credit check to see your final loan offer.

But these pre-qualification quotes do give you a good sense of what you could be eligible for, as well as help you narrow down your options for lenders. Note that not every lender offers an instant rate quote, and you probably shouldn’t neglect the ones that don’t.

If you belong to a bank or credit union, for instance, it could be worth speaking with them about a loan to see if you can get an even better deal. Still, taking advantage of instant rate quote or loan comparison marketplaces such as LendKey will help you get an initial sense of what’s available.

4. Find a cosigner if necessary

Unlike the federal government, private lenders have underwriting requirements for credit and income. You’ll need strong credit and a steady income to qualify for a loan, as this reassures the lender you’ll be able to pay back your debt.

Most undergraduates can’t qualify on their own, so they apply with a cosigner, such as a parent. However, know that your cosigner becomes just as responsible for the debt as you are — their credit is on the line in the event you can’t pay, so have a conversation with your cosigner before applying for private student loans to ensure you’re both on the same page about who’s paying back the debt.

Cosigning debt isn’t a decision that should be made lightly. It’s important to clarify expectations so no one’s finances (or relationships) get hurt.

5. Gather the required paperwork

Once you’ve done the preliminary research, the time has come to collect all the necessary documentation. If you’ve submitted the FAFSA, you might already have some of this information on hand.

Although requirements can vary, most private lenders ask for the following:

  • Social Security numbers for you and your cosigner (if any)
  • Personal data, such as your date of birth, home address and phone number
  • Annual income, with pay stubs or W-2s as supporting documentation
  • Employment information
  • A copy of the previous year’s tax returns
  • Monthly rent or mortgage payments
  • A list of assets and their values
  • Contact information for a personal reference
  • The Private Education Loan Applicant Self-Certification form, which you can obtain from you school’s financial aid office or the Department of Education

Each lender sets its own requirements, but the majority will want most of the documents on this list. Gathering them in advance will help your application go smoothly.

6. Submit your application for a private student loan

Once you’ve done your research, chosen a lender and gathered your information, the time has come to submit your private student loan application. Most lenders make it easy to apply for a private student loan online.

This process shouldn’t take long, especially once you have all the relevant documents at the ready. You’ll usually start by filling out your personal information, as well as the details for any cosigner. You’ll have to indicate where you’ll be attending school, as well as the loan amount you’re requesting, and likely upload verifying documents, such as pay stubs or tax returns.

Your final step will be acknowledging the lender’s terms and conditions before hitting submit. At this point, most lenders will reach out to your school to certify the amount you requested.

Assuming all goes well, the lender will likely send the funds to your financial aid office. After applying it to your tuition bill, your financial aid office will return any remaining funds to you.

You can use this money on living expenses, or you can return it to the bank so you don’t have to pay interest on it. In fact, you can always prepay your student loan ahead of schedule without penalty.

Note that some lenders will send the funds directly to you, rather than to your financial aid office. In this case, it’s your responsibility to get the loan money and pay your tuition bill.

While you can borrow a private student loan at any time throughout the school year, don’t leave your application until the last minute. The process can take some time, so you want to ensure the money arrives in time to pay your tuition bill before the deadline.

7. Read over the terms of your contract before signing

Once your application has been submitted and approved, make sure to read over your student loan contract before you sign it. Check to see exactly how much you’re borrowing, along with your repayment term, interest rate and monthly payment.

Find out if you need to make any payments while you’re still in school, or if you have a grace period that extends for a few months after you graduate. Use our student loan calculator so you have a clear understanding of the long-term costs of your loan.

Finally, find out if your lender offers any alternative repayment options in the event you lose your job or return to school in the future. For instance, some lenders will postpone payments temporarily if you run into financial hardship or go to graduate school.

Learn about your options beforehand so you don’t make any false assumptions about your private student loan options.

Applying for private student loans doesn’t have to be arduous

Applying for a private student loan might feel daunting when you’re heading to college the first time, but the process will seem easier after you’ve gone through it once. Learn how to get private student loans well before the school year starts, so you won’t be left scrambling when tuition is due.

And make sure you shop around with multiple lenders before choosing one to finance your education. By putting in your due diligence now, you can find a private student loan with the best rate and lowest costs of borrowing.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Rebecca Safier
Rebecca Safier |

Rebecca Safier is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Rebecca here

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College Students and Recent Grads

Taking Out Private Loans for School: How to Do It (And Is It Worth It?)

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Should I take out a private student loan?

If you’re headed to college or graduate school, you might be asking yourself this important question. While most students should max out their eligibility for federal student loans before turning to private ones, private student loans can be a useful tool for covering additional costs.

But private student loans have some key differences from federal ones, and it’s crucial to understand all their pros and cons before borrowing. Here are the benefits and disadvantages of taking out private loans for school, along with some scenarios when borrowing private student loans makes sense.

Taking out private loans for  school: pros and cons

Pro: You can (usually) borrow up to your school’s cost of attendance

While federal student loans come with some of the lowest interest rates and most flexible repayment plans, they also have built-in borrowing limits. You might reach that limit and still need more money to cover tuition, fees or other costs of college.

But most private lenders let you borrow up to the full cost of attendance of your school, so you don’t have to worry about running out of funds. Sallie Mae and College Ave Student Loans, for instance, let you take out as much as you need to cover your school-certified cost of attendance.

When taking out private loans for school, you typically don’t have to worry about falling short of funds.

Con: You (or a cosigner) need to meet requirements

Although you can usually borrow as much as you need in private student loans, you’ll have to meet credit and income requirements first. Private lenders want to ensure you can pay back your loan in full and on time.

Of course, many college students don’t have much credit or income to speak of yet. If that describes you, you may need to apply with a creditworthy cosigner, such as a parent. According to data firm MeasureOne, more than 92% of undergraduate private student loan borrowers applied with a cosigner in the 2018-2019 academic year.

Unfortunately, if you can’t meet underwriting requirements and don’t have anyone to cosign debt with you, you’ll probably have a hard time qualifying for a private student loan.

Pro: You could snag competitive interest rates

The interest rates on federal student loans are set by Congress, but private student loans are a different story. Each lender decides its own rates and assigns them based on your credit and income.

If you’re an especially strong candidate, you could get low rates on a student loan, perhaps even lower than the 5.05% rates currently on federal direct loans for undergraduates. As of May 6, 2019, for instance, Citizens Bank was offering variable rates starting at 4.45% and fixed rates starting at 5.25%.

A low interest rate will make your student loan more affordable, perhaps even allowing you to pay it off ahead of schedule.

Con: You might get stuck with high interest rates

On the flip side, you might end up with a high interest rate on your private student loan. Some of the lenders mentioned earlier have both fixed and variable rates that range well above what federal loans offer.

A high interest rate can add enormous costs on top of your principal amount, especially if you’re spreading repayment out over 10 or more years. (Check out our student loan calculators to get an idea of how much.) Plus, variable rates have the potential to increase over time, leaving you with an even more expensive loan than when you started.

If you do find yourself in this situation, you might look into refinancing your student loans. Through refinancing, you could switch to a fixed rate and potentially lower your rate, too.

Pro: You might find a lender with strong customer service

In recent years, some federal student loan servicers, such as Navient, have come under fire for a variety of borrower complaints. But some private lenders have a reputation for better customer service for borrowers.

And while private lenders aren’t always so flexible when it comes to changing your repayment plan, some do offer perks like deferment. If strong support and extra perks are important to you, research customer reviews before choosing a lender.

Con: You won’t have as many repayment options

Even if a private lender has a reputation for transparent and helpful customer service, it might not be very flexible when it comes to repayment options. While federal student loans have a variety of repayment plans, including income-driven plans and graduated repayment, private loans tend to be more straightforward.

You agree to a repayment plan when you take out the loan, typically one with monthly payments over 10 years, and you are expected to stick to that contract. Most private student loans don’t offer income-driven repayment or other flexible plans that can help if you’re struggling to pay your loans.

As mentioned, a few do let you postpone payments through forbearance or deferment if you run into financial hardship or lose your job. But apart from these benefits, you probably won’t have much luck when it comes to changing your repayment plan, unless you refinance for new terms.

Before borrowing private student loans, come up with a plan for repaying them on time. Missing payments on private student loans could quickly lead to default, which could damage your credit score and even land you in court.

Pro: Your private loans could qualify for repayment assistance

Depending on your job and where you work, you could qualify for repayment assistance on your private student loans. Most states, along with some private organizations and universities, offer loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs) to eligible professionals.

Most of these programs require that you work for a given number of years in a high-need area. Some jobs that often have LRAPs available include doctor, nurse, pharmacist, dentist, veterinarian, lawyer and teacher.

If you meet the requirements, you could earn thousands in repayment assistance to put toward your private or federal student loans. Outside of these programs, some employers also offer a student loan matching benefit to help you pay off your student debt faster.

Con: Your private student loans aren’t eligible for federal programs

While you might be able to use an LRAP award or student loan benefit toward private student loans, you won’t be able to qualify for federal forgiveness programs, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness or the loan discharge that comes at the end of an income-driven repayment plan.

These federal programs are reserved for federal student loans, so your private student loan debt won’t qualify.

Pro: Your loan payments might be tax-deductible

Your private student loans might be a hefty bill from month to month, but they could save you money during tax season. The IRS currently allows you to deduct up to $2,500 in any student loan interest you paid over the year, whether that interest was on federal or private student loans.

Although you might have a big student loan balance, this tax break at least offers some relief.

Con: You’ll have to reapply for funds on a yearly basis

Even if you need private student loans for all four years of college, you can’t borrow the full amount all at once. Private lenders need to determine your eligibility each year, as well as double-check your school-certified cost of attendance.

As a result, you’ll need to apply for private student loans each year. This requirement could get tricky if your or your cosigner’s financial situation changes and you can no longer meet underwriting requirements for credit and income.

If you do find yourself in this situation, speak with your financial aid office about your options, which could include a grant or emergency loan from your school.

4 times taking out private student loans for school makes sense

As you can see, the question of “Should I take out a private student loan?” doesn’t have a single answer that applies to everyone. Private loans come with advantages and disadvantages, and the decision to borrow one depends on your individual situation.

If any of these scenarios apply to you, though, taking out private loans for school could be the right decision.

1. You’ve maxed out the federal student loan limits

Before exploring private student loans, it’s wise to max out your eligibility for federal student loans, especially if you’re an undergraduate. But if you’ve hit your borrowing limit and still need more funding, private student loans could be the right solution. Just be careful not to borrow more than you need.

2. You have excellent credit (or have a cosigner who does)

Strong credit means good rates on a private student loan, which lowers the cost of borrowing. If you have great credit or can apply with a cosigner who does, you might be a competitive candidate for a private student loan. In this case, you can feel confident about taking out private loans for school that won’t break the bank.

3. You’re heading to graduate school

If you’re heading to graduate school, you have three main options for student loans: federal unsubsidized loans, federal grad PLUS loans and private student loans. Unsubsidized loans are probably your best option, but only students with financial need can qualify.

Grad PLUS loans are also useful, but they come with relatively high costs — for the 2018-19 school year, they carried interest rates of 7.6%, plus a loan fee of 4.248%. If you can get a better deal on a private student loan, doing so might be the way to go. Just make sure you’re comfortable sacrificing federal repayment plans and protections.

4. You’re confident about your career prospects

As you read above, private student loans don’t have much of a safety net if you can’t repay your debt. So come up with a plan for repayment before you borrow, and consider your post-graduation career path. If you have a clear idea of your plans, you can feel more confident that you’ll have the means to pay back your loan once your grace period ends and repayment kicks in.

Should I take out a private student loan? Weigh the pros and cons

Taking on debt is not a decision that should be made lightly, especially if you’re going to be paying it back for years after you graduate. Private student loans can be a useful tool for covering the costs of college, but you want to make sure they don’t become a shackle around your ankles.

Carefully consider how much you need to pay for school, and come up with a plan for paying it back. Make sure you understand how interest will accrue on your debt, as well as what you’ll be expected to pay on a month-to-month basis.

And before turning to private lenders, think about whether you’re comfortable with the risks of private student loans, which include:

  • Less flexible repayment plans. If you run into financial hardship, your lender might not be very flexible. If this is a concern, make sure to research the policies of various lenders before choosing one.
  • Increasing interest rates. Before choosing a variable rate, consider how long you plan to be in repayment. If repayment will stretch over 10 years or more, you could end up with a much higher interest rate than when you started. Unless you plan to refinance, choosing a variable rate might not be worth the risk.
  • Dangers of default. While federal student loans give you a 270-day window before your loan goes into default, private loans could go into default after a single missed payment. Read over the terms and conditions of your loan so you understand what could happen in the event you miss payments.
  • Sharing debt with a cosigner. Any cosigner is on the hook for your debt just as much as you are. If you fall behind on payments, your cosigner’s credit could suffer. Make sure you and your cosigner are on the same page before signing on the dotted line.

Learning about the potential pitfalls of private student loans can help you sidestep them. As long as you understand the risks and shop around for a good deal, taking out private loans for school could be the solution you need to finance your education.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Rebecca Safier
Rebecca Safier |

Rebecca Safier is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Rebecca here

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College Students and Recent Grads

How to Pay Off Private Student Loans: Problems and Opportunities

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Americans owe billions of dollars’ worth of private student loans, and that sum is on the rise. Unfortunately, knowing how to pay off private student loans isn’t always easy, especially since private loans don’t come with the same flexible repayment options as federal ones.

But whether you’re looking to lower payments or just retire your debt faster, there are useful strategies for repaying private student loans. Let’s explore some of your private student loan repayment options, starting with a look at the difference between private and federal education debt.

How to pay off private student loans vs. federal ones

If you’ve got federal student loans, it’s fairly easy to adjust your monthly payments via an income-driven repayment plan, graduated repayment, or a number of other options.

Private student loans are a different story. Generally, private lenders expect you to follow through on the contract you signed when you first borrowed. If you agreed to pay a certain amount each month for 10 years, that’s what the lender expects you to do.

But as you know, circumstances can change, and sometimes you lose your job, go back to school or encounter an emergency. In this case, your lender might be willing to work with you to adjust your payments — but unfortunately there’s no guarantee.

This lack of flexibility is one of the biggest problems with private student loans. Another is the lack of consistency among lenders — your situation could vary wildly depending on what lender you’re working with.

But don’t worry. Even if you won’t have all the choices that you would with federal loans, you do still have some solid private student loan repayment options. Here are six moves to consider:

1. Adjust your payments through refinancing

If you meet underwriting requirements for credit and income — or apply with a cosigner who can — you could restructure your private student loans through refinancing.

When you refinance, you swap one or more of your old loans for a new one. This new loan could have a better interest rate, thereby saving you a nice chunk of money over the life of your loan. Plus, you get to choose new repayment terms with adjusted monthly payments.

If you want to pay off your loans fast, you could choose a shorter term with higher monthly bills. On the other hand, if you’re struggling to keep up with payments, you might select a longer term of 10, 15, or 20 years to lower your bills.

Although a longer term will cost you more in interest overall, you’ll feel like you’re saving money from month to month; this approach could be a huge help if you’re working with a limited budget. And if you start making more in the future, you could always throw extra payments at your student loans without penalty.

Note that if you were refinancing federal loans, it would turn them private and you would lose the flexible options that come with federal debt. But since you’re refinancing loans that are already private, you don’t have to worry about this sacrifice.

Make sure to research various lenders before choosing an offer so you can find one with a competitive interest rate — and sometimes, with useful perks as well. Earnest, for instance, has deferment options, and SoFi even offers career coaching. By choosing a lender with a good reputation, you might find your private loan repayment options are more flexible going forward.

2. Ask your lender about forbearance and deferment options

Refinancing can be a useful option for borrowers who have a cosigner or whose finances are in good shape, but maybe you need student loan relief now. If you’re struggling to pay back your bills, ask your lender about forbearance or deferment options.

Lenders such as Sallie Mae and CommonBond will temporarily pause payments on your loans in the event you lose your job or go back to school. This postponement of payments could be a huge help until you get back on your feet or graduate.

That said, not all lenders offer this option — check your student loan repayment contract to see if deferment or forbearance options are mentioned. Either way, it’s still a good idea to call your lender to see if they can help — after all, it doesn’t want you to stop paying your loan completely.

Sallie Mae, for instance, says: “We’ve helped customers through financial troubles and we’re committed to working with you to help you with your student loans during this period. … We can work together for a solution.”

Even if lenders don’t advertise flexible private student loan repayment options, yours might be willing to consider a new repayment plan that matches your budget.

3. Come up with a plan for targeting your private student loans

As of September 2018, the average student loan borrower had 3.3 student loans — and if you’re juggling multiple student loans, you might not be sure which ones to deal with first.

Of course, you’ll want to start by paying the minimum on all your loans to avoid default. But if you can pay a little extra each month, it could be a good idea to prioritize your private student loans over federal loans.

That’s because private debt doesn’t have the same flexible options as federal debt, and it usually has higher interest rates as well. What’s more, some private loans have variable interest rates, which could rise over time.

So if you can throw extra payments somewhere, it’s probably smart to put them toward your private loans. You might also explore the debt avalanche and debt snowball methods of debt repayment.

The debt avalanche method has you target the highest-interest debt first. This approach makes the most mathematical sense, since it will save you the most money on interest.

Note, however, that if your high-interest loan also has the highest balance, it might be years before you’re able to pay it off. If you’d rather close an account fast, consider the debt snowball approach instead. With this method, you pay off the lowest balances first, knocking them out quickly to motivate you and keep you moving forward.

Whatever you choose, devising a strategy to manage your debt will help you feel in control of your financial situation as you work toward a debt-free life.

4. Get proactive about your financial situation

Even though your student loans might feel burdensome, it’s up to you to figure out how they fit into the puzzle of your bigger financial picture. You probably have lots of financial obligations — rent, food, Netflix, etc. — and your student loan payments are just one of them.

But if you’re eager to pay off your loans ahead of schedule, you might search for ways to accomplish this goal speedily. Start by crafting a budget so you can get a bird’s-eye view of your income and expenses.

Look for areas where you can save money, whether that means moving in with roommates, spending more time meal-prepping instead of eating out, or forgoing a pricey gym membership in favor of a cheaper gym across town. Although it might involve some unpleasant sacrifices, adopting a bare-bones budget could help you pay off debt faster.

At the same time, cutting and scrimping will only take you so far, so look for ways to increase your income too. Maybe you can get a raise at work or search for a completely new job.

Or perhaps you can take on a side hustle, such as driving for Lyft or freelancing online. While you don’t want to spread yourself too thin, making efforts to pull in some extra cash could give you the means to get out of debt years ahead of schedule.

Still, you don’t want to sacrifice your other savings goals or lose out on valuable investment opportunities. Consider all your financial priorities carefully so you can find the right balance.

5. Seek out private student loan repayment assistance

Although private student loans won’t qualify for federal forgiveness programs, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you might get some of your balance wiped away through a loan repayment assistance program (LRAP). Many states offer LRAPs for qualifying professionals, such as lawyers, doctors and teachers, particularly if they work in shortage areas for two to three years.

Plus, some employers offer a student loan matching benefit to employees. Depending on where you work and what your field is, you could qualify for significant assistance toward your student debt.

6. If nothing else works, try to discharge private student loans

Getting rid of student loans through bankruptcy is rare, but not impossible. If you qualify for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you might be able to get your student debt balance wiped away. You’ll likely need to prove you have undue financial hardship.

Other scenarios where you could get private student loan discharge include if you attended an ineligible school, borrowed more than your cost of attendance, or weren’t an eligible student. Whatever the case, you might need to pay for a lawyer, as well as for any other fees associated with declaring bankruptcy.

This process could be long and expensive, and should probably only be used as a last resort. But if you’re in dire financial straits, you could investigate getting rid of your private student loans this way.

Learn how to pay off private student loans with a strategy that works for you

Private student loan borrowers share the same goal — to pay off their loans. But the strategies they use to get there might look different.

Some borrowers might slash their expenses and pick up side hustles to pay off debt fast. Others might take advantage of forbearance options to postpone payments temporarily.

Although private student loans aren’t as flexible as federal ones, you do still have options and rights as a borrower. Take time to speak with your lender about your private student loan repayment options.

By taking a proactive approach to repaying private student loans — while avoiding the pitfalls of private debt — you can find the right strategy for you as you work to conquer your debt once and for all.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Rebecca Safier
Rebecca Safier |

Rebecca Safier is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Rebecca here

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