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College Students and Recent Grads

Paying Off Student Loans Faster: A How-to Guide

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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Whether you’re facing a mountain of student loans or you’re just a few thousand dollars away from finally doing away with the debt, several methods and tactics could help you pay off student loans faster. However, every solution does not fit every situation. Depending on which type of loans you have, what your other debt and financial obligations are and how much disposable income you have, paying off your student loans aggressively may not be the best option.

Consider the pros and cons before you dive in and send every extra penny to your loan servicer.

Pros of paying off student loans quickly

You can save money on interest. Your student loans could be accruing interest every single day, and the quicker you pay off your loans, the more money you could save on interest. Unlike with some other types of loans, student loans don’t have any prepayment penalties, meaning you don’t need to worry about extra fees for paying off your loans ahead of schedule.

It could be easier to qualify for other financial products. Having a student loan payment due each month can impact your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) — your monthly financial obligations divided by your monthly income. Paying off the loan and lowering your DTI could help you get approved for more financial products, such as other loans or credit cards, and may help you qualify for better rates or terms.

You’ll have one fewer debt to worry about. It can be hard to quantify the psychological impact of paying off debt, but there certainly could be benefits to having fewer monthly bills. Even if you still have other debts to repay, striking your student loans from the list could be a relief.

Cons of paying off student loans quickly

It may make more financial sense to pay off other loans first. If you have several types of loans, you may want to focus on other debts before paying off your student loans.

For example, you may have credit card debt that has a much higher interest rate than your student loans. Paying off the credit card could save you more money, and you could then put those savings toward your student loans (or the next highest-rate debt).

It also may make more sense to pay down a secured loan, such as an auto loan, first. Falling behind on your auto loan could lead to your vehicle getting repossessed, which could then snowball into other negative impacts, such as having trouble getting to work. While falling behind on student loans may lead to fees or even wage garnishments, your physical assets aren’t at risk.

There may even be benefits to starting with other unsecured loans, such as a personal loan. If both your personal loan and student loan have the same interest rate, your student loan may actually cost you less overall each year if you qualify for a student loan interest deduction.

You might come out ahead by investing instead. Your student loans may have a low single-digit interest rate. While it’s not guaranteed, you might earn more from investing your money in, say, a 401(k) or IRA than you could save paying off your loans early. However, you’ll need to weigh the risks. There’s no guarantee that your investments pay out, while you know for certain the return you can get on extra student loan payments. The key is to find a balance — pay off your student loans but don’t let that stop you from investing for your future, especially when it comes to funding your retirement account.

You may want to establish an emergency fund first. An emergency fund, generally three to six months’ worth of normal expenses, can help you overcome a financial emergency without having to take on more debt or falling behind on loan payments.

If you deplete your fund, or put off building one to focus on student loan payments, you may have to turn to more expensive forms of debt (such as credit cards) if you’re faced with an emergency.

You may qualify for loan forgiveness. Federal student loans may be eligible for forgiveness and cancellation programs. If you’re on a path towards loan forgiveness, paying off your loans early could lead to paying more than you need to and getting less debt being forgiven.

9 ways to pay off student loans quickly

Paying off student loans ahead of schedule can require planning, hard work and dedication. There’s no single path to success. But whether you can make double your normal payment or are having trouble affording payments at all, there are options and tactics that could speed up the process.

#1 Make additional payments on your loans

Making extra payments when you can or increasing your monthly payment will help you pay off your loans sooner. However, simply sending more money to your loan servicer(s) may not be the best approach.

First, be sure that those extra payments go toward the loan with the highest interest rate. Ask if your loan servicer will allow you to designate which loan the extra funds should go to. Depending on the servicer, your extra payments may be evenly divided amongst all your loans by default.

Also, the servicer may credit your account for future payments instead of putting your payments towards your a loan’s principal. As a result, you might not owe anything next month, but you also won’t be saving as much on interest. To make matters even more confusing, the servicer may continue to withdraw automatic debits from your account even if you’ve already prepaid next month.

Contact your servicer and find out how you can make sure additional payments go toward the principal balance of the loan with the highest interest rate. You may be able to send instructions for how it should apply all your extra payments. Or, if you don’t want to give it a blanket rule, there may be ways to specify how you want each payment applied.

Another option if you can’t afford to make more than your required payment each month is to send loan payments every two weeks rather than once a month. Paying half of the amount early can decrease how much interest accrues during the month, leading to paying less overall in the long run. Make sure you make both payments before the due date to avoid a late payment fee.

#2 Start making payments as soon as you can

You don’t need to wait until after you graduate, or until your grace period is over, to start repaying your student loans. Making payments while you’re in school and during the deferment could lead to significant long-term savings.

Aside from subsidized federal loans, interest will accrue on your loans while you’re in school and during other deferment period. Once you start making full payments, the interest could be added to your principal balance (i.e. capitalized) and your interest rate will now apply to that larger balance.

If you can afford to make payments on your loans while they’re in deferment, you can limit how much interest will accrue and capitalize.

#3 Avoid deferment and forbearance

You may qualify to temporarily stop making payments and place your loans into deferment or forbearance for various reasons, such as returning to school, losing your job or following a medical emergency. However, as with the initial in-school deferment, unsubsidized loans will continue to accrue interest that will capitalize once you start making full payments. Even subsidized loans accrue interest during forbearance.

Continue making payments if you can afford it. Or, even if you have to put your loans into deferment or forbearance, try to make at least partial payments when you can. Doing so will limit how much interest accrues and could keep your loans from growing.

If you’re having trouble affording your payments, you also may be able to switch your federal student loans to an income-driven repayment plan. Depending on your income, doing so could decrease your monthly payment amount and let you continue paying down your loans and avoiding debt default or placing them in deferment and forbearance.

Even if your monthly payment is only a few dollars, with four of the income-driven repayment plans, the remainder of your loan’s balance could also be forgiven after 20 to 25 years of payments. Your monthly payments may also qualify you for other federal forgiveness and cancellation programs.

#4 Increase your income and cut expenses

Whether you can negotiate a raise at work, take on extra hours, find a higher-paying job or start working a side gig for extra income, the more money you have coming in, the more you can afford to put toward your student loans. There are many opportunities to make money online, and while they don’t all pay especially well, they’re often flexible and can be squeezed into your normal routine.

On the other side of your personal cash flow statement, you could try to cut your expenses. There are a lot of ways to go about doing this, everything from looking for fee-free financial accounts and ending subscriptions, to changing your dining and grocery habits.

#5 Consider consolidating your federal student loans

Consolidating (i.e. combining) your federal student loans can be one way to make it easier to manage multiple student loans at once. However, it may not save you money in the long run. That’s because when you consolidate your loans, you’ll be issued a new loan for the total balance with the weighted average interest rate of the loans you’re combining.

If you keep your loans separate, however, you can focus on paying down the loan with the highest interest rates first. Doing so could help you save money, which you can then put toward paying down the next highest rate loan. But that’s not an option if consolidate all your loans together.

Also, consolidation could result in a much longer loan term and lower monthly payment. While you can still make extra payments each month and pay off the loan early, it may be easier to stick to your plan if you don’t have to regularly schedule extra payments.

There are pros and cons to this approach. Consider whether it’s worth it based on your unique situation.

#6 Stay on the standard federal repayment plan

Federal student loans may be eligible for a variety of repayment plans, including plans that base your monthly payment amount on your income. You may want to stay with the standard 10-year repayment plan, as generally the income-driven plans will lead to lower monthly payments and a longer repayment term.

There is a middle ground, though. If you can’t afford the monthly payments on the standard plan, switching plans could help you avoid late payments or missed payments, which could result in fees and potentially hurt your credit. However, you can still pay more than the minimum and pay off your loans faster.

#7 Look into loan forgiveness programs and options

Federal student loans may be eligible for several forgiveness and cancellation programs which could help you get out of debt sooner. Only certain types of federal loans may qualify, and you may need to meet a variety of qualifications and requirements before the Department of Education forgives your remaining debt. Generally, the programs are restricted to those who take on some sort of service work, whether that be as a teacher, government worker or nonprofit employee.

You might also find employer- or government-backed programs that could help you repay your private and federal student loans. These can range from industry-specific opportunities for attorneys and health care workers to more general loan repayment programs that companies offer as an employee benefit.

In some cases, it may make sense to switch to an income-driven repayment plan and decrease your monthly payments to take advantage of a forgiveness or repayment program. You won’t necessarily pay off your loans as quickly as possible, but it could be a worthwhile trade-off if you can pay less out of pocket overall.

#8 Sign up for automatic payments

Many student loan servicers offer a 0.25 percent interest rate discount if you sign up for automatic payments. It may not make a huge difference in your overall costs, but every little bit counts.

#9 Refinance your student loans

By refinancing your student loans — taking out a new loan to pay off your current debts — you may be able to your lower interest rate and decrease how much interest your loans accrue each month. After refinancing, even if you make the same monthly payments you’ll pay off the loans quicker.

You may be able to refinance your student loans by taking out a new private loan and using that loan to pay them off. There are lenders that specifically offer student loan refinancing.

Just keep in mind if you use a private loan to refinance federal loans, you will be forfeiting your option to use federal repayment programs and may not be able to apply for federal loan forgiveness programs.

If you refinance with a private lender, your loans could still be considered student loans for tax purposes and the interest payments may qualify you for the deduction.

Borrowers who have a good credit score and high income may qualify for the lowest rates when refinancing their student loans. However, don’t assume you can’t get a good rate if that doesn’t describe your situation. You can at least apply for preapproval with a soft credit check from some lenders and see your estimated rates and eligibility without affecting your credit scores.

Also, compare your options before you go through with refinancing. You may find that lenders offer you different rates or terms, and you won’t necessarily get the best rate from the company with the lowest advertised rates.

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.

Louis DeNicola
Louis DeNicola |

Louis DeNicola is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Louis at [email protected]

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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

Can You Transfer Private Student Loans To Federal 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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You might have heard all the buzz about federal student loans being refinanced at lower interest rates by private lenders. That could leave you wondering whether you can accomplish the opposite and transfer private student loans to federal loans.

This would be a great option, since consolidating private student loans to federal debt would allow you to score government-exclusive protections like special repayment plans and forgiveness options. But unfortunately, transitioning loan types only works in one direction.

Still, there are other alternatives to make your private student loan repayment easier, as we’ll discuss below.

Can you transfer private student loans to federal debt?

Private student loans are borrowed from banks, credit unions and online lenders. They’re awarded based on your (cosigner’s) credit history and include perks like potentially lower rates, more repayment term options and, often, better customer service.

Unfortunately, they’re missing one key feature: There’s no way to consolidate private student loans into federal education debt. Once your debt is private, it stays that way.

On the other hand, it is possible to combine your debt into a single loan. Both federal loan consolidation and private refinancing allow you to do this and pay just one monthly bill. But there are significant differences between the strategies, starting with loan eligibility.

 Direct loan consolidationRefinancing
Eligible loansFederalPrivate or federal
LenderDepartment of EducationBank, credit union or online lender
PurposeGroup federal debt at its average interest rate, rounded to the nearest ⅛ of 1% (fixed rates only)Group education debt at an interest rate awarded based on your creditworthiness (fixed or variable rates)
Key benefitsKeep federal loan protections, including income-driven repayment, forbearance/deferment and pathways to loan forgivenessReduce your interest rate to save money, shorten or lengthen your repayment term, and switch lenders
Key costsExtending your repayment would allow more interest to accrue over time, and it could reset the progress you’ve made toward certain loan forgiveness programsYielding the protections (like income-driven repayment) on any federal loans you elect to refinance

So, no, you can’t transfer private student loans to federal loans. You could either consolidate your federal loans into a direct consolidation loan with the Department of Education, or you could consolidate your federal and private loans via refinancing.

The best alternative to consolidating private student loans to federal debt

If you were hoping to consolidate private student loans to federal, consider the next best option: Finding a private lender whose product mimics what you like about federal loans.

No private lender will match every aspect of a federal loan. You won’t find subsidized loans (where some of the interest is paid for you), student loan forgiveness or the ability to switch repayment plans for free and at a moment’s notice. Those options only come from Uncle Sam.

However, there are plenty of federal loan-like features available at banks, credit unions and online lenders, including:

  • Fixed interest rates: Your rate will stay the same for the life of the loan
  • Six-month grace period: Smaller payments or no payment for six months after you leave school
  • In-school deferment: Smaller payments or no payment while you’re in school, usually at least half time
  • Autopay rate reductions: Often a 0.25% discount on your interest in exchange for setting up automatic payments
  • Economic hardship forbearance: Possible pause on repayment if you suffer a hardship such as losing your job
  • Tax-deductible student loan interest: As with federal loans, you can write off the interest paid on your student loan

You might even find an income-driven option in the private marketplace, setting your payment at a fixed percentage of your disposable income. The Rhode Island Student Loan Authority and industry major SoFi make a form of income-driven repayment available to its borrowers — but only in cases of financial hardship.

What to know about student loan refinancing

Because student loan refinancing allows you to potentially lower your interest rate, the eligibility requirements aren’t forgiving.

Typically, you need good-to-excellent credit and a stable source of income — or a cosigner who enjoys both. It also helps to have made full and prompt payments on your loans.

Even if your application is strong enough to gain approval, it might not qualify you for the low end of lenders’ advertised interest-rate ranges. If you need a credit score of 650 to be eligible at Earnest, for example, you’ll likely need a score 100 or more points higher to access the best of its rate offerings.

A lower interest rate makes all the difference. Say you currently have a 9.00% rate on $20,000 worth of private student loans to be repaid over the next decade. Refinancing that five-figure debt to a 5.00% rate would save you nearly $5,000 in interest over 10 years, according to our student loan refinancing calculator.

Still, a reduced rate isn’t the only factor that should nudge you toward refinancing — especially if you’re privatizing your federal loan debt, too. Refinancing is irreversible and would strip your federal debt of its government-exclusive protections.

On the other hand, note some of the advantages a refinanced loan might have over federal debt, such as:

  • Option to apply with a creditworthy cosigner
  • Ability to choose fixed, variable and hybrid interest rates
  • Access to a wider choice of repayment terms, often between five and 20 years

Consider whether student loan refinancing is right for you

Not being able to transfer private student loans to federal debt shouldn’t feel like the end of the world.

After all, at least you retain the option to transition your debt in the other direction — moving your federal (and private) loans to a bank, credit union or online lender that offers low rates or other attractive terms.

While not suitable for every borrower, student loan refinancing gives you the power to press reset and charge forward on your repayment. To gauge its usefulness for your situation, explore the pros and cons of refinancing.

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.

Andrew Pentis
Andrew Pentis |

Andrew Pentis is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Andrew here

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